According to the latest 2023 “Business Travel Index Outlook” report published by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) in collaboration with Visa, after a slower regional rebound over the last few years, business travel spending in Europe is expected to surpass its pre-pandemic spending level of $391.9 billion in 2025, when spending is forecast to reach $414.9 billion. This is later than the forecast for global business travel recovery, which is expected to reach $1.5 trillion in 2024—and grow to nearly $1.8 trillion by 2027.
In 2021, Europe was the only region where business travel spending declined; however, Europe’s business travel spending made up lost ground in 2022, growing to 93.5 percent over the past year, achieving the highest growth rate of any region in the world. The outlook varies across the region, with Western Europe accounting for 88 percent of Europe’s business travel spend. This share has grown as the war in Ukraine continues to take its toll on Emerging Europe. While Western Europe recovered 71 percent of its pre-pandemic travel spend last year, Emerging Europe had only recovered to 57 percent.
Western Europe includes Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. Emerging Europe includes Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey and Ukraine.
What else did we learn from the “2023 GBTA Business Travel Index Outlook Outlook” report?
Overall, business travel spend in Europe has recovered to 69 percent of pre-COVID (2019) levels and is forecast to recover to 90 percent of travel spend by year end (2023). Western Europe is forecast to reach 94 percent and Emerging Europe to 67 percent of 2019 levels. Western Europe was additionally the fastest growing region globally in 2022, surging 109 percent to $236 billion—fueled by the return of in-person meetings and events and the recovery of international business travel capacity and volumes. Emerging Europe continues to lag in its recovery, challenged by the war in Ukraine.
Western Europe also remains the third largest business travel region in the world, with 23 percent of the global travel spend in 2022, and is forecast to remain at this level in 2023. Six countries—Germany, the U.K., France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands—made up three-quarters of the region’s expenditures in 2022. That said, business travel spending recovery differs by market with some of the largest business travel markets in this region falling below the Europe-wide recovery rate; namely Germany reaching 65 percent, U.K. 57 percent and Italy 68 percent in 2022. Conversely, France at 75 percent, Spain at 86 percent, Netherlands at 87 percent and the Nordic region (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) at 74 percent also showed stronger rebounds. In 2023, business travel spend in Germany is forecast to reach 89 percent of 2019 spend levels, the U.K. 82 percent, and Italy 97 percent. France is expected to reach 96 percent, Spain 103 percent, Netherlands 107 percent and the Nordic region 95 percent.
Looking ahead at the top global markets for total business travel spend, Germany remains in third position with 38 percent annual growth forecast in 2023 versus 2022. For the same period, the U.K. is forecast to move into fifth position (43 percent growth), ahead of France and Italy (28 percent and 43 percent growth, respectively).
Industry recovery also differs in Europe. Sectors showing the most resilience and return to business travel spend for 2023 versus 2019 include the categories of accommodation and food service, arts, recreation and entertainment and utilities. For the same period, the least recovered industries by business travel spend include mining and quarrying, retail trade, wholesale trade, and transportation and warehousing.
While a promising rebound is expected, there are several factors that could influence the industry’s longer-term forecast. Geo-political factors and persistent economic challenges, an increased focus on sustainability initiatives, widespread adoption of meeting technologies, growth in the remote workforce, and the rise of blended travel are potential game changers in the future of business travel.
Insights From Business Travelers Across Europe
In GBTA’s Business Travel Index Outlook survey of 1,176 business travelers across Europe, 82 percent reported that business travel was very or moderately worthwhile in achieving their business objectives. Three-quarters (78 percent) have taken one to five business trips in the past 12 months and one-third (31 percent) booked an airfare for their last work trip through “managed” channels. Just 19 percent extend a work trip for leisure compared to the global average of 42 percent.
Purposeful travel is a priority in Europe, with business travelers from this region taking, on average, 3.51 days per business trip. Reasons cited for travel include seminar/training, external and internal meetings, consulting and professional services. Multi-modal travel is more prominent in this region, as well; 32 percent used rail on their last business trip (versus 18 percent globally), 36 percent used air travel (42 percent globally) and 29 percent used a personal car (31 percent globally).
On average, business travelers in Europe spent $888 per person (including both managed and unmanaged spending) on their last business trip, with lodging accounting for $366 of this expenditure. This is followed by food and beverage ($157), air travel ($148), ground ($122) and miscellaneous expenditures ($95). The average spend is less in Europe than in North America ($1,219 average spend per person) or Asia-Pacific ($1,038 average spend per person). Average business travel spending across the region is relatively consistent, with the exceptions of the Nordic countries, where the average per person trip cost reached $1,255, and Spain, which has a lower per person trip cost of $630.
European business travel frequency mirrors global trends. Two-thirds (67 percent) of Europeans believe they will travel the same or more frequently in 2023, compared to 2019. About one in three (29 percent) think they will travel less frequently, a finding on par with North America and the global average.
For more information, visit www.gbta.org.