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What is business tourism and why is it so big?

In 2017, the world travel and tourism industry contributed more than $10 trillion dollars to the global economy. Of this amount, business tourism contributed a significant proportion, with a total of $1.23 trillion dollars.

Modern society transportation and infrastructure systems continue to revolutionise and therefore business tourism has the means to provide greater economic power than it has previously.

In this post, I will focus on the growing tourism industry of ‘business tourism’. I will explain what business tourism is, why business tourism is part of the tourism industry and provide a few examples of where business tourism takes place.

What is business tourism?

business tourism. Business travel.

Business tourism, or business travel, is essentially a form of travel which involves undertaking business activities that are based away from home.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) defines tourists as people ‘traveling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes’, thus making business an important and integral sector of the tourism economy.

Business tourism activities includes attending meetings, congresses, exhibitions, incentive travel and corporate hospitality.

Definitions of business tourism

Academically, there isn’t a huge amount of literature on the characterisation of ‘business tourism’ or ‘business travel’. However, to quote from Davidson (1994) ‘Business tourism is concerned with people travelling for purposes which are related to their work.’

Business tourism represents one of the oldest forms of tourism, man having travelled for the purpose of travel since very early times” (cited in Bathia, 2006, p.272). To elaborate, business tourism is a means of travel that takes place for the primarily importance of a work-related activity.

Often the term ‘business tourism’ is described as ‘business traveller/travellers’.

Why is business tourism important?

There is a strong and correlative relation amongst a country’s economy and business tourism.

Business travellers are less cost sensitive on their expenditure as they themselves generally devote only a fraction of the cost. Research has shown that business travellers spend up to four times more during their trip than any other types of tourists. In fact, early research by Davidson and Cope, discovered that the ratio of daily expenditure by business travellers to that of leisure is generally situated somewhat between 2:1 and 3:1.

Therefore, business tourism provides significant economic contributions to the local and global economy. Business tourism also promotes the development for advanced infrastructure and transportation systems which also benefits other forms of tourism as well as the local population.

Business tourism also supports the hospitality industry, i.e. hotel bookings and restaurant bookings. This form of tourism also supports leisure tourism as business travellers tend to combine both activities together. This is referred as ‘bleisure tourism’, the combination of ‘business’ and ‘leisure’.

Business tourism activities

business tourism. Business travel.

There are many forms of business tourism activities. Here I have demonstrated four key examples.

International exhibitors

Business travellers may travel for the purpose of attending an exhibition. Exhibitions offer opportunities for businesses to connect with the international industry community. The exhibition industry entices two groups of people: those with something to sell and those who attend with a view to making a purchase of getting information.

Exhibitions come in all shapes and sizes depending on a person’s area of interest or work. As I have an interest in tourism I have attended a number of relevant travel exhibitions in recent years including ITB in Berlin and The World Travel Market in the UK.

business tourism. Business travel.


Throughout many business excursions, the business traveller will have some form of meeting to attend during the course of their trip. Meetings may be appointments with clients; a board meeting at the present company or interstate of international branches; or an orientation meeting with staff at a new branch. Meetings can take place face-to-face or electronically using means such as Skype or FaceTime.

Corporate hospitality events

Corporate hospitality is a form of business travel that takes place when a corporation invites their guests to attend an event or an organised activity at no extra charge.

Corporate hospitality is a valuable tool used by corporations to foster relations, both internal and external to the company or to brand in influential circles. The extent to which corporate hospitality can yield tangible and intangible benefits is covered really well in the bestselling business book from award-winning restauranteur Danny Meyer, of Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, and Shake Shack entitled Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business.


A conference is a formal meeting of people with a shared interest. Conferences may last a day or they may last several days.

Conferences are common across a number of industries. Having worked in academia for a number of years, I have attended and presented at many conferences such as the ICOT conference in Thailand in 2017 and the International Conference on Sustainable Tourism in Nepal in 2018. I even won the three minute thesis competition at a PhD conference that I attended at the University of Staffordshire!

There are also many conferences and get togethers for travel bloggers that I am interested, such as TBEX, Traverse and Travel Massive.


Often in the business tourism literature you will come across the term MICE. MICE is a reference for Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events. The term MICE has been recognised as ‘The Meeting Industry’ according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

The MICE industry contributes significantly to the wider business tourism sector. It is becoming increasingly recognised as a prominent part of the industry and is beginning to receive growing attention amongst the academic community. You can read a detailed article about MICE tourism here.

Source: Milt

Leisure time activities

Along with the examples demonstrated above, business travellers also participate in leisure activities outside of their business commitments. These activities could range from dining out, sightseeing and other recreational activities. When I attended a conference in Nepal in 2017, for example, I took my mother in law and daughter along for the conference gala dinner where we took part in traditional Nepalese evening celebrations!

What to do in Kathmandu

Benefits of business tourism

There are many benefits of business tourism. Notably, it brings economic value to the wider tourism industry as well as the local economy, for example through hotel bookings or sales of business travel backpacks. What many people forget to mention, however, are the benefits that business tourism can also have for the tourist!

