Good-bye 2021. Hello 2022. Another year flies by and we ask ourselves the same old question, “How did it end so soon?” Looking back at this whirlwind year with a whole different set of complexities, we concluded it was definitely a year of change. While it may not have always been the type of change we wanted, there were key developments which make us feel optimistic that business travel will be picking up steam in 2022. Certainly, we’re not alone with that mindset. According to the new business travel index by the Global Business Travel Association, business travel spending is expected to surge. A year-over-year increase of 38% is predicted in 2022. Signs of promise and the easing of many border restrictions may make you want to hop on the next plane. But let’s pause a few moments and reflect on some of the year’s significant events so we can get a good sense of direction for 2022.
The ups and downs of travel: With 1.3 million travelers passing through Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoints, it’s the busiest travel day of the pandemic so far in the United States. On the flip side, new coronavirus strains in Brazil, South Africa, and the United Kingdom cause a number of countries, including France, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Belgium to implement new travel restrictions.
A great match: American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) acquires Ovation Travel Group, a 36-year-old New York-based global travel company known for its outstanding, high-touch service. “This acquisition adds a very high-quality asset and business that will enhance the service and capabilities we offer customers,” said Eric Bock, GBT global head of mergers and acquisitions.
Putting travelers to the test: Travelers ages 2 and up flying to the U.S. from any international location have to show proof of negative COVID-19 tests taken within three days of departure. The move gives air passengers greater peace of mind, knowing that the people sitting beside them are at a low risk of spreading the virus.
Paperless proof: American Airlines and Alaska Air expand their use of the VeriFLY’s mobile app for international travelers who need to provide documentation of travel health requirements (e.g., a negative COVID test, proof of vaccine). British Airways and Iberia soon follow suit. Eventually, more airlines begin to adopt other digital health passports, such as Travel Pass from the International Air Transport Association.
Escaping the distractions of home: GBT launches Workspaces, a new booking service that allows individuals and small teams to book a place to work or meet for however long they like at a hotel or alternative venue – giving office-less employees tired of working from home some sanity.
Air travel takes off: An increasing number of Americans begin traveling again, as seen by longer airport security lines and busier traffic on airline websites. The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 1.3 million people on March 12 and 14, setting a new high since the coronavirus outbreak. Airline stocks rise across the board with shares of the four biggest US carriers hitting their highest prices in more than a year.
Relaxing the rules: New York State issues an update to its travel advisory, removing many quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated, domestic and international travelers.
Get on your walking shoes: Portugal opens a pedestrian suspension bridge, called 516 Arouca that claims to be the longest in the world. Although “the longest” is debatable, the bridge is still quite remarkable. Built to be a tourist attraction in northern Portugal’s Arouca Geopark, it measures 516 meters (that’s nearly 1700 feet) in length, links two hills and provides sweeping views of a nearby waterfall.
Rental car rates rev up: Due to low supply and a high demand, rental car rates across the US are, on average, roughly 30% higher compared to May 2019. Vehicles in Hawaii go up 50% and average more than $900 a week. During the pandemic, many agencies sold up to half of their fleet to create cash flow when demand was very low and now are scrambling as travel opens up.
Look out for the traffic lights: To revive international travel and ease current restrictions, the UK puts into effect a traffic light ranking system, affecting travelers from other countries entering the UK and lifting travel restrictions for many. Basically the system works like this: countries and territories are classified by 3 colors: green, amber, red. Travelers returning to England from “green” countries will no longer need to quarantine. However leisure and non-essential business travel is still barred to and from “amber” and “red” countries. If you’re permitted to travel from “amber” countries, you must quarantine at home when entering the UK although passengers from “red” countries are required to quarantine at a UK hotel.
Let’s open up: GBT calls for world leaders gathering at June’s G7 summit to support the swift return of international travel, and for the UK and US to establish a “safe and seamless” travel corridor between the two nations at the earliest possibility. “We have been talking in detail with the cabinet office around the G7 meeting so that they are properly informed about the significance of business travel and put it on the agenda. There’s huge pent-up demand for travel… and we’re not certain that there’s any other institution or gathering that is more appropriate to support it than that,” Chief Commercial Officer Drew Crawley told Business Travel News Europe.
