U.S. Travel Association Predicts Uneven Industry Recovery

While domestic leisure travel is predicted to surpass prepandemic levels in 2022, business and international travel will likely take much longer to fully recover.

Meetings Industry Forecast 2022
Read Northstar's 2022 forecast here, which compiles expert insights on recovery for hotels, trade shows, incentives and more.

Domestic business travel spending is expected to reach 76 percent of 2019 levels next year, but will not fully recover until 2024, according to the latest biannual forecast from the U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics. The fall 2021 forecast predicts that domestic leisure travel will continue to lead the industry's recovery and will in fact surpass prepandemic levels in 2022 and beyond.

"While we see much reason for optimism on the horizon, our forecast reveals that travel’s recovery is uneven, with much work ahead to ensure all segments reach prepandemic levels," said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. 

Roger Dow US Travel president CEO
Roger Dow, president and CEO, U.S. Travel Association

According to the report, business travel spending is expected to rise from $136 billion in 2021 to $206 billion in 2022 — still below the 2019 levels of $270 billion. It isn't expected to surpass the prepandemic numbers until 2024, when it is estimated to reach $277 billion. Meanwhile, domestic leisure travel is predicted to hit $726 billion in 2022, up from $702 billion currently and $722 billion in 2019.

The recovery of international travel spending is also expected to lag, although the reopening of U.S. borders this month is anticipated to provide a much-needed boost to both the leisure and business segments. International leisure spending is expected to rise from $32 billion in 2021 to $107 billion in 2022. According to the forecast, international business travel will increase from $8 billion currently to $24 billion next year. Full recovery of international leisure and business travel is not expected until 2024 and 2025, respectively.

US Travel Forecast 2022
International travel spending is forecasted to reach 72 percent of 2019 levels in 2022. Photo Credit: U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics

In conjunction with the forecast, the U.S. Travel Association announced that the Meetings Mean Business Coalition would be fully integrated under the U.S. Travel umbrella. The integration is designed to help MMB better advocate for the return of business travel and live events, by allowing the coalition to benefit more directly from U.S. Travel's public affairs resources and advocacy network.

"Fully integrating Meetings Mean Business and its scope of work under the U.S. Travel Association umbrella makes great strategic sense, given the level of need and advocacy for the recovery of the meetings and business events travel segment," said Fred Dixon, president and CEO, NYC & Company and co-chair, Meetings Mean Business Coalition. "We are excited to closely align the coalition's work further within U.S. Travel and its public affairs program."

The U.S. Travel Association also recommended the following policies to accelerate the travel industry's recovery:

  • Fully reopen and resume visitor visa processing at U.S embassies and consulates;
  • Ensure that Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration are adequately staffed to meet rising demand;
  • Pass the Restoring Brand USA Act to provide emergency relief funding to Brand USA, the official destination marketing organization representing the United States; and
  • Enact temporary tax credits to restore demand for in-person professional meetings.