U.S. business travel to rise nearly 5% in 2015 despite limited growth of economic drivers

Published on : Tuesday, July 28, 2015

GBTA-BTI-United-States-070715-300x236U.S. business travel spending will increase by 4.9 percent in 2015 to $302.7 billion, yet ongoing concerns about the U.S. economy will rein-in what could be even sharper growth, according to new research from the GBTA Foundation and Visa.



The 2016 outlook anticipates a surge in economic activity and confidence, with travel spending projected to increase by 5.4 percent to $318.9 billion.



Total trip volume follows a similar trend for 2015 and 2016. In 2015, U.S. travel volume is expected to increase by 1 percent to 488.1 million person-trips – an average of 1.3 million trips for every day of the year. Growth will substantially increase in 2016 with business travel volume accelerating by 3 percent to 502.8 million person-trips. That amounts to an average of more than 38,000 additional business trips every day.



These findings are part of the “GBTA BTI Outlook – United States 2015 Q2,” a report by the GBTA Foundation, the education and research arm of the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), and sponsored by Visa, Inc.



“U.S. business travel was poised for significant growth in 2015, but the erratic performance of key economic drivers caused some to tap the brakes on additional travel spending,” said Michael W. McCormick, Executive Director and COO of the Global Business Travel Association. “Yet, economic fundamentals remain strong.  Business travel will continue to have positive momentum as we move toward 2016, a leading indicator that the overall economy will continue to grow as well.”



Recovery Since the Great Recession

Since the Great Recession, U.S. business travel has increased significantly, reflecting and driving improvement in the overall economy.


After hitting its nadir at the end of 2009, global business travel spending has increased 38 percent on a nominal level, according to GBTA’s Business Travel Index.



THE GBTA BTI Outlook forecasts an additional 11 percent nominal level increase over the two-year span between 2015 and 2016.



The GBTA BTI Outlook projects that real GDP will advance 2.5 percent in 2015, down from our original estimate of 3 percent, due mainly to the unexpected extent of Q1 weakness. In 2016, GDP will grow by 3.1 percent, unchanged from our Q1 outlook.


Economic Outlook

The long-term outlook for U.S. business travel growth remains bright, but in the near-term the picture is mixed. Global business travel both drives, and is driven, by economic activity.



The U.S. economy continues to forge ahead but growth has been volatile. GDP growth for 2015Q1 is case in point having declined by -0.7 percent (Q/Q at annualized rate), down from +5 percent just two quarters before. Real GDP also declined in the first quarter of 2014 (-2.1 percent) due to severe winter weather. It then proceeded to quickly snap back. Many analysts are expecting the same this year.



Despite the recent challenges, the GBTA BTI Outlook’s expectations for the U.S. economy are largely unchanged from last quarter. The underlying momentum of job growth, wage gains and rising confidence will continue to compensate for weak global growth and postponed oil & gas investment. Consumer spending and housing are already showing positive reactions to rising disposable income. Moreover, gradually rising oil prices should help to re-start postponed energy investment projects.



Additional Business Travel Findings

Group meeting volume finished 2014 down by -2.0 percent. Much of this decline is the fallout from an extremely strong 2013 – a  period when group volume surged 8.6 percent. Growth in 2013 was driven by the corporate meeting sector, which finally rebounded after a few down years. Despite the growth in volume, spend–per-trip declined in 2013, after growing every year since 2008. Spend per group business trip bounced back in 2014, however, eclipsing $700 per.



The GBTA BTI Outlook projects that group trip volume will advance 0.9 percent in 2015 and surge 3.1 percent in 2016. Spending, meanwhile, is projected to rise 5.3 percent this year and another 4.3 percent in 2016.


Individual business travel had its best year since The Great Recession in 2014, as volume grew 3.7 percent over 2013. Growth gained momentum over the latter half of the year and continues into 2015 as the domestic economy picks up steam and businesses send more workers on the road in support of top-line growth. We expect individual business travel volume will gain another 1.0 percent this year on its way to 302 million Person-Trips and spending on individual business travel will grow 4.9 percent to $134.8 billion.


Significant challenges to global economy remain, particularly in parts of Europe, China, Russia and Brazil. These factors coupled with a significantly stronger dollar are all weighing on the prospects for international outbound business travel over the next six quarters. The GBTA BTI Outlook projects that international outbound business travel will grow 3.1 percent this year; down from last quarter’s forecast of 5.1 percent.


Travel price inflation (TPI) is comprised of a number of travel goods and services including airfare, food away from home and lodging. Travel prices should only rise 1.7 percent this year before regaining more robust growth in 2016.


“While we would like to see the overall growth numbers more consistent, signs are good for a solid end to 2015 and a robust 2016,” said Brian Triplett, SVP, Head of Commercial Product, Visa Inc. “These increases in business travel will drive the transition to electronic payments.  In turn, this will help companies reduce costs and track and pay for business-related travel expenses more simply and more efficiently.”


GBTA BTI  Progresses Upward

The 2015Q1 GBTA BTI index came in at 137, significantly higher than our projection of 133 in last quarter’s forecast (GBTA BTI Outlook – United States, April 2015). This higher level is driven primarily by a higher expectation for prices on travel goods and services, particularly transportation.



In total, the index has gained 40 points since bottoming in the fourth quarter of 2009. The economic recovery continues to gain momentum and expectations for travel prices continue to put upward pressure on the index.



We expect the GBTA BTI will experience strong growth over the forecast horizon. The index will gain another six points over 2015, finishing the year at 143. Momentum will continue into 2016 as the index gains another six points on its way to 149.



“The BTI forecast consistently correlates with overall GDP growth,” explained Joseph Bates, GBTA Foundation Vice President of Research. “As business travel increases, so will growth in the overall economy.”

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