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Hotel Jobs in These States Have Been Hit Hardest by the Pandemic

New York and Illinois are among the states that have lost the highest percentage of hotel jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic and are still hurting even as travel starts to return to normal levels across the country, according to a new report.

The data released this week by the American Hotel & Lodging Association shows that projections for the industry remain “well below pre-pandemic levels,” according to a news release. The association notes that more than 1 in 5 direct hotel operations jobs lost during the pandemic – about 500,000 total – will not return by the end of 2021, and the lost room revenue will amount to $44 billion compared to 2019.

In percentage terms compared to 2019, New York (37.9%), Illinois (35.2%), Massachusetts (30.2%) and Hawaii (28.8%) are the states that are seeing the biggest hotel job losses expected by the end of 2021, according to the association’s state-by-state breakdown. The hotel industry in Washington, D.C. – also covered in the report – has been hit even harder, with job losses at 43.1%. COVID-19-induced hotel job losses for the country as a whole are nearly 21%, and 19 states have losses higher than the national average.

“Despite an uptick in leisure travel, midway through 2021 we’re still seeing that the road to a full recovery for America’s hotels is long and uneven,” said Chip Rogers, the association’s president and CEO, in a statement.

Travel and tourism is coming back in the U.S. as restrictions lift, but Jennifer Myers, AHLA’s senior director of government affairs communications, tells U.S. News via email that the recovery is happening “unevenly” with business travel lagging the recovery in leisure.

“While the recent uptick in leisure travel for summer is encouraging, business and group travel, the industry’s largest source of revenue, will take significantly longer to recover,” Myers says. “Business travel is down and not expected to return to 2019 levels until at least 2023 or 2024. Major events, conventions and business meetings have also already been canceled or postponed until at least 2022.”

Photos: America’s Pandemic Toll

Myers notes that Illinois, Massachusetts and New York – three states where hotel jobs have been hurt the most – “are all examples of markets that are heavily reliant on business travel, which has been nearly nonexistent during the pandemic.”

Hawaii, on the other hand, is “heavily dependent” on tourism in general, she adds. The industry contributed to 16% of the state’s gross domestic product in 2019, which was the second-largest share among all sectors, according to Hawaii government data.

Predictably, the pandemic hit tourism hard in the islands: Preliminary statistics show that visitor arrivals decreased by nearly 75% in 2020 and hotel room tax revenues dropped by almost 91% between April and October 2020, according to Eugene Tian, Hawaii’s chief state economist. Tian notes, however, that the return of inbound tourism has accelerated since March as restrictions start lifting in Hawaii, with visitor counts for July – as of July 20 – being at 89% compared to July 2019. But the road ahead is long for the state.

“Though visitor count will be fully recovered by the end of this year, it will take a few years for visitor expenditures to recover to the pre-pandemic level,” Tian says via email. “International visitors accounted for one-third of the Hawaii visitor count, and the recovery during the first half of 2021 was only about 1%. International visitors spend more than domestic visitors.”

Statistics elsewhere further show that travel is coming back, but inconsistently. While road vehicle miles were only down 8% and 5%, respectively, in April and May compared to those same months in 2019, air passenger miles were down 34% in April, according to data compiled by Michael Sivak, the managing director of Sivak Applied Research and professor emeritus at the University of Michigan. Transportation Security Administration screenings data also collected by Sivak show that air travel has been increasing since April, but is still down 21% – as of July 20 – when compared to July 2019.

The answer to the question of whether travel is really back is “complex,” Sivak tells U.S. News.

“Look at driving, we are basically back to where we were before the pandemic,” he says. “People still use planes less than they did before, in 2019.”

Sivak notes that privacy during travel is a factor in the somewhat slow overall resurgence, pointing to the fact that flying is still down and train usage is recovering even more slowly. Rail passenger miles and unlinked trips on public transit were both down around 60% in April compared to the same period in 2019, according to Sivak’s data, which has several sources, including the Federal Highway Administration and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

“Modes of transportation where you have to interact with people more intimately,” he adds, “things still substantially down.”

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