COVID Continues To Threaten Future Of Business Travel

U.S. business travelers are scaling back travel plans amid rising COVID-19 cases, with 67 percent planning to take fewer trips, 52 percent likely to cancel existing travel plans without rescheduling and 60 percent planning to postpone existing travel plans, according to a new national survey conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA).

Despite an uptick in leisure travel over the summer, the new survey highlights the dim outlook for business travel and events, which account for more than half of hotel revenue and aren’t expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

The lack of business travel and events has had major repercussions for employment both directly on hotel properties, and in the broader community. Hotels are expected to end 2021 down nearly 500,000 jobs compared to 2019. For every 10 people directly employed on a hotel property, hotels support an additional 26 jobs in the community, from restaurants and retail to hotel supply companies—meaning an additional nearly 1.3 million hotel-supported jobs are also at risk.

The survey of 2,200 adults was conducted August 11-12. Of these, 414 people, or 18 percent of respondents, are business travelers—that is, those who either work in a job that typically includes work-related travel or who expect to travel for business at least once between now and the end of the year. Key findings among business travelers include the following:

  • 67 percent are likely to take fewer trips, while 68 percent are likely to take shorter trips
  • 52 percent say they are likely to cancel existing travel plans with no plans to reschedule
  • 60 percent are likely to postpone existing travel plans until a later date
  • 66 percent are likely to only travel to places they can drive to

The survey also tested attitudes among 1,590 people (72 percent of respondents) who are likely to attend large gatherings, meetings and events—all key drivers of hotel revenue. Findings among those respondents include:

  • 71 percent are likely to attend fewer in-person events or gatherings
  • 67 percent are likely to have shorter meetings or events
  • 59 percent are likely to postpone existing meetings or events until a later date
  • 49 percent say they are likely to cancel existing meetings or events with no plans to reschedule

According to a recent Deloitte survey, corporate travel is projected to remain at only 30 percent of 2019 levels through the end of 2021. This lack of corporate travel would cost the hotel industry an estimated $59 billion in 2021, according to leading economists.

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