FindingSep 18, 2020

Businesses Anticipate Slashing Post-Pandemic Travel Budgets

David Altig, Jose Maria Barrero, Nick Bloom, Steven J. Davis, Brent Meyer, Emil Mihaylov, Nick Parker
Firms expect to cut pre-pandemic travel expenditures by nearly 30 percent when concerns over COVID-19 subside.

As the travel industry experiences a pandemic-induced slump, many are wondering about the future of air travel and how long it will take until people are comfortable enough to fly for work or leisure.

According to the recent Survey of Business Uncertainty[1], conducted July 13-24, the authors find that firms anticipate slashing their post-pandemic travel budgets and tripling the share of external meetings (those with external clients, patients, suppliers, and customers) conducted virtually.

The authors’ findings cast doubt on the prospect for a quick and complete rebound in business travel. Firms anticipate slashing their pre-pandemic travel expenditures by nearly 30 percent when concerns over the virus subside (see Figure 1). The expected decline in travel expenditures is particularly severe for information, finance, insurance, and professional and business services, which are marking in a nearly 40 percent reduction in travel spending after the pandemic ends.

Such a large, broad-based reduction in travel spending not only suggests a sluggish and potentially drawn-out recovery for the travel, accommodation, and transportation industries, but it also indicates that firms expect to shift from face-to-face meetings to lower-cost virtual meetings. And, as Figure 2 shows, that’s exactly what the authors found when they asked firms about the share of virtual meetings that they held in 2019 versus the share that they anticipate holding in a post-COVID world.

[1] The SBU is a monthly panel survey developed and fielded by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta in cooperation with Chicago Booth and Stanford.

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