More than half of U.S. business travelers are likely to cancel existing travel plans with no intent to reschedule due to the surge in Covid-19 delta variant cases, according to a new American Hotel and Lodging Association survey. The survey results come as corporations delay their return to the office and major business travel destinations reinstate entry requirements and travel warnings, further evidence of a fall business travel recovery that could be weaker than some expected.
AHLA surveyed 2,200 adults Aug. 11-12 about their travel plans. Of the total sample, 414 respondents were business travelers. About 60 percent of business traveler respondents indicated they likely would postpone their travel plans until a later date. About 67 percent noted they are likely to take fewer trips, while 68 percent said they are likely to take shorter and 66 percent said they are likely will travel only places they can drive to.
Most business traveler respondents are reducing not only their number and length of trips but also their meeting attendance, with 71 percent reporting they likely will attend fewer in-person events or gatherings. Around 59 percent indicated they are likely to postpone existing meetings, and 49 percent said they are likely to cancel existing meetings with no intent to reschedule.
Indeed, group demand could fall in the months ahead, according to STR and Tourism Economics. “Group will still happen, but I won’t be surprised to see some cancellations in markets with high case counts and low vaccination rates,” STR president Amanda Hite said in a statement that accompanied its upgraded 2021 U.S. hotel forecast.
The drop in meeting attendance comes as some scheduled large-scale events are being canceled or delayed. On Aug. 24, The Financial Planning Association, for example, cancelled its in-person conference scheduled for Sept. 22, citing “the surge of the delta variant and concerns over the increasing number of Covid-19 cases across the country.” Nearly 1,000 participants were registered for the event.
Surveys Suggest Demand Hesitation
AHLA’s results coincide with the Global Business Travel Association’s August survey. Among that survey’s 678 member travel buyer and supplier respondents, 40 percent that had ceased domestic travel planned to resume domestic trips within the next one to three months. About 31 percent of the supplier respondents reported a drop in corporate bookings, and 25 percent reported an increase in corporate sales.
Based on a May to mid-June survey of 150 corporate executives, Deloitte projected fourth-quarter 2021 U.S. business travel to reach at most 35 percent of the level of the fourth quarter of 2019. Deloitte projected business travel would recover faster if border restrictions eased and a significant outbreak didn’t occur. Since the survey was conducted, quarantines and travel warnings have been maintained or reinstated. The U.S. federal government in late July said it would not lift restrictions on international travelers anytime soon, and the European Council on Aug. 30 removed the U.S. from its list of safe countries from which travelers would not require quarantine and testing.
The accumulating survey results come after suppliers voiced optimism in their quarterly earnings calls this summer. Many pointed to presumed autumn return to the office as a sign for a stronger recovery in business travel.
Several corporations, however, have delayed their mandatory return to the office plans again. Google, Facebook and Amazon—each a Corporate Travel 100 company—each recently announced they will delay their mandatory return to the office to 2022 due to rising Covid-19 cases.