Conferences Will Bolster the Return of Business Travel in 2024

As business travel continues its steady return, workers say they will attend more conferences and large events than they did last year
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Kelly Rice
July 09, 2024 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • 27% of business travelers will attend three or more conferences in 2024, up 9 points from last year.

  • Younger workers, men and high earners are the most frequent conference attendees in 2024.

  • Large-scale events may face headwinds related to sustainability, as a large (78%) and growing share of business travelers say they will make lifestyle changes to benefit the environment.

Data Downloads

Pro+ subscribers are able to download the datasets that underpin Morning Consult Pro's reports and analysis. Contact us to get access.

Data file
A sortable XLSX file of survey results among U.S. adults and key demographics.
About Pro+
A brief outline of what datasets are included in Morning Consult Pro+.
1 Bytes

Four years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic upended the travel industry. And while the leisure travel sector has mounted a strong comeback, business travel has experienced a more measured recovery — impacted not only by health concerns and regulations but also by ways of working that have been permanently changed. Now, as live events regain their footing, conferences and seminars will drive a significant share of business travel bookings, signaling a renewed emphasis on face-to-face interactions and networking. 

Workers will attend conferences more frequently in 2024

Conferences and large events have been a key facet of business travel for many years, given their scale and the budget it takes to produce and attend them. In late 2022, Morning Consult data revealed that conferences and seminars were the most common business travel occasion, something that remains true today. Occasions that may be thought of as more discretionary, like incentive travel and company retreats, are less of a priority for business travelers. That hasn’t changed since 2022, signifying that the prioritization of travel types remains rather consistent in the post-pandemic era. 

One notable change over time is the frequency with which workers plan to travel to conferences — the share who say they’ll go to one or two is down 6 points since late 2022, but those who plan to go to three or more is up 9 points overall. This is likely due to more major events shifting to in-person in the past year and is a positive sign for the meetings industry.

Conferences and seminars draw the most business travel bookings

Workers with plans to travel in the next year indicated how often they will do so for…
Morning Consult Logo
Survey conducted April 27-28 2024, among a sample of 587 U.S. adults with plans to travel for business in the coming year, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.

To that end, American Express Global Business Travel finds that nearly 6 in 10 meetings will be fully in-person in 2024, with the remaining portion split nearly evenly between hybrid and remote. These numbers have led to optimism among those in the sector that attendance at live events will recover to pre-pandemic levels within the year.

Growth in conference attendance is uneven across demographics

While the overall outlook for conferences and large events is positive, the increase in attendance is not even across demographics. When asked how their anticipated conference and event travel in the coming year would compare to last year, there was a notable gender gap in responses with women 8 percentage points more likely than men to say they’d travel less. In general, women are less likely than men to say they plan to attend a conference in the coming year, but 14 points less likely to plan on attending three or more; perhaps yet another signal of the lasting impact of the pandemic on women in the workplace.  

Men, younger workers and high earners will drive the growth in conference travel

Employed adults indicated how much they will travel for conferences this year compared to last year
Morning Consult Logo
Survey conducted April 27-28 2024, among a sample of 1,203 employed U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points.

There are also clear delineations across generation. Baby boomers are the most likely to say they’ll travel to fewer conferences this year than last year, signaling a slowing of the generation’s business travel cadence despite the fact that many are delaying retirement. On the opposite end of the age spectrum, Gen Zers and millennials are far more likely than their older counterparts to say they anticipate traveling to more conferences and large events.

But the group that shows the most potential for growth is high earners: one-quarter of those in households earning more than $100,000 per year say they will attend more conferences and events than last year. They’re also the group that’s most likely to attend in general, with nearly 4 in 10 saying they’ll go to at least three conferences or seminars this year, compared to 27% of those earning $50,000 to $100,000 a year and 16% of those earning less than $50,000. 

Sustainability concerns represent a possible headwind for the meetings sector

While the overall momentum for large conferences and meetings is positive, one factor that could impact future growth in the area is environmental concerns. As consumer preferences related to sustainability evolve, the travel industry is increasingly under pressure given how it inherently contributes to climate change. And business travelers are more likely than their leisure traveling counterparts to say they’re willing to make lifestyle changes to benefit the environment — 78% said they would in May 2024, up 8 points since early 2021.

Business travelers are increasingly sustainability-minded

Shares who say they are willing to make lifestyle changes to benefit the environment
Morning Consult Logo
Morning Consult Intelligence gathered 1,294,585 survey responses Mar. 3, 2021 - May 21, 2024, with a margin of error of +/- 0.1 percentage points.

This upward trend is certainly due in part to climate-concerned Gen Zers representing a greater share of business travelers, but brands shouldn’t write it off as a generational anomaly. Gen Zers may be more environmentally conscious than other generations but as extreme weather events make headline news, all generations are taking notice. 

When it comes to conferences, the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to adapt and embrace tools that allowed for virtual and hybrid formats. As environmental concerns grow, some organizations may return to leveraging these tools to minimize the environmental impact of large-scale events, re-embracing a hybrid or fully remote format.

Lindsey Roeschke is a travel & hospitality analyst. Lindsey’s work focuses on behavior and expectations in travel (among other categories), particularly through a generational and cultural lens. In addition to her research and advisory background, Lindsey has more than a decade of experience in the advertising world.
We want to hear from you. Reach out to this author or your Morning Consult team with any questions or comments.Contact Us