What’s up? Our WhatsApp feature: GBT adds WhatsApp to our chat capabilities, giving travelers and travel managers more choice in the way they communicate with travel counselors and helping to speed up on-the-go service.
A reason to celebrate: The Fourth of July travel period (from July 1 to July 5) is not only estimated to be the busiest since the pandemic began, but it’s also predicted to be the second busiest July 4th for travel on record, according to AAA, with a total of more than 47 million Americans slated to take trips. That’s just 2.5% fewer travelers than in 2019
July 11 and July 20:
Traveling to the final frontier: UK entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson reaches the edge of space on board his Virgin Galactic rocket plane that his company has been developing for 17 years. Nine days later, Jeff Bezos does the same on his rocket company’s first flight and announces that Blue Origin has sold nearly $100 million worth of tickets for future passenger flights to the edge of space (including Star Trek’s William Shatner).
Follow the money trail: GBT makes our Neo1 solution, an online service designed to help businesses track cash flow, available to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the United States. “SMEs need a simple, affordable solution that can enable employees to make the purchases they need while providing visibility over what is being spent. To do that, Neo1 brings the whole process from purchasing, approvals, and payment through to reconciliation into one easy-to-use solution,” said Maria Haggarty, GBT’s vice president and general manager, US SME.
Aug. 29-Sept. 1
See you in Los Cabos: World Meetings Forum takes place at the Hard Rock Hotel Los Cabos, Mexico under the concept of inspiring meetings. Buyers and sellers in the meetings and events industry gather together to strengthen business connections, close deals, and drive social change. When it comes to health and safety, participants can expect to find sanitation protocols and biosafety measures in place.
A spotlight on sustainable hotels: GBT joins the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, a standard-setting and accreditation alliance created by the United Nations and environmental conservation organizations, to help clients find and book hotels that meet sustainability standards. It’s among several sustainability-focused actions we’ve taken this year, including the rollout of a carbon-offset purchase program for corporate clients in January.
A win for non-binary and transgender travelers: The US Department of State issues the first US passport with an X gender marker and announces more good news concerning non-binary inclusion. It will be offering this option to all passport applicants in early 2022 when they complete the required system and form updates.
Egencia joins our family: GBT completes our acquisition of Egencia, Expedia Group’s corporate travel arm. As part of the transaction, Expedia Group becomes a shareholder in and enters a long-term strategic commercial agreement with GBT. “Bringing GBT and Egencia together will create a winning formula that will define the future of travel. We will provide unrivaled value, choice, and experiences to customers. Unrivaled value because together we’ll have the best content and deliver the best savings. Unrivaled choice because no one comes close to the breadth and depth of solutions we will offer. And unrivaled experiences because we have the best people and technology in the industry,” said GBT CEO Paul Abbott.
Welcome to America: The United States lifts travel restrictions that barred non-US citizens traveling from 33 countries — including China, India, and much of Europe — and had also restricted overland entry from Mexico and Canada. Foreign nationals from all countries can now enter the US if they have been fully vaccinated against COVID with any of the shots approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization.
Phew. Less stress at the airport: GBT collaborates with CLEAR, a biometrics screening company so that travelers can have a faster way through airport security at preferred pricing. Subscribing CLEAR Plus members can access dedicated security lanes and verify their identity with their face or eyes, enjoying a more seamless experience before boarding.
Another record breaker: Barron’s reports that the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the year’s busiest day for air travel since the start of the pandemic. According to the TSA, over 2.4 million people passed through US airport checkpoints, sending a clear message: we’ve all been separated far too long.
Start the new year off right
Having looked back at this rollercoaster year where the only constant was change, the value of a travel management partner becomes clear as day. That’s because tighter budgets, environmental concerns, and greater travel and meeting needs next year can all be handled with efficiency through a resourceful travel management company. They can provide you with technologies and services that align with your business and help you adapt to shifts in travel.