China Business Travel Spending Poised to Overtake U.S. in 2016

A policeman stands guard at the entrance of Beijing's international airport.

A policeman stands guard at the entrance of Beijing's international airport.

Photographer: Wang Zhao/AFP via Getty Images
  • Spending will increase 11% to $322 billion, GBTA says
  • Domestic flights account for 95% of China's business travel

China is positioned to surpass the U.S. in business travel spending by 2016 even as it faces the slowest growth in nearly 25 years and the repercussions of a stock market rout and a currency devaluation.

Corporate expenditure in China on international and domestic travel will increase 11 percent to $322 billion in 2016, exceeding U.S. travel spending of $303 billion, according to estimates from the Global Business Travel Association Foundation. Chinese business travel spending will increase 61 percent to $420 billion in 2019, an indicator of economic resilience as policy makers are expected to lower their growth targets when they present the first five-year plan under President Xi Jinping next week.

Increased consumption among China’s middle class and the spread of regional domestic flights have pushed the country’s business travel market to encompass a fifth of all global corporate travel spending. Domestic travel contributes more than 95 percent to China’s total business travel spending. In the U.S., expenditures for corporate trips will increase 3.7 percent in 2016 as companies become more selective in authorizing business travel abroad, data from the Global Business Travel Association Foundation show.

“Ultimately, long-term growth possibilities for China in the business travel market are really almost underdeveloped, especially when you look at the international and domestic split,” Michael W. McCormick, executive director of the Global Business Travel Association, said by phone Wednesday. “As a country, the United States is so used to being number one in volume in every way. This is a significant milestone, and certainly a reflection of the changing global economic landscape.”

After ten years of nearly even growth across the so-called BRIC nations, China and India have pulled ahead, with business travel projected to grow at double-digit rates over the next two years, while Russia and Brazil will both face negative growth.

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