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Between pandemic-driven travel restrictions and many people being reluctant to take the risk of traveling for business or pleasure, 2020 was a catastrophe for the entire travel industry. A new report from the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) has thrown Covid-19’s impact into even more stark relief: 2020 was the hotel industry’s worst year on record. 

Hotels in the U.S. shed a whopping 670,000 jobs in 2020, while the broader hospitality sector lost almost 4 million jobs, the AHLA found. With demand hovering at all-time lows, half of all U.S. hotel rooms are projected to remain empty throughout 2021.

In a bid to attract customers in trying times, hotels have gotten creative, such as Marriot leaning on its loyalty program to entice members to pay day rates for using hotel rooms as remote offices and several brands expanding ecommerce sales of products like pillows and robes. But the actual business of getting travelers into rooms is not expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels of activity and employment until 2024. In fact, the overall impact of the reduction in airline travel and hotel occupancy has been nine times worse than 9/11, according to AHLA data from April.

Although the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has caused widespread economic damage to many industries, hospitality and air travel have been among the hardest hit. In November, the International Air Transport Association reported that consumer demand fell by a third in 2020, causing its biggest shock since World War II.

Hotels throughout the U.S. are expected to only add about 200,000 jobs during 2021.

“Covid-19 has wiped out 10 years of hotel job growth,” said Chip Rogers, president and CEO of AHLA. “Yet the hallmark of hospitality is endless optimism, and I am confident in the future of our industry.”

Will vaccines help?

Both the hotel and airline industries are pinning their recovery hopes on the successful distribution of vaccines in 2021. Polling shows that about half of consumers see a vaccine as their primary concern when considering whether they’ll take a trip this year. 

In the meantime, survey data also shows that effective hygiene and cleaning services greatly factor into consumers’ considerations when selecting a hotel, ranking just behind price. 

“Despite the challenges facing the hotel industry, we are resilient,” Rogers added. “Hotels across the country are focused on creating an environment ready for guests when travel begins to return.”