After years of disruption by the COVID-19 pandemic, we find out if the international business travel sector has returned to its 2019 levels.
Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a report by VisitBritain found that in 2019 the UK received 8.7 million business tourism visits, which contributed a total of £4.8 billion in spend to the UK economy. International meetings and events pre-pandemic were a significant part of an already thriving industry. The same report revealed that at the time 3.5 million visits were made to attend small and medium sized meetings (classed as up to 20 people), while 1.8 million business tourism visits were made to attend large meetings (over 20 people), including conferences, conventions, incentive or team building events, exhibitions, or trade shows.
After the onset of the pandemic, business tourism industry ground to a halt, seeing only slight resurgences in the times when restrictions were lightened. Most large events were cancelled or moved online, and businesses were still hesitant to plan ahead for businesses trips, especially
as restrictions and entry requirements changed frequently and varied greatly across the globe. A survey by the UK government found that during the pandemic only 28% of business staff were travelling for meetings from the usual 40%.
The same report also found that nearly half of companies expected to make fewer business trips than before the pandemic. So, more than two and a
half years on from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, has international business travel recovered from its impact? The answer seems to be unequivocally no. While the amount of people traveling internationally is increasing, it has not yet returned to 2019 levels, currently sitting at only 36% of that amount.
It’s not difficult to understand why. Between a still reduced amount of events being held, increased expenses, long airport wait times and organisational chaos, and the logistically simpler virtual and hybrid alternatives still hanging around from the pandemic – particularly for smaller meetings – it may take a while yet for international business travel to reach anywhere near its previous peak.
That’s not to say that all hope is lost. Events are on the up, and a survey earlier this year also by VisitBritain found that revenue is strong from global delegates, with those from outside the EU spending more on visits (£1,748) than those from within the EU (£990) and UK (£329).
The report looks at more than just revenue, and highlights other key areas why UK will always be a popular events destination as the industry rebuilds.