The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) on Thursday released its “State of the Hotel Industry 2021” report, outlining the forecasted state of the hotel industry in 2021 and into the immediate future. The report examines the high-level economics of the hotel industry’s recovery, the specific impact on and eventual return of business travel, and consumer travel sentiments.
The pandemic, according to AHLA, has been devastating to the hospitality industry workforce, which is down nearly 4 million jobs compared to the same time in 2019. While some 200,000 jobs are expected to be filled this year, overall, the accommodations sector faces an 18.9 percent unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, half of U.S. hotel rooms are projected to remain empty in 2021. In fact, hotel employment is unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels until at least 2023.
In 2019, the nation’s nearly 56,000 hotels experienced an average annual hotel occupancy of 66 percent, selling 1.3 billion rooms. Hotel occupancy in the United States for 2021 is expected to average 52.5 percent, an increase of only 8.5 points from 2020. This would bring room revenue in 2021 to just 85 percent of 2019’s total.
Leisure travel is expected to return first, with consumers optimistic about national distribution of a vaccine—and, with that, an ability to travel again in 2021. The report found that heading into 2021, consumers are optimistic about travel, with 56 percent of Americans saying they are likely to travel for leisure or vacation in 2021. While 34 percent of adults are already comfortable staying in a hotel, 48 percent say their comfort is tied to vaccination in some way.
After nearly a year of self-distancing measures, consumers are looking forward to traveling in 2021 and have begun planning their trips for the upcoming holidays, according to the report. Compared to last year, 36 percent of Americans expect to travel more for leisure in 2021, while 23 percent expect to travel less and 42 percent about the same. Leisure travel demand is projected to begin increasing in the second and third quarter of 2021. One in five Americans (19 percent) expect their next hotel stay to be between January and April, with another 24 percent expecting it sometime between May and August.
Specifically, In the year ahead, Americans say they are most likely to travel for a family event such as a wedding or family reunion (51 percent), while many are likely to travel over summer holidays, led by the Fourth of July (33 percent) and Labor Day (28 percent).
Business travel, which comprises the largest source of hotel revenue, remains nearly nonexistent. It is, however, expected to begin a slow return in the second half of 2021.
The report notes that hotel industry experienced the most devastating year on record in 2020, resulting in historically low occupancy, massive job loss and hotel closures across the country. Hotels were one of the first industries affected by the pandemic after travel was forced to a virtual halt in early 2020, and it will be one of the last to recover. The impact of COVID-19 on the travel industry so far has been nine times that of 9/11.