Consumer Trends

Delta variant keeps more business travelers out of restaurants

business travel
Photograph: Shutterstock

Business travel is flagging again because of the surge in COVID-19 infections, with 67% of commercial road warriors saying they’ll take fewer trips and 52% voicing intentions to cancel journeys they’ve already booked, according to new research.

The downturn will delay a rebound to pre-pandemic levels of business travel until 2024, says the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA), which commissioned the survey by a firm called Morning Consult. The trade group projects that corporate travel will fall about 70% short of 2019 levels this year, for citing research by Deloitte.  It estimates the lost sales at $59 billion.

The findings are bad news not just for hotels and their restaurants—the lodging industry collects about half its revenues from business travelers—but also for steakhouses and other high-end streetside concepts that depend on expense-account dining.

The data is also grim for hotel banquet and catering departments. Just under half the corporate customers participating in the survey said they plan to cancel and not reschedule currently planned conferences and events. Two-thirds said they plan to shorten the meetings.

The information comes as many corporations are starting to plan holiday parties and other year-end company get-togethers.

The AH&LA notes that the slide follows a slight uptick in leisure travel during the summer.   

The data is part of a recent outpouring of research that ties a backslide in the hospitality industry’s recovery to the rapid spread of the delta strain of coronavirus.

Today the National Restaurant Industry released a special mid-year snapshot of the restaurant portion of the hospitality business. It showed that 6 out of 10 consumers have changed their dining-out patterns because of the delta variant, with 19% saying they’ve stopped eating at restaurants because of a heightened risk.

The findings provide leverage for wresting more direct aid dollars from Congress. The restaurant association has been pressing for a re-up of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which channeled $28.6 billion in grants to small operators in a three-week stretch. It is now out of money.

The AH&LA has maintained that it needs a similar direct aid program for hotels.

“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,” Chip Rogers, CEO of the AH&LA, said in a statement. “Hotel employees and small business owners across the nation have been pleading for direct pandemic relief for over a year now. These results show why now is the time for Congress to listen to those calls and pass the Save Hotel Jobs Act.”

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