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Hilton CEO Sees Corporate Travel Rebound Later in 2021

Hotel group’s polling finds over 80 percent of business travelers say they have to get back on the road

Discussions with Hilton’s corporate travel accounts shows a pent-up demand for business travel that is likely to drive a recovery as the year progresses, according to Chris Nassetta, CEO of the hotel group.

Speaking on the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call, Nassetta said “we continue to see signs of optimism,” despite the fact that 70 percent of bookings are now being made within a week of travel, meaning in the near-term, “overall visibility remains limited.”

Nassetta said that discussions with corporate accounts show that in the short term, business travel trends “are marching up even in the middle of all this, even though we don’t have an all-clear sign.”

Hilton polling shows that over 80 percent of corporate travelers say they have to get back out on the road, the highest number since the pandemic began, Nassetta said. “They have so many things that they need to do when you talk to them about collecting their people, innovation, just team meetings, getting out with clients and customers and the like.”

Nassetta’s evaluation of the likelihood of a recovery in corporate travel is reflected in other industry research. According to the latest Global Business Travel Association survey of corporate travel managers, nearly half (48 percent) say non-critical business travel either already has or is likely to return by the end of third quarter of 2021.

Nassetta added that meetings seem to be showing signs of life as well. Group bookings have been down by as much as 80 percent compared with 2019, he explained, but for the second half of 2021 they’re down by only 32 percent against the second half of 2019.