After worst travel year on record, national hotel group warns of slow recovery due to COVID-19

Grand Strand

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) – A leading group for hotels says 2020 was the travel industry’s worst on record and economic recovery will be very slow in the new year.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) says the financial impact of COVID-19 is nine times worse for the travel industry than 9/11. The group’s 2021 outlook says hotel occupancy nationwide went down 33% from 2019 to 2020.

That’s more than the 25% decrease on the Grand Strand, according to research by Taylor Damonte, who’s the director of the Brittain Center for Tourism at Coastal Carolina University.

“Certainly there was a serious impact on our business, but we are a drive-to destination,” Damonte said.

According to the AHLA outlook, hotel occupancy is projected to only rebound slightly from 44% in 2020 to 52% in 2021. That means nearly half of all U.S. hotel rooms would still stay empty.

The forecast is even bleaker for business travel. The AHLA says it may not reach pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

Damonte says that likely won’t hurt the Grand Strand as much because it’s mostly a beach destination.

“We don’t rely primarily on convention travel and certainly not on business travel,” he said. “We do have some of that in the Myrtle Beach area, but it’s not our primary source.”

The AHLA also says COVID-19 vaccine availability is a major factor for the 56% of Americans who plan to travel for leisure this year. The outlook says 48% of people surveyed said their comfort with staying at a hotel is tied to vaccination in three ways: when the majority of Americans are vaccinated, when a vaccine is available to the general public or if they are personally vaccinated.

Still, the study shows concern for the future of the travel industry. The CEO of the AHLA says COVID-19 has wiped out a decade of job growth.

Damonte also says owners of hotels of all sizes could be in financial trouble if tourism doesn’t rebound soon.

“The revenue streams need to come back if our real estate values are going to continue to be maintained,” said Damonte.

The AHLA projects 200,000 more hotel jobs will be added this year, but that would still be about 500,000 fewer than before the pandemic, when about 2.3 million employees worked in lodging nationwide in 2019.

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