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As the country continues to emerge from COVID-19 restrictions, Americans are getting more comfortable traveling again, and the hotel industry is gearing up for a potentially record-breaking summer travel season.
“It’s going to be big,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
At least 67% of adults are likely to travel this summer, with leisure travel potentially hitting levels that have never been seen before, according to industry experts.
That would put hotel occupancy levels back to where they were in 2019, before the pandemic began.
“In large part people have been cooped up for awhile unable to travel for a number of reasons, and demand for summer travel is significant,” Rogers said. “They are exercising their ability to travel right now, and you’re seeing some record numbers in certain parts of the country.”
To prepare for this anticipated surge in demand, hotels are investing in their workforce to create good, lifelong jobs that power local economies, Rogers said. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, hotel employment is down by nearly 382,000 jobs compared to before the pandemic, and Rogers said hotels are looking to fill many of those jobs through a host of employment incentives.
“I tell people all the time if you’ve ever thought about joining the industry, now’s the time because the pay is better than it’s ever been, the benefits are better than they’ve ever been, and the opportunity is better than it’s ever been,” Rogers said.
Pandemic revealed just how important hotels are to communities
Hotels have always been an important factor for communities and local economies, but that was highlighted in a particularly dramatic way during the pandemic as travel numbers decreased and jobs in the industry went away.
According to industry experts, one in 25 American jobs was tied to hotels before the pandemic broke out, with employees either working directly for a hotel or for a company that provided goods or services to a hotel.
“That’s an enormous impact on the American economy,” Rogers said. “There are a lot of jobs in these businesses and a lot of revenue that is created, especially around travel and tourism.”
And people who stay in hotels play an important role in supporting local businesses.
Hotel guests spent $278 billion each year on transportation, dining and shopping, among other activities.
“What it equates to is for every $100 that someone spent on a hotel, they spent about $222 on other activities in and around that hotel during their trip,” Rogers said. “It’s an enormous economic incentive to get people to come to your city and stay in hotels.”
What’s next for the hotel industry
AHLA recently announced the relaunch of its Hospitality is Working campaign to highlight the hotel industry’s commitment to investing in its workforce, protecting employees and guests, and supporting local communities across the country as more Americans begin to travel.
A big initial focus of the campaign has been helping to spur the comeback of business travel.
Prior to the pandemic, more than 50% of hotel revenue came from business travel, which often includes large in-person meetings and food and beverage services.
“We have not seen conferences and conventions come back at the same level as leisure travel,” Rogers said. “A lot of people who work in major cities are not back in their offices on a full-time basis yet.”
But there has been a shift in how business travel is conducted as employers have increasingly been allowing leisure and business travel to be mixed together – sometimes referred to as “bleisure” (business + leisure) travel.
For example, people who would normally go on a business trip from Tuesday through Wednesday are instead getting there on Monday and staying through Thursday.
Maybe they stop at a tourist destination or watch a sports game while they’re in town.
A May Morning Consult survey commissioned by AHLA found that 82% of business travelers would be interested in extending a business trip by a day or two for leisure purposes.
“We hope that’s one trend that comes out of the pandemic that sticks around for quite some time,” Rogers said.
Other studies show that employees want to get back to a pre-pandemic atmosphere, one in which they speak directly to a person and not to someone virtually on a computer screen.
“There are limitations to what technology can do,” said Rogers. “All the statistics tell us that face-to-face business is obviously the best way to do business.”
In the meantime, with leisure travel projected to soar during the 2022 summer season, morale is on a much-needed upswing across the hotel industry.
“Everybody’s in a better place than they were early in the pandemic, and people see a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Rogers.
Learn more at https://hospitalityisworking.com/.