Business travel picks up again – but not for the reasons you think

Did you see more suits at the gate this year? You probably didn’t, but that doesn’t mean businesses aren’t spending more on travel.

The latest data from the National Business Travel Association, in a survey of 170 corporate travel managers in North America, indicates that corporate travel budgets climbed 5.5 percent in 2010, and they’re set to gain another 4.5 percent next year.

But, it’s not for the reasons you think.

Sure, there are a few more people in seats, according to Craig Banikowski, the NBTA’s chief executive. He says that “companies are already getting their teams back on the road to help build business.” But, the underlying driver of the increase in business travel spending is that airlines and hotels are discounting less and kicking their prices higher.

Nonetheless, the NBTA report is optimistic. It finds that 72 percent of corporate travel managers believe that the business travel industry has improved over the past year. And, 63 percent believe it will continue to do so over the coming year.

Notes Banikowski, “As the economy continues to improve and both domestic and international costs rise, we will see airlines and hotels wield more negotiation power.” He adds, “Many travel buyers are already experiencing more strict market thresholds and expect this to result in smaller corporate discounts going forward.”

[photo by Mobile Edge Laptop Cases via Flickr]