ALEXANDRIA, VA—The majority of Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) companies expect their employees to return to in-person events in 2021. Almost half (45%) expect attendance to resume in the first half of the year, according to the latest poll conducted between Sept. 15-19  by GBTA, with an additional 25% of the 1,364 total respondents expecting a return to in-person events in the second half of 2021.

While most do not expect their company to host in-person meetings, events or conferences in 2020, there is growing optimism for 2021, with 37% expecting to host some or many meetings or events in Q1, rising to 61% by Q2. An average of one in four GBTA members still remain unsure, echoing the general “wait-and-see” approach due to the current uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

Expectations on company plans to return to office vary with 1 in 5 (20%) of GBTA companies reporting a return to office in 2020. One in three (35%) plan to return in the first half of next year, including 28% who expect to return in Q1, with one in five (21%) are still undecided. The poll also finds that 16% of member companies have already returned to the office.

Looking at factors to influence the return to the office and in-person events, half (52%) say an effective vaccine for COVID-19 would have the most influence on the planning process. Just under a quarter of respondents (24%) would like to see decreased COVID-19 transmission rates worldwide. Fewer respondents requested increased coronavirus testing and rapid results reporting worldwide (8%) and slowing unemployment and growth in global economies (3%).

Throughout the pandemic, the role of a travel manager and the necessity for a managed travel program has been high on the boardroom agenda. The poll revealed half (48%) of GBTA companies say their senior managers value a managed travel program “much more” or “more” than they did before COVID-19. This sentiment is consistent with key corporate stakeholders including human resources or risk management, with half (51%) of GBTA companies reporting that these stakeholders value the managed travel program “much more” or “more” than before the pandemic.

“While there is no doubt the current global uncertainty around a second wave is delaying the return to business travel, the outlook for 2021 is looking more positive with companies planning a return to face-to-face meetings and events,” said Dave Hilfman, interim executive director, GBTA. “It is encouraging to see businesses planning their return to office in a careful and safe way.”