Summer Travel Expected to Rebound
With a steady rise in vaccinations across the US and regularly updated CDC guidance indicateing domestic travel is safe post-vaccination, it is clear that the US demand for leisure travel is accelerating beginning with the very strong expectations for Memorial Day weekend vs. this time last year.
According to a Harris Poll conducted recently for the Let’s Go There coalition of 75 travel companies and organizations, 77% of Americans plan to take a trip this summer - this is certainly welcome news given a similar Harris Poll from June 2020 (albeit still peak pandemic) indicated only 29% of Americans planned summer leisure travel.
Other results from this poll tell an encouraging story and paint an optimistic picture (remember that 65% of all U.S. jobs lost in 2020 were supported by travel):
- 66% of Americans have a summer trip planned (36%) or booked (30%) - among this 66% group,
- Among those with trips planned or booked, 53% will be traveling for the first time since the pandemic began last year
- Regarding travel out of town now, 55% of Americans said they are ready to go (26%) or optimistic (29%)
- Regarding what folks are most looking forward to about summer travel, 19% said “reconnecting with friends and family” and 18% said “rest and relaxation”
The accelerating rise in travel, is creating an unexpected challenge for the industry: staffing shortages.
As the economy conitnues to open up and more people travel, hotels are having trouble hiring (and in some cases hiring back post-COVID layoff) enough hourly employees to meet the acceleration in domestic travel.
This could mean more situations where staff double hats - e.g. serving at the front desk and as a room attendant. It could also mean more situations where hotel managers step in to fill gaps in areas like housekeeping (e.g. driving laundry truck, cleaning rooms, stocking linen closets etc) when the hotel gets busy.
Even worse, some hotels claim they are needing to let rooms stay empty because of a shortage of staff - this is a challenging trend when hotels are desperately trying to achieve profitability post-pandemic. Continued failure to hire employees fast enough could risk extended limitations of guest stays amid rapidly rising demand and recovering national occupancy levels.
- Pandemic has shifted where and how people work resulting in service industry challenges to increase staffing (despite anecdotal overtures of higher wages, sign-on and retention bonuses along with more flexible work)
- Previously laid-off hospitality employees may have shifted to other industries that may offer better pay and may be less susceptible to downturns (e.g. Amazon warehouses)
- Enhanced unemployment benefits from the government may be slowing the pace of rehiring as potential candidates weigh critical trade-offs (e.g. it may be difficult to work outside the home if schools have not reopened)
- Reticence to pay high wages and benefits (partially fearing requests from existing employees) due to the potential impact to fragile profitability.
As the economy continues to reopen, enhanced unemployment benefits recede and more children are vaccinated (helping school return in-person), employee supply / availability should rise as well. All of these factors - along with better pay, benefits etc - should make people feel safe and comfortable returning to work.
It remains critical though that during this period before fuller employment returns that hotels manage guest feedback and customer service challenges expeditiously and thoroughly. Bad reviews can have a lasting impact and could create sustained lower demand (for a particular hotel or even brand wide) even if and when staffing rebounds relatively soon.