A recovery in global business travel spending to pre-pandemic levels is likely to be delayed by 18 months to 2026 because of factors like persistent inflation, high energy prices, labor shortages and lockdowns in China, a new industry forecast shows.

The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) said business travel spending rebounded by 5.5% to $697 billion in 2021 with North America leading the recovery, but remained well short of 2019 levels of $1.4 trillion.

The recovery outlook is more pessimistic than GBTA’s last forecast issued a year ago, when it expected a full rebound to 2019 levels by 2024.

Environmental sustainability considerations and the regional impact of the war in Ukraine are also weighing on travel demand, the forecast said.

“The factors impacting many industries around the world are also anticipated to impact global business travel recovery into 2025,” GBTA CEO Suzanne Neufang said in a statement. “The forecasted result is we’ll get close, but we won’t reach and exceed 2019’s pre-pandemic levels until 2026.”

Global Business Travel Group Inc., owner of the world’s largest corporate travel agency American Express Global Business Travel, said last week that revenues this year were expected to average around 65% of 2019 levels, though that did not include the impact of a possible recession.

Airlines and hotels have been relying on strong leisure demand to help fill the gap left by the decline in corporate travel during the pandemic. – Reuters