UK business travel remains low amid pandemic

15 September 2021 3 min. read

Following the lifting of many restrictions on movement, many global businesses are travelling more than they expected during the pandemic. However, Britain and Western Europe are out of step with this trend, as business travel is yet to recover there. 

A new survey conducted by global strategy consulting firm Oliver Wyman has found that a third of global consumers feel comfortable to travel again, as the Covid-19 pandemic seems to be receding. The poll of nearly 5,300 respondents was conducted in nine countries across the world, including the US, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. 

When accounting for leisure travel, the research found that those surveyed in the US and France were most willing to travel now. While international and domestic travel has become more frequent again, though, continued health and safety concerns as well as the practical complications of restrictions related to travel still cause caution in some countries. As a result, other European countries, including Germany, Spain and Italy showed significantly less interest. 

Factors influencing readiness to travel, by country

The country where people were least willing to travel in Europe was undoubtedly the UK, though. There, just over 10% of respondents indicated they were comfortable being on flights and public transport again. That figure was only lower in China and Canada. 

The report’s co-authors Bruce Spear, Jessica Stansbury and Bruno Despujol, commented, “The outlook for travel is much brighter but is still being buffeted by the slow pace of vaccinations in some geographies, unease over new Covid-19 variants, and uneven government policies regarding travel restrictions… A quarter to a third of people are still uncomfortable where extensive interaction with people might be involved. However, this is almost a 20% improvement from October 2020, when nearly half of all respondents were uncomfortable engaging in these activities.”

Reflecting this optimistic outlook, business travel seems to be recovering a mite faster than leisure travel. Oliver Wyman found that even the most cautious of nations have seen a big up-tick in business travel – to the extent that 31% of those polled are travelling more than expected at this stage of the pandemic.

Business travel plans and impact on volumes

While China is one of the geographies least responsive to travel in general at present, Oliver Wyman found that there has been a surge in business travel there. Business travel volume has increased by seven points, according to the survey, ahead of the US at four points. Meanwhile, the similarly cautious Australia also saw a multi-point boost to business travel. 

Once again, however, the UK was emblematic of a reluctance to travel, and the amount of business travel among UK respondents declined by three points. Interestingly enough, the UK was not home to the lowest amount of business travel however. Oliver Wyman found that was France – the opposite to the nation’s opinions on broader travel. While this may partially be because of fears around health and safety, though, Oliver Wyman also asserted that these countries may have better been able to adapt to digital business amid lockdown.

The researchers added, “We believe that business travel could experience a more general decline or stabilize at a lower level than pre-pandemic, due to lasting changes in ways of working and company policies. Some 60 percent of respondents find they can collaborate effectively via teleconferencing, while more than a third report that their companies have tightened business travel policies.”