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Business travel on the road to recovery: China with more domestic flights than before the pandemic

Neu-Isenburg, July 22 2021

Even though the corona pandemic is not yet over, vaccination progress and low incidence rates are once again encouraging more business travel. Figures from China in particular give cause for hope.

The corona pandemic significantly curtailed business travel worldwide, but there are now increasing signs of recovery. In Europe, booking figures are increasing significantly again, and in China, at least within the country, even more people are now traveling than before the pandemic. This is confirmed by figures from the corporate payment specialist AirPlus International.

According to these, the number of flights taken within China in the first five months of this year (January to May) was 9.5 percent higher than in the pre-Corona year of 2019. Compared to 2020, there was more than a threefold increase. Flights between Shanghai and Beijing were the most in demand, together accounting for 7 percent of domestic business trips, followed by connections between Shenzhen and Shanghai with a combined 6 percent. China was the first to be hit by the corona pandemic but was also the first to contain the spread of the virus last year. Case numbers there have been at a low level since then and travel, at least within the country, has normalized. Nevertheless, there are differences compared to 2019: bookings are still much more spontaneous now than they were before the pandemic. While an average of 5.8 days elapsed between booking and departure in 2019, even for domestic flights, the figure was only 3.8 days between January and May this year. On the other hand, business trips currently take less time than in 2019. Two years ago, 4.3 days elapsed between departure and arrival back at the starting point for domestic flights, whereas today the figure is just 3.8 days. There are still strong restrictions on foreign travel, so despite the exceptionally good development in business travel within the country, there is still hardly any travel to other countries. Nevertheless, the figures from China show that companies are sending their employees on trips again if this is possible.

Business travel also on the rise again in Europe

A survey conducted by AirPlus in June among 750 top managers worldwide also shows that business travel remains important. According to the survey, 80 percent consider personal contact with customers and suppliers to be indispensable. At 80 percent, approval in China was exactly in line with the average and thus as high as in Germany, Italy, or France. In the USA, as many as 86 percent agreed, while only in UK do companies place slightly less emphasis on personal contact. Even there, however, almost three out of four company managers still consider face-to-face customer meetings to be necessary. It is therefore logical that business travel in Europe is also picking up again. In May of this year, European AirPlus customers alone took more than a third more flights than in the previous month, and the number increased almost fivefold compared to the same month last year. The increase in intra-European flights was disproportionately high, namely almost 50 percent compared to April, while business travel on domestic flights rose by a third. In Germany, business travelers flew 38.5 percent more in May than in the previous month. Here, too, flights to other European countries were in particular demand, with an increase of 52.3 percent. However, Europe is still a long way from pre-pandemic figures: in May, the total number of flights by business travelers in Europe was around one-tenth compared with 2019. However, the booking figures suggest that demand in Europe will also increase significantly again in the coming months.

The figures are an evaluation of the AirPlus Business Travel Index. For this purpose, AirPlus evaluated bookings from China that were settled via the payment service provider, as well as for European figures from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, and the Netherlands. AirPlus is one of the leading international providers of solutions in the field of corporate payment and business travel management.

About AirPlus International:

AirPlus International is a leading international provider of solutions in the corporate payment segment. 48,000 corporate customers rely on AirPlus when it comes to paying for and analyzing their business travel and other purchasing activities. The company’s products and services are marketed worldwide under the AirPlus International brand. AirPlus is an issuer under the UATP and Mastercard card schemes. The AirPlus company account is the most successful billing account within the UATP. For more information, visit

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