Great ResignationInflationSupply ChainsLeadership

Just 2 years on from hotel armageddon, Hilton’s CEO says we’re beginning a new’Golden Age of travel’ 

October 19, 2022, 9:38 PM UTC
Photo of Chris Nassetta.
Hilton president and CEO Chris Nassetta.
Bridge Bennett—Getty Images

The hotel industry was hit particularly hard by COVID-19. 

As the world shut down, people stopped traveling, and millions of workers lost their jobs in hospitality. 

But the CEO of the Hilton hotel chain thinks things are finally beginning to look up. 

“We’ve seen very, very steady recovery,” Chris Nassetta, told Yahoo Finance on Tuesday. “So I would say we’re at the beginning of what I think is going to be a new golden age of travel.’”

Hilton reported a net loss of $720 million for the year in 2020, citing the impact of the pandemic, when most people weren’t leaving their homes let alone traveling. 

In June 2020, the company announced that it would cut 2,100 corporate roles globally—22% of its corporate staff. And it wasn’t the only hospitality company to make drastic changes to keep afloat during the height of the pandemic. The Hyatt and Marriott also announced layoffs in 2020, as they tried to cope with shocks from the pandemic. 

Hotel employment fell to 1.65 million in 2020, down from 2.36 million in 2019, according to an industry report from the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA). But it has been steadily climbing since then. In 2021, that number went up slightly to 1.82 million, and continued climbing to 2.19 million in 2022. 

In September of this year, more than 80,000 jobs were added to the hospitality and leisure sector. That’s in line with the monthly average job gain over the first eight months of this year, although industry employment remains below pre-pandemic levels by 1.1 million workers, or 6.7%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

“We’ve seen a very strong recovery in all segments of the business—led by the leisure business—but very strong recovery in business travel, very strong recovery in meetings, and events,” Nassetta said. “And it continued throughout the summer, and it is continuing into the fall. I’d say we’re in the midst of a very strong rebound, coming out of [a] depression for the hospitality business in ‘20 and ‘21.”

Nesseta said “bleisure” travel (a mix of business and leisure travel) is a key part of Hilton’s rebound. He added that the pandemic changed the way people work, which opened new doors for the travel industry.

“The reality is COVID accelerated that process where the office environment is changing,” Nassetta said. “How everybody works is changing in a way that I think people are going to be on the road more. People being on the road more and being more mobile is very good for our business.”

But that recovery might not be enough to make up for the industry’s painful two-year losses—at least not right away. 

“Hotels across the country are continuing to dig out from a two-year period where they lost a collective $111.8 billion in room revenue alone,” the AHLA said in its 2022 report. “A partial recovery in 2022 will not be enough to allow hotels to completely pay back lenders, fully rehire staff, invest in delayed property improvements, and refill business cash reserves.”

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