After a collapse of about 60% in 2020, last year the business travel market in Italy marked a slight recovery in the total number of trips made (15,298, + 12% compared to 13,610 in 2020). Even the expenditure of the sector returns to rise after the blocks to mobility in 2020, which had caused a decrease of -63% on 2019: in 2021, in fact, the market reached 8.8 billion euros, against 7.6 billion in 2020 (+ 15%). The national market (3.7 billion euros, + 16% on 2020) grows slightly more than the international one (5 billion euros, + 15%): a gap that would have been eliminated if the devaluation of the dollar with respect to the ‘euro had not allowed companies to save over 40 million on intercontinental travel. These are some of the evidences that emerged from the Business Travel Observatory of the School of Management of the Politecnico di Milano and the UniBo Center for Advanced Studies on Tourism, on the occasion of the “Travel Innovation Day” conference on 27 January.
“From a quantitative point of view, considering that an increase of + 75% would have been needed to recover half of what was lost in 2020, it is clear that there is still no sign of a rapid return to the standards we were used to” says Andrea Guizzardi, Director of the Business Travel Observatory “2022 should close with spending just under 11 billion euros, down 47% compared to pre-pandemic levels. In the meantime, however, above all trips motivated by inter-company meetings are on the rise (+ 17%), a sign of the desire to return to meet in person. However, the ‘small’ size of the increase indicates that the use of remote communication technologies continues to be relevant due to the fear dictated by the pandemic in progress ”. Travel in the service sector (11 million trips in 2021) grew by 14%, almost double that of industry (around 4 million trips, + 8%). The dynamic is unexpected because it is contrary to that of the national GDP, which for the first 9 months of 2021 sees the industry grow by 14% and the service sector by just 4%.
Prices and spending: how they changed in 2021
In 2021, the recovery of inflation also affected services related to Travel which, with few exceptions in air transport (domestic flights -8% and European flights -1%), show higher price growth than inflation. Important increases are recorded in long-haul air transport (+ 8%), rail (+ 7%) and rental / sharing (+ 6%) but the most important data to explain the 16% increase in national spending remains the + 9% of fuels. The recovery (summer / autumn) of leisure tourism also supports accommodation prices (2%) which return to the levels of 2019 but still remain below the pre-pandemic levels if we consider the loss of purchasing power.
Expenditure on transport is the most significant item in the travel budget of Italian companies thanks to a share of 52% (4.5 billion euros), a slight increase compared to 51% in 2020. The price dynamics and the recovery of travel by plane, the segment rose by + 17% compared to 2020, with air and railway ticketing growing more than the “car, rental, taxi and local transport” component (+ 18% against + 16%).
Compared to the loss of 3.6 billion euros in 2020, the progress of 310 million in 2021 is very little for the hotel sector. This is about 2.5 million more overnight stays, especially in the second half of the year. The progression of catering spending is slightly better, with 202 million euros more (+ 15%) which, probably, reflects a greater propensity to frequent restaurants inside hotels or to prefer those with higher price ranges (perhaps less crowded), to limit the risk of contagion.
The travel policy of companies and holiday working
The pandemic has prompted companies to review their travel policy, a fundamental tool for the correct management of corporate travel and an important means of protecting the traveling employee, limiting the risks not only for the latter, but also for the company. The uncertain context of recent years has increased awareness of the importance of regulating corporate travel: only 10% of medium-large Italian companies do not yet have a travel policy, but in almost half of these its introduction is in evaluation phase (4%).
The management of bleisure is also more important than in the past (28% of companies give the possibility to add leisure / vacation days to the business trip). Linked to this, attention to remote work is also gaining momentum, with at least 14% of companies offering their employees the opportunity to work from alternative spaces to the office or, in 6% of cases, agreements to work from vacation spots.
Digitization in Business Travel
Almost all (98%) of Italian companies have started a process of digitization of business travel management. Booking and payment are confirmed as the most digitized activities, with 61% of companies booking travel services through digital tools and 86% using electronic payment tools to complete the purchase. In particular, use is made of debit or credit cards placed on the company account (66%), so as to minimize the employee’s advance and the consequent liquidation of the subdivisions of the employee. 67% of the respondents introduced digital tools for reporting expenses, while all the control activities carried out upon returning from travel are still not very digitized.
Attention to sustainability
Business trips represent one of the main sources of indirect pollution of companies, and 85% of the companies interviewed are taking the first steps to reduce their impact on the environment. At the moment, the main strategies adopted concern the reduction of emissions with 78% of respondents replacing, if possible, travel with online meetings, or 29% who prefer more sustainable means of transport than airplanes for medium-short distances. offers employees green cars (22%). Finally, there is also a focus on compensation with 6% of companies that participate directly in compensation programs and 3% that adhere to air carrier programs to finance the procurement and consumption of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, or alternative sustainable fuels. products from waste (such as waste oils) and forest residues.
The attention to environmental sustainability is so high in companies that 9% have already adopted and 43% are considering the introduction of a green travel policy with the aim of defining some procedures – such as, for example, the selection of suppliers – to make travel more sustainable.
The two-year period 2020-21, marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, has highlighted the need for companies and travelers to be able to have always updated and reliable information on destinations, on potential risks related to travel and on the conditions necessary to be able to travel. Many companies have therefore equipped themselves with specific tools that allow them to constantly monitor employees through tracking systems (39%) and platforms or information systems on the destination and on the risks associated with travel (38%). Not a few companies (26%), aware of the importance of constantly guaranteeing safe travel for their employees, have directly integrated into the authorization process the minimum safety parameters to be respected in order to subsequently proceed with the organization of the trip.