The U.S. lodging industry’s recovery will be a multiyear process, even with leisure travel already on its way back, said Best Western SVP and chief marketing officer Dorothy Dowling during the BWH Hotel Group 2021 Virtual Travel Summit on Thursday.
“Large group business is 40 percent of hotel occupancy in the United States, so it is a critical part of our business health,” Dowling said. “We see the fourth quarter is going to be when we see a lot of that business travel begin to reenter. But it’s 2022 when we will really see it take hold.”
Dowling, who also is the president of the Global Business Travel Association’s Allied Leadership Council, added that GBTA is monitoring travel buyer sentiment “pretty deeply,” and believes that the return of workers to offices, a process “a lot of companies are in the midst of doing by Labor Day,” she said, will help generate the return of business travel in the fourth quarter.
She also offered three insights into travel buyer sentiment. One is that buyers are “very dialed into” safety and security. “Duty of care has been elevated to a level I’ve not seen in my career,” Dowling said. “The buyer wants to be extraordinarily well-informed as to what the suppler is doing in terms of supporting their needs.”
Second, “we’ve seen a shift from [requests for proposals] into more chainwides,” she said, citing uncertainty and unpredictability “about where the needs are going to be for project business and other kinds of things that may come up in a company.”
Lastly, Dowling said that business travel buyers have been engaged with their travelers to understand what they need to restart travel.
“But I would offer that essential travel is what kept the lights on for a lot of the hotel community through Covid,” she said, crediting Sunday-through-Thursday business. “Project business also has been a sustaining part of the recovery.”
Dowling also is seeing group business return, “but it’s at 25 [attendees] and fewer,” she said.