Why Brands Should Subsegment Business Travelers to Anticipate COVID Travel Needs

Income level and past travel experience inform business travelers' comfort levels, writes travel and hospitality analyst Lindsey Roeschke
Getty Images / Morning Consult artwork by Tadiana Martinez
September 23, 2021 at 12:01 am UTC

Key Takeaways

  • Business travelers are more likely to be concerned about the delta variant than non-business travelers.

  • Business travelers express varying degrees of concern across income levels, with higher-income business travelers more likely to express comfort traveling and most likely to say they’ve hit the road in the past year.

After an optimistic start to the summer of 2021, the delta variant has thrown hopes of a travel industry recovery into question. Particularly concerning are forecasts for business travel, as companies continue to push back in-person meetings and events, and more broadly rethink the need for business travel as a whole given the digital shift of the past year and a half.

Roughly one-third of business travelers have no concrete plans to travel for the rest of the year, per a spring Morning Consult poll. Gaining (and retaining) the favor of the remaining two-thirds, then, will be crucial for travel brands as uncertainty looms. To do so, they must be aware of three things.

Business travelers are, on the whole, more concerned about the delta variant than non-business travelers.

Eighty-one percent of business travelers  -- those who say they were regularly required to travel for work before the pandemic -- say they are somewhat or very concerned about the delta variant compared to 75 percent of non-business travelers. While this may seem concerning, brands must not conflate COVID concerns with a lack of comfort traveling. In fact, business travelers generally report higher levels of comfort across several aspects of travel when compared to their counterparts, despite these elevated delta worries. 

Higher-income business travelers express the most concern about delta.

Those in households earning more than $100,000 per year are 10 percentage points more likely than those making less than $50,000 to say they’re worried about the delta variant.

Higher-Income Business Travelers Are Most Concerned About the Delta Variant

Respondents were asked how concerned they were about the Delta variant
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Weekly surveys were conducted among roughly 2,200 U.S. adults and have a margin of error of +/-2%.

This pattern holds true for U.S. adults in general -- those in higher income brackets report higher levels of concern about COVID more generally, and the delta variant. 

For business travelers, elevated concern with COVID does not equate to less comfort traveling.

Similar to the pattern observed between business travelers and non-business travelers, those who are more COVID-concerned are actually more comfortable traveling.

Higher-income business travelers, who again are more concerned about the virus, report higher comfort levels than those earning less per year on key aspects of travel -- taking a vacation, going on a road trip, flying domestically or internationally. They’re also much more likely to have traveled amid the pandemic, suggesting experiencing COVID travel could be positively impacting comfort levels.

Higher-Income Business Travelers Express Relatively High Levels of Comfort Traveling

Share of business travelers who say they feel comfortable engaging in specific aspects of travel right now
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Weekly surveys are conducted among roughly 2,200 U.S. adults and have a margin of error of +/-2%.

These higher comfort levels can be explained in a few ways that travel brands should be mindful of: Wealthier travelers’ income-driven ability to pay a premium for brands and services that protect their health and safety; wealthier adults’ higher vaccination rate, and thus higher level of protection; or the financial safety net richer travelers have if they do become sick. 

To be sure, comfort levels across each demographic are either flatlining or dropping, as delta continues its spread across the country.

The takeaway

As travel brands pursue this important group of consumers, they must remain cognizant not only of the impact of COVID-related concerns, but also of how income and access to resources can impact comfort levels. While it may be initially worrying that higher-income business travelers are more concerned about the delta variant, they are also more likely to feel comfortable with travel itself. 

Business travelers represent low-hanging fruit for travel brands, who can lean into messaging and deliver on experiences related to safety and security to reinforce high-income business travelers’ comfort with the industry and keep them coming back.

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.
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