The steady drop in business travel over the last couple years may have bottomed out recently, as worries about the war in Iraq and the SARS virus waned, according to corporate travel firm Rosenbluth International.

"We're back at 2002 levels right now, after hitting the bottom before the war and staying flat through April," said Ron DiLeo, chief operating officer of strategic travel solutions for Rosenbluth.

According to Rosenbluth statistics, business travel sales are up 20% since the end of the war in Iraq, with international travel also showing signs of life, especially in Asian markets, where traffic has jumped 80% from hitting a low in mid-May amid the SARS scare.

Data on revenue during the month of May from the Air Transport Association, the industry's trade group, confirm this trend, with unit revenue, or revenue per passenger, up 1.6% from year-ago levels, a reversal from April's 4.2% plunge. To be sure, though, the year-ago levels were grim. When compared with 2001 levels, the May revenue picture is the strongest in two years -- off just 4.2% from where revenue was before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Goldman Sachs and other brokerages think June unit revenue could be up between 4% and 5%, while the Travel Industry Association of America said business travel will start to increase this summer, moving up 1% from year-ago levels. A poll from Accenture, the consulting firm, found that 80% of respondents said business travel would increase or stay the same over the next six months.

Rosenbluth's DiLeo said the increased travel stems from the fact that corporate executives feel more comfortable letting employees hit the road, due to the war's end and the lowering of the terror alert level.

"Every corporation was focused on cost reductions, limiting travel budgets, which has caused pent-up demand for travel," said DiLeo.

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