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CEO DATELINE – Report: Business travel not expected to recover until 2024

Jan. 21, 2021
By Walt Williams

A new report by the American Hotel & Lodging Association forecasts that business travel likely won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024, although a slow recovery should begin later this year.

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AHLA’s State of the Hotel Industry 2021 noted the devastating effect COVID-19 has had on hotels, with the industry experiencing hundreds of thousands of layoffs. The association expects hotels to partially recover this year by adding 200,000 jobs, but noted that even then that figure remains 500,000 jobs below the industry’s pre-pandemic level of 2.3 million employees.

Leisure travel is expected to pick up this year but business travel will lag behind, remaining 85% below the levels seen in the roughly two years immediately before the pandemic took hold in the U.S. That could be bad news not only for hotels--which generate the bulk of their revenue through business travel--but also associations that produce events that rely on business travelers.

Still, there are signs of recovery. A survey of frequent business travelers who are currently employed found that 29% expect to attend their first business conference in the first half of 2021, 36% in the second half of the year and 20% more than a year from now.

“COVID-19 has wiped out 10 years of hotel job growth. Yet the hallmark of hospitality is endless optimism, and I am confident in the future of our industry,” AHLA CEO Chip Rogers said in a statement.

Other key findings in the report:

  • Half of U.S. hotel rooms are projected to remain empty.
  • 56% of consumers say they expect to travel for leisure, roughly the same amount as in an average year.  
  • Nearly half of consumers see vaccine distribution as key to travel.
  • When selecting a hotel, enhanced cleaning and hygiene practices rank as guests’ number two priority, behind price.

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