Short-term outlook for hotel industry remains gloomy

High unemployment and low business travel add up to a slow recovery.
Photo courtesy of Hilton Hotels

The pandemic has been devastating to the hotel industry and it looks like the economic slump will continue into 2021.

In a report released Thursday, the American Hotel & Lodging Association forecasted the state of the U.S. hotel industry through the end of this year and into the immediate future.

Leisure travel is expected to return once vaccinations become more widespread, but business travel won’t rebound until 2024, predicts the AHLA. And the unemployment rate of hotel workers will remain at a high 18.9%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

About 200,000 jobs are expected to be filled in hotel operations during 2021, but that’s nearly 500,000 jobs below the industry’s pre-pandemic employment level of 2.3 million workers.

The short-term outlook for business travel, which comprises the largest source of hotel revenue and remains pretty much nonexistent, is not promising either. Among frequent business travelers who are currently employed, 29% expect to attend their first business conference in the first half of 2021, 36% in the second half of the year and 20% won’t travel until a year from now.

Business travel is not expected to return to 2019 levels until at least 2023 or 2024. Half of U.S. hotel rooms are projected to remain empty in 2021.

Consumers are painting a somewhat brighter picture, with 56% saying they expect to travel for leisure, roughly the same amount as in an average year. Vacationers are optimistic about the national distribution of a vaccine that will enable them to travel again in 2021.

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

With travel demand continuing to lag below normal levels, national and state projections for 2021 show a slow rebound for the industry and then an acceleration in 2022, the report concludes. 

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