RALEIGH-DURHAM AIRPORT – If you think airplanes are crowded now, watch out. Biz travelers are coming back.

About a third of corporate executives expect spending on travel to return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year, according to the results of a recent survey conducted by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA).

Overall, 46 percent of respondents, which included CEOs, CFOs, controllers, and other senior-level CPAs who hold leadership or executive roles, predicted that there would be a “significant uptick in domestic business travel through the end of the year,” and 34 percent said their company would increase travel spending to or above pre-pandemic spending levels.

“There is growing optimism about the recovery accelerating through the end of the year,” said Ash Noah, CPA, CGMA, vice president and managing director of CGMA learning, education and development for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, representing the AICPA and CIMA, in a statement issued by AICPA.

RDU announced a new campaign to spur air travel, Carry On, earlier this month. The campaign is backed by a coalition of stakeholders known as the Triangle Take-Off Coalition, which includes the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, Novo Nordisk, Lenovo, WRAL TechWire parent Capitol Broadcasting Company, Cree, Eckel & Vaughan, FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, Research Triangle Foundation, United Therapeutics, Cisco, Kane Realty, Duke University, Syngenta, PNC, Smith Anderson, Balfour Beatty, Stewart, and the Regional Transportation Alliance.

According to data from the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, 388,029 passengers traveled through RDU for charter carrier flights in May 2021, a mark that is still below the 650,237 passengers who chose to travel by air in May 2019, though up 688% compared to May 2020, when just 49,232 passengers traveled through RDU.

The survey also found that 20% of respondents anticipated that it would take another one to three years for travel to return to pre-pandemic levels, and 10% believed that business travel would never return to the same level, while 29% said they anticipate it would rebound within the next 12 months.

RDU’s CEO: Apple, Google, other tech growth will boost Triangle travel recovery

Companies are resuming business travel for client or sales meetings (66% of respondents reported resuming travel for this activity), conferences or trade shows (55% of respondents reported resuming travel for this activity), internal meetings (52% of respondents reported resuming travel for this activity), and company training (37% of respondents reported resuming travel for this activity).

Joseph Silano, CPA, director of finance and accounting for Hudson Capital Properties, which employs 13 in New York City and Raleigh, noted in a Journal of Accountancy report summarizing the findings: “You’re going to have to travel if you’re a deal person.”  Silano told the publicication that his company wants a representative to meet face to face about new projects.

The study also tracked executive’s perspectives on the current economic climate. 70% expressed optimism about the U.S. economy over the next 12 months, up from 47% last quarter. The AICPA noted that this is the first time a majority of executives have held a positive sentiment on the future of the U.S. economy since the pandemic began in the first quarter last year, and also noted that this is the highest level that measure has reached since the second quarter of 2018.  According to the AICPA, this second-quarter AICPA Business and Industry Economic Outlook Survey was conducted from April 27 to May 24, 2021, and included 770 qualified responses.