By most indications, business travel is becoming healthy once more.
Among the most telling signs come from the TravelClick North American Hospitality Review, which tracks business travel through "transient weekday retail and negotiated reservations" — that is, weekday hotel traffic.
For the top 25 markets in June, July and August this year, business travel projections were up 7.4 percent from the same period in 2010. In comparison, leisure travel was up just 0.5 percent, said Tim Hart, TravelClick's executive vice president of business intelligence.
"Throughout the recovery, the business segment has led the way out," Hart said. "If we look back to the first and second quarters of 2009, when the industry bottomed out, the first segment to recover was business."
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But what I found most interesting is where the largest growth is: Detroit.
The Motor City has seen growth of nearly 27 percent — nearly 10 percentage points more than the metropolitan area with the second-most growth, Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Why has Detroit, of all places, seen the greatest growth in business travel?
The dramatic turn is a result of how far it had fallen, Hart said.
"Detroit is almost an entirely business market," he said. "If the other markets are a mix of business and leisure, a city like Detroit will be affected by a downturn in business travel to a greater degree."
Another answer is even simpler: a recovering auto industry, said Chris Baum, a senior vice president with the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"It's so obvious that people don't think of it," Baum said. "Now that Ford, GM and Chrysler have gone back to multibillion-dollar profits, there's a lot of trickle-down. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of companies in the industry that have operations in Detroit."
The city has been above even its own midweek hotel revenue projections in the last year, which has led to great relief among those whose fortunes rely on business travel — hotels, restaurants and the like. But the relief has been tempered.
"It's wonderful, but it's our Achilles' heel: being dependent on one industry for so much economic" activity, Hart said.
And therein lies a lesson for other cities, Hart said: diversify.
Detroit — and the rest of Michigan — is trying to. The state is growing in alternative energy and the medical industry through its university system, Baum said. Such growth should allow it to better weather future economic storms.
"If you're a one-industry town, you ride a roller coaster sometimes," he said.
BY THE NUMBERS
In June, July and August, business travel projections in the top 25 U.S. cities were up 7.4 percent compared with the same period in 2010. The top five gainers were: Detroit: 26.8 percent Minneapolis-St. Paul: 17.2 percent Charlotte, N.C.: 16.6 percent Boston: 14.2 percent Atlanta: 14.1 (Source: TravelClick)