I have travelled many times for business, whether this as part of my former Cabin Crew career, for an academic conference or to undertake consultancy work. Travelling frequently for work can yield many benefits for the individual, such as;

  • Collecting frequent flier miles and redeeming these for personal use
  • Becoming a member of hotel loyalty programmes and receiving associated benefits during both work and personal trips
  • Saving money on things such as food and drink when attending corporate hospitality events
  • Enhanced networking opportunities that may otherwise be inaccessible
  • Taking advantage of leisure opportunities that may be otherwise inaccessible
  • Enjoying the use of facilities, such as gyms or swimming pools, that may not otherwise be available to you

Business tourism destinations

business tourism. Business travel.

There are a variety of business tourism destinations all across the world. However, this type of tourism is predominantly situated in global north countries. This is mainly because global north countries are developed countries and have the means to provide well equipped resources and infrastructure to makes business tourism easily accessible and thus desirable choices among business travellers.

According to Egencia, the corporate travel group collected data from flight booking and reservations during the years 2014 and 2018. Their collection of data led them to discover the top 20 destinations for global business tourism.

Top business tourism destinations

1. New York 11. Dubai
2. London 12. Mexico City
3. Paris 13. Boston
4. Shanghai 14. Montreal
5. Toronto 15. Beijing
6. Singapore 16. Los Angeles
7. San Francisco 17. Mumbai
8. Hong Kong 18. São Paulo
9. Tokyo 19. Casablanca
10. Chicago 20. Seoul

Following the list above, I have listed a set of examples of business tourism that are listed within the top ten destinations for global business tourism/travel.

Business tourism in Hong Kong

Hong Kong ranks 8th in the world for global business tourism and has been deemed one of Asia’s top choice for business travel. According to CTM, Central and Tsim Sha Tsui are the most popular commercial areas for business travel, with several hotels and business headquarters.

Hong Kong is the perfect destination for MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) and in 2014, this form of tourism accounted for 1.82 million visitors.

There are around 283 hotels in Hong Kong.

There are a variety of things to do in Hong Kong during a business trip of the traveller is wanting to blend business and leisure together. A list of things to do are:

  1. Victoria Peak
  2. Tian Tan Buddha
  3. Victoria Harbour The Peak Tram

Business tourism in London

London ranks 2nd in the world for global business tourism. London is the financial capital of the world and with this status comes several high-profile companies and is thought to be one of the best places to network and seek new business opportunities. This is why so many business tourists visit London for conferences, meetings and exhibitions.

London has around 1500 hotels.

There are a variety of things to do in London during a business trip of the traveller is wanting to blend business and leisure together. A list of things to do are:

  1. Big Ben
  2. Buckingham Palace
  3. Coco Cola London Eye
  4. The British Museum
  5. Palace of Westminster

Business tourism in New York

In 2019, New York was named the world’s top destination for business tourism for the fourth consecutive year. At no surprise when business travel flight bookings increased by more than 120% between 2014 and 2018.

New York is also a popular destination for business tourism as it offers a great deal of leisure activities and promotes the idea of blending business with leisure travel.

There are a variety of things to do in New York during a business trip of the traveller is wanting to blend business and leisure together. A list of things to do are:

  1. Statue of Liberty National Monument
  2. Central Park
  3. Empire State Building
  4. The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Business tourism in Toronto

Toronto has been ranked the 5th destination for global business tourism, outranking major commercial centres in the U.S.

Toronto (pronounced as “Traw-no” by the locals), is the financial capital of Canada. And according to Business Events, Toronto is the top Canadian domestic travel destination and the most popular choice for U.S sponsored association meetings outside the U.S.

In Toronto there are over 170 hotels which collectively has around 36,000 hotel rooms.

There are a variety of things to do in Toronto during a business trip of the traveller is wanting to blend business and leisure together. A list of things to do are:

  1. CN Tower
  2. Casa Loma
  3. Royal Ontario Museum Art Gallery of Ontario

Business tourism in San Francisco

San Francisco has been ranked 7th in the world for global business tourism.  According to The San Francisco Travel Association, San Francisco welcomed 18.9 million leisure visitors and 5.8 million business travellers in 2015.

According to Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of San Francisco Travel, San Francisco is “experiencing sustained growth in all market segments – domestic, international, leisure and business – as a result of our highly professional and sophisticated community of hotels, restaurants, cultural organizations and SFO, one of the finest airports in the world.” 

There are a variety of things to do in San Francisco during a business trip of the traveller is wanting to blend business and leisure together. A list of things to do are:

  1. Fisherman’s Wharf
  2. Golden Gate Bridge
  3. Golden Gate Park
  4. China Town

Business tourism: A conclusion

Where business exists, the demand for business travel follows. Business tourism is predominantly located where good transportation systems are allocated, i.e. airports, taxis, railways. The choices of hotels and restaurants also attracts business travel.

Do you travel for business? What things do you look out for on your business trip? Are you a lover of combining business and leisure activities? Leave a comment below.

Like this post? For more on different types of tourism, I’d suggest reading my tourism glossary!

Further reading