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AHLA Survey Sees Business Travel Beginning Slow Return in 2021

Hotel industry association’s research predicts a full recovery to pre-COVID-19 levels is unlikely before 2023

January 29, 2021

The American Hotel & Lodging Association has released its State of the Hotel Industry 2021 and as expected, the news is a mixed bag of cautious optimism and an analysis of the economic tsunami of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industry.

The hospitality industry’s workforce is down by nearly 4 million jobs compared to the same time in 2019, the report finds. Although about 200,000 jobs are expected to be filled this year, overall, the hospitality industry faces an 18.9 percent unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The report also states that half of US hotel rooms are projected to remain empty in 2021.

Business travel is expected to begin a slow return in the second half of 2021. Among frequent business travelers who are currently employed, 29 percent expect to attend their first business conference in the first half of 2021, 36 percent in the second half of the year and 20 percent more than a year from now.

The AHLA survey says business travel is not expected to return to 2019 levels until at least 2023 or 2024.

Top findings from this report include:

• Although hotels will add 200,000 direct hotel operations jobs in 2021, the industry will remain nearly 500,000 jobs below its pre-pandemic employment level of 2.3 million employees.

• Half of US hotel rooms are projected to remain empty through 2021.

• Business travel is forecasted to be down 85 percent compared to 2019 through April 2021, and then only begin ticking up slightly.

• 56 percent 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.

The full report can be seen here. 

“Despite the challenges facing the hotel industry, we are resilient,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA in a statement along with the release of the survey.

“Hotels across the country are focused on creating an environment ready for guests when travel begins to return. AHLA is eager to work with the new administration and Congress on policies that will ultimately help bring back travel, from helping small business hoteliers keep their doors open to ramping up vaccine distribution and testing.”

The AHLA is also working along with Project Save Hospitality on a job fair on Feb. 10 for employees in the hospitality industry who have lost their employment during the COVID-19 pandemic.