Business travel rebounds from recession lows

The July 4th holiday rush may be over, but it appears the travel sector is seeing continued momentum thanks to the growing number of business travelers.

A new forecast by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and sponsored by Visa says U.S.-based business travel rose nearly three percent year-over-year, with company spending for such travel increasing 7.6 percent, to $71.2 billion for the first quarter of 2014. And for the year, U.S.-generated spending on business travel is expected to reach $292.3 billion, an increase of nearly seven percent from 2013.

"Business travel spending in the U.S. supports 7.1 million jobs," Michael W. McCormick, GBTA executive director and COO, said in a press statement. "We continue to see a correlation: growth in business travel is intrinsically linked to jobs development and ultimately growth in the U.S. economy."

The forecast also notes that group business travel was up last year, especially in comparison with individual business trips, rising 8.6 percent -- a significant indicator, according to the report, "that the business travel industry is recovering from the Great Recession and increasing discretionary spending."

At the same time, GBTA is forecasting international, outbound business travel from the U.S. to rise by 6.6 percent this year, with spending on those trips rising by 10.3 percent. The cost of such trips, meanwhile, is expected to grow this year, but by less than two percent. And those relatively static figures are reportedly due, for the most part, to stable airfare prices. But GBTA is predicting those prices to rise in the coming months "as consolidation in the industry puts more pricing power in the hands of the airlines."

There are also, of course, some wild cards to consider, including any new volatility in the oil markets, which would in turn affect gas and jet fuel prices.

On Monday, AAA reported the national price for gas in the U.S. has had dropped for ten straight days, but still remained at the highest levels for this time of year since 2008. And while the ongoing violence in Iraq, a major oil producer, continues to affect global energy prices, production in the southern part of Iraq has not been disrupted, which in turn has lessened concerns over potential oil supply disruptions.