Hilton Says Business Travel Is Mostly Back. No, It’s Not.

Hilton’s CFO gave an interview promoting the strength of their hotels by claiming that business travel is already mostly back.

We believe business travel is running about 70% of where it was in 2019. That’s still down 30% so we’re not all the way back….We beleive business travel will fully recover. When does that happen? It’s happening now.

Small and medium-sized businesses especially are traveling again, although not yet to the extent that they were pre-pandemic. However business travel isn’t just visiting your plants or factories and going to see customers.

  • You can only visit customers that are back in office (for the most part) and many businesses aren’t back to full in-office capacity. That will begin to change after Labor Day.

  • While archetypal “visiting clients” travel is coming back that’s only a piece of business travel. Conferences and events aren’t back to normal. Convention business is still closer to zero than 50%.

  • And remote workers heading back to the office for meetings, a decent chunk of travel in normal times and expected to grow, isn’t back yet because… many large offices haven’t opened back up to full capacity.

There is a chunk of business travel that won’t return. There are simply more meetings that can be done remotely than there were pre-pandemic. Even when conferences come back, at least initially, many will offer hybrid options rather than having everyone come in physically. The traditional “fly in for one meeting” may not happen as often, or bring in as many people when it does.

All of which is to say there is no universe in which business travel is back to 70% of what it was pre-pandemic, despite the Hilton CFO’s claims. No doubt Hiltons are seeing very strong occupancy levels in the U.S. market – but there’s a huge difference between weekend occupancy and occupancy during the week, especially in major cities.

If this were true, by the way, Delta wouldn’t have just straight-up extended every elite Skymiles member’s status. Unless today’s business travelers all prefer to drive…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Really curious where he is getting this number from. Even if they are somehow filling the beds, I can’t imagine conferences/catering rev is anyone even close to 30% back to what it was pre COVID.

  2. And they still won’t clean my room. I’m in a long-term stay at a DoubleTree, they have signs up all over the place saying that housecleaning is by request, but when you request (depending on you who talk to) they either say (1) don’t do housecleaning during someone’s stay, only between stays, or (2) “all our housecleaning slots are full, try again tomorrow.”

    I suspect that #1 is the actual policy, and #2 is the b*ll sh*t answer they’ve learned or were trained to say to blow people off.

  3. I don’t have my first in person conference at a hotel till October. So anecdotally, I don’t think this is correct

  4. I dunno. All my flights these last couple weeks have been full of OPM flyers.

    Sure seems like everyone is back in the air.

  5. I work for a large global company and for years have been the main person to track T&E spending for my division, which includes employees across several dozen countries in 6 continents. Our T&E spending pre-Covid was millions of dollars annually, with some single flights over $10k each, but it has been near zero since March 2020 with absolutely no movement in recent months. (Literally, less than $100 per month recently, for an occasional taxi or meal.) Likewise, all conferences have been cancelled with none even in the planning phase at this point. Budget season starts next week, and all indications are that we will permanently be pulling back to a much lower spending level than we were at pre-Covid. In fact, we just took a large step backwards in the US even with respect to in-person working. A few people had finally started to trickle into the office after July 4th, but–after only a few weeks–several vaccinated people contracted Covid, so we just got the order from HR not to come into the office any longer, with the status to be re-evaluated after Labor Day, which will almost certainly be pushed out again several more times, probably into 2022. While our company may be an anomaly, I seriously doubt it is. Granted, there might be some resumption recently of domestic travel among some companies and teams (especially sales), from my perspective, it has not even returned to 1%, and we are moving backwards in the short-term with lower travel expected long-term.

  6. Are they counting leisure/personal hotel bookings using corporate discount codes to determine business travel or something? Because the only travel I have heard or seen are leisure travelers. My company is still limiting travel to government/legally required events. Everything else is virtual.

    A friend who is a business sales manager for a midsized hotel in a major metro area has said that large sized meetings are being booked several months ahead, but very few in the short-term.

  7. Yeah this guy is a clown for that totally false stat. But this is also the chain that gives away top tier status for net free w a CC and all so…

  8. I have two conferences in August. Both defense/aerospace related. Yet to be seen how busy they are but it’s starting back up.

  9. I’ve worked for a major CPG company in a travel-heavy role for 19 years. One thing people forget is how much Corporations HATE paying for travel. Covid wasn’t “disruptive”, it was Santa Claus dumping the next 10 years of presents in their laps all at once. They’ve been trying to figure out how to force the company and their customers into replacing face-to-face meetings with “technology” for as long as I can remember and Covid vaporized every roadblock in their way.

    “But but but but but face-to-face is just so much more effective and efficient in all these circumstances”. Yes, WE know that. But the shot callers who sit in leather chairs and push numbers around on paper “believe in your ability to adapt”.

    Don’t kid yourselves. Golem (corporations) has his ring (travel budgets eliminated), delivered straight into his hand by Covid, and he’s not going to give it up until he’s exhausted his last ounce of strength fighting to keep it. And even then you’ll have to hold him down and pry it out of his clenched fist while he screams vile insults and threats at all involved.

  10. UA-TDS is a clown for pretty much anything he utters, especially for wishing death upon complete strangers on travel blog comment sections. Ask him about being an OPM tough guy on the interwebs!

  11. I am a long time user of Hilton properties. Last weekend I stayed in a Hampton Inn near Cape Kennedy. While the hotel was nice, the room spotless, the breakfast was free and “OK”, the thing that irked me was that I’m paying the same price that I paid two years ago but with no daily cleaning or straightening of the room. Hold on a sec… Hilton may CLAIM that their business is nearly “back to normal” but I disagree! Hilton’s not the only chain doing this so…Holiday Inn, Hyatt, Marriott…LISTEN UP!

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