Personal Finance

Vacations may bounce back this year while business trips are off, report finds

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Key Points
  • More than half of U.S. consumers say they will travel on vacation later this year, but business travel will be off 85% through at least April.
  • Just over one-third of travelers are comfortable with staying in a hotel, and cleanliness and hygiene are their No. 2 priority when booking, after price.
  • Americans' willingness to travel is tied to the success of new vaccination campaigns.
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Vacations may be back on Americans' calendars later this year — especially if vaccines help suppress the Covid-19 pandemic — but business travel won't bounce back for quite some time, according to a forecast from the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

Fifty-six percent of Americans say they are likely to travel for leisure in 2021, but 48% say their willingness to travel is tied to vaccination in some way, according to the "AHLA's State of the Hotel Industry 2021" report released earlier this month.

The findings echo a recent survey from ValuePenguin of 1,200 consumers that found 57% have a vacation planned this year, with 16% having booked right after hearing about new vaccines.

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Among travelers, 34% are comfortable with the idea of staying in a hotel, AHLA found. And enhanced cleaning and hygiene practices are now consumers' No. 2 priority, behind price, when booking hotels.

By comparison, business travel is not expected to return to 2019 levels until at least 2023 or 2024, according to AHLA. Business travel will be down 85% through April, compared to 2019, and then will only tick upward very slowly.

Only 29% of frequent business travelers who are still employed said they expect to travel to a conference in the first half of 2021. Another 36% think the second half of the year is more likely, and 20% don't expect to travel until 2022 or later.

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To wit, half of all U.S. hotel rooms will likely remain unoccupied in 2021. The hospitality industry is down almost 4 million jobs compared to the same time in 2019, and the accommodations sector experienced an 18.9% unemployment rate in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Covid-19 has wiped out 10 years of hotel job growth," said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA, in a statement. "Despite the challenges facing the hotel industry, we are resilient.

"Hotels across the country are focused on creating an environment ready for guests when travel begins to return," he added.

AHLA's report consolidated findings from several polls conducted in December and January. Morning Consult conducted the consumer poll among 2,200 adults Jan. 7-9, and the business traveler poll among 400 adults Jan. 7-12. The consumer safety poll was conducted by Ecolab on Dec. 10 among 556 adults.