By Danielle Kaye
NEW YORK – Marriott and Hilton, two of the biggest U.S. hotel chains, told investors they expect people to resume packing their bags for business and leisure this year at rates not seen since before the pandemic.
Hotel and other travel-related companies delivered rosy outlooks in this week’s quarterly results, citing rising vaccination rates and falling COVID-19 cases in the United States after the winter surge of the Omicron variant.
Countries are also lifting travel restrictions, with Canada set to ease entry for fully vaccinated international travelers starting on Feb. 28.
Marriott International Inc’s and Airbnb Inc’s latest quarterly results topped Wall Street estimates, while Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc’s revenue nearly doubled.
On Tuesday, Marriott CEO Anthony Capuano told investors that group cancellations increased late last year and this year due to Omicron. Now, cancellations have slowed and new group bookings are gaining momentum.
Capuano pointed to a Salesforce meeting in New York City last week as evidence of strong demand for U.S. group bookings as Omicron cases fall. The meeting involved 25,000 room nights across 11 Marriott properties.
Wynn Resorts CEO Craig Billings said on Tuesday that customers at its Las Vegas resort are “spending again with a vengeance.”
“2021 was the recovery year, and 2022 will push past COVID and become a strong growth year for the sector,” said Jamie Lane, vice president of research at vacation rental research firm AirDNA.
In January, AirDNA recorded about 58,000 new short-term rentals in the United States, the most added since the start of the pandemic, and the number is growing daily, Lane said. AirDNA data also shows a 35% increase in short-term rental nights booked in the United States in January 2022 from the same period in 2019, and a 12% increase from 2019 globally.
Omicron-related disruptions to Hilton’s business bookings were largely contained to the first quarter of 2022 with most events rescheduled for later in the year, Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta told investors. The hospitality company expects group business bookings to accelerate through the rest of 2022.
Similarly, online travel agency Expedia Inc. reported last week that bookings have “strongly rebounded” since the Omicron surge.
With many workers embracing the flexibility that comes with permanent remote work, Airbnb said people using its short-term rental site booked longer stays during the just-ended quarter.
About half of the nights booked in the fourth quarter were for stays of one week or longer, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told investors during the earnings call on Tuesday.
“People are spreading out to thousands of towns and cities, staying for weeks, months or even entire seasons at a time,” Chesky said. “People are less tethered to an office, so they can now live anywhere.”
Erin Francis-Cummings, CEO of tourism market research firm Destination Analysts, said the rosy outlook for travel is “not a short-term blip,” adding the shift to longer stays is likely to be sustained.
She cautioned, however, that future COVID variants and surges could dampen the outlook, even if just temporarily.
(Reporting by Danielle Kaye; editing by Anna Driver and David Gregorio)