Despite economic and geopolitical uncertainties, a full recovery of business travel to pre-pandemic levels is on the horizon. According to the Global Business Travel Association’s 2023 Business Travel Index Outlook, the corporate travel industry has rebounded faster than anticipated a year ago and is expected to surpass its pre-pandemic spending level of $1.4 trillion in 2024. As the report indicates, the two biggest drivers in the industry’s stabilization have been the recovery of some international business travel capacity and volumes and the return of in-person meetings and events.

From research our Amex GBT Meetings & Events team conducted for the 2024 Meetings & Events Forecast, we also see a robust rebound of in-person gatherings. Of the 131 meetings and events professionals we surveyed in North America, over three-quarters (77%) of respondents say their attendee numbers have returned to 2019 levels or anticipate they will do so by 2024. What’s more, the forecast indicates that 81% of meetings and events in North America will have an in-person component next year – necessitating travel in some shape or form.

All this is excellent news for small business owners, who can directly benefit from the influx of travel dollars in their local communities.

For example, local restaurants, cafes, and bars might experience an uptick in customer traffic from this segment known to dine out often. Since many corporate travelers don’t have access to a kitchen, eating out is a justifiable expense they’re typically reimbursed for. Plus, they often dine out when hosting potential customers.

Business travelers often need to employ local service providers, such as dry cleaners, print shops, and couriers, to perform their jobs from afar. Before their trip ends, they may patronize local retailers to buy something unique – like handmade jewelry, artisanal home goods, or food items representative of the destination.

Local businesses offering cultural experiences, guided tours, and other fun activities may reap the benefits as well. Their services are often popular among business travelers, whether they’re engaging in them during leisure time or a company-organized team-building event.

Businesses in smaller cities could very well experience a spike in sales from business travel due to another rising phenomenon – more trips to traditionally secondary and tertiary locations.

According to American Express Global Business Travel (Amex GBT) internal data, 20.2% of Amex GBT hotel volume in 2023 was in secondary and tertiary destinations in the United States compared to 17.9% of the volume in 2019. This amounts to a 13% increase and an additional $110 million in sales on an annualized basis.1

One explanation for this shift is that in recent years, many people have moved away from big cities and workforces have become more dispersed. Because of this, companies increasingly must secure event space and hotel rooms in smaller communities to bring their teams together. This change opens up a real opportunity for small businesses in those areas.

What’s also fascinating is that many business travelers visiting these places may purposefully choose to support local small businesses. According to American Express’ 2023 Global Travel Trends Report, of the 1,000 people surveyed, 83% said they want to shop at small businesses when they travel to a new location.

Small businesses are hometown hallmarks that help revitalize local communities, create job opportunities for residents, and build a sense of community pride. They rely on proud patrons like you to keep them going.

With Small Business Saturday (SBS), it’s easier than ever to show your support. As this annual tradition established by our legacy company, American Express, approaches, we strongly encourage everyone to #shopsmall – not only for your holiday shopping needs on Nov. 25, when Small Business Saturday takes place, but year-round as well. Check out the Shop Small Map to discover a new hotspot for your morning coffee or lunchtime meeting during your next work trip.

American Express Global Business Travel is dedicated to the success of small businesses, many of whom are valued clients of ours. In our ongoing efforts to support such small business owners we recently partnered with the National Small Business Association (NSBA), a nonpartisan organization that has been advocating for small businesses for 85 years. We are thrilled to collaborate with this association to help these entrepreneurs get where they want to be.

Find out more about NSBA.

1. The date ranges used to pull this data were Jan. 1, 2019–Dec. 31, 2019, and Jan. 1, 2023–Nov. 8, 2023.