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As COVID-19 Cases Rise, Hopes Dim for a Business Travel Rebound

Survey finds two-thirds of business travelers are scaling back trips and more than half are likely to cancel existing plans

September 6, 2021

Over two-thirds (67 percent) of US business travelers say rising COVID-19 cases are prompting them to scale back the number of trips they are planning, according to a national survey conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

More than half (52 percent) of survey respondents say they are likely to cancel existing travel plans without rescheduling, while three in five (60 percent) plan to postpone existing travel plans. Two-thirds (66 percent) say they are likely to travel only to places they can reach by driving. 

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 survey of 2,200 people nationwide also gauged attitudes toward attending large gatherings, meetings, and events. Results showed:

  • 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 stage a slow, cautious return, hovering at 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.

Another survey by PwC in June found the rollout of vaccines was positively impacting the recovery timeline and accelerating the improvement in the hospitality industry. Leisure travel rebounded during the summer months, but the rise of the delta variant has once again dampened expectations for business travel going into the fall.

The lack of business travel and events has major repercussions for employment both directly on hotel properties, and in the broader community, according to Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA. “Hotels were already on pace to lose more business travel revenue this year than we did in 2020. And now rising COVID-19 cases threaten to further reduce the main source of revenue for our industry,” Rogers said.