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business travel

Is Omicron impacting business travel because of corporate and government restrictions?

Are you a business traveler? Omicron travel restrictions have put a damper on global business travel. New policies and ongoing developments are currently hindering a return to travel as we know it. 

However, the travel industry continues to reflect progress and optimism in its long-term outlook for 2022, according to the latest poll from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), the world’s largest business travel association and leader in education, research, networking, and advocacy.

“Here, at the start of a new year, the business travel industry and business travelers continue to face a dynamically changing landscape due to Omicron. One comment received from a poll respondent readily sums it up: ‘Uncertainty is a huge wet blanket on [business] travel,’” said Suzanne Neufang, CEO, GBTA. 

“Despite the wave of Omicron and the ripple of challenges it has created, there are positive signs, and industry professionals continue to be optimistic for the long–term outlook of global business travel.”  

This most recent poll is the 25th in GBTA’s COVID-19 Recovery series, tracking the pulse of the global business travel industry during the pandemic. Below are a few highlights from the January poll

Omicron business travel poll highlights:

Optimism for the long haul – Three in four travel managers expect business travel volume at their company will be much (17%) or somewhat (58%) higher in 2022 than in 2021. Another one in ten (12%) expect business travel to remain about the same as 2021, but few (5%) expect it to be lower.  

Company travel cancellation decreases – Poll results show a decline in the percentage of companies that continue to suspend or cancel business travel. Sixty-eight percent of GBTA member companies have not yet opened international travel, compared to 79% in the October 2021 GBTA poll, and 29% have not opened domestic business travel versus 38% in October. 

Current business impacts – Six in ten (60%) suppliers/TMCs report their bookings from corporate clients decreased from the month prior. One in five (21%) characterize their bookings from corporate customers as having increased.

Comparing variants – When asked to compare Omicron and Delta variant concerns, 43% report they are either less worried about Omicron compared to Delta, and 45% are equally concerned.

Most significant barriers – When asked to name the single greatest barrier to business travel, 43% of survey respondents cited government policies that restrict travel or make it difficult (such as entry restrictions or mandatory quarantines). Travel managers based in the UK (66%) and Europe (62%) were more likely than those in North America (33%) to cite government policies as being the single greatest barrier to business travel. Conversely, North American travel managers (27%) were more likely than those in Europe (15%) to say company policies restricting employees from traveling are the biggest barrier. 

Getting back out there – Despite Omicron, most travel managers feel employees are willing to travel. Two in three (64%) feel their employees are “willing” or “very willing” to travel for business in the current environment. However, this number was down from 78% in the October GBTA poll. A majority of seven in ten (72%) GBTA members and stakeholders report they would definitely or probably travel for business. However, respondents based in Europe (49%) are more likely than those based in North America (35%) to report that their company has canceled all or most business trips.   

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masks when shopping online

While we still have a long way to go before global business travel returns to its pre-COVID norms, this recent poll shows that many remain optimistic for the future of travel despite the challenges. 

omicron travel

What to expect from Omicron flight cancellations and new travel requirements

This holiday season, thousands of flight cancellations left travelers stranded in airports across the United States. While many cancellations were due to severe weather across various states, the spike in Omicron infections also played a part in disrupting holiday travel plans for thousands. 

Were you one of the many whose travel plans were impacted by omicron this holiday season?  

How the virus affected airline travel  

The Omicron variant began spreading rampantly over the Thanksgiving travel period and has since continued to spread rapidly. Omicron is reportedly more transmissible than other COVID-19 variants. 

In an article by Bloomberg, David Powell, physician and medical adviser to the International Air Transport Association, estimated that “aircraft passengers are two to three times more likely to catch the virus during a flight since the emergence of Omicron.”

The higher chance of infection and rapid spread has led to new travel guidelines and unexpected flight cancellations. 

Since December 24, more than 15,000 U.S. flights have been canceled, The Washington Post reported. Additionally, some airlines have already preemptively canceled flights for the month of January. Last week, JetBlue announced it would cancel 1,280 flights through January 13. 

The rising infection rate does not only affect travelers but also airline workers, including air traffic controllers. Derek Dombrowski, a JetBlue spokesman, said the airline has seen a surge in sick calls because of the omicron variant. 

Additionally, Henry Harteveldt, an aviation analyst with Atmosphere Research Group, said in the same article, if Omicron infections continue to rage on, airlines may announce further cancellations for the remainder of January and possibly into February. 

omicron travel

Travel cancellations may continue throughout January and into February. (Travel photo created by freepik) 

Current Omicron travel restrictions and guidelines 

While many airlines continue to cancel flights, travel is still possible. If you’re planning to travel, here are the newest guidelines to follow to reduce your risk of infection. 

According to the CDC’s newest requirements

  • If you plan to travel internationally, you will need to get a COVID-19 viral test (regardless of vaccination status or citizenship) no more than 1 day before you travel by air into the United States. You must show your negative result to the airline before you board your flight.
  • Unvaccinated Americans and legal permanent residents are allowed to enter the country with a test taken within one day of departing for the United States. 
  • If you recently recovered from COVID-19, you may instead travel with documentation of recovery from COVID-19

In addition to these requirements, foreign travelers arriving in the United States to be fully vaccinated. All children over the age of 2 flying into the United States must also show negative test results before traveling. 

Currently, there is no post-arrival testing or quarantine requirement. 

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Federal mask mandate is still in effect and has been extended through March 18. This mandate requires all travelers to wear masks in airports, on planes, and on other forms of public transportation including buses and trains. 

Travelers should continue to practice general COVID-19 safety guidelines, such as keeping adequate distance from others, avoiding tight crowds, keeping masks on indoors, and washing and sanitizing hands.