When will business travel in Charlotte bounce back?

When will business travel in Charlotte bounce back?

Photo: Katie Peralta Soloff/Axios

Business travel is still way down in the Charlotte area.

As the omicron variant surges across the U.S., corporate employees are still taking Zoom calls from their living rooms. Hotels are much quieter now during the weekdays than they were back in 2019.

By the numbers: Pre-pandemic, at least 60% of hotel room revenue was driven by corporate business, estimates Mohammad Jenatian, head of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality & Tourism Alliance. Now, Jenatian estimates that revenue to be somewhere in the 30% range.

  • Uptown hotel performance data from November 2021 shows weekday revenue was down 34% compared to 2019, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

Some of the area’s biggest employers — including the banks — have postponed a return to the office indefinitely. One is Wells Fargo, which has its biggest employee hub in Charlotte.

  • “Given the current environment, we have delayed our plans to return to office, and we have asked staff to limit business travel. We look forward to fully returning our teams back to the office and resuming business routines,” spokesperson Josh Dunn said in an email.
  • Honeywell similarly has implemented a flex in-office/remote schedule — with three days on, two days off.

Jenatian, however, is optimistic about the industry’s return. Big employers are gradually bringing people back to the office, and he anticipates that’ll translate to corporate travel before long.

  • “People are realizing at the end of the day you have to go out there, you have to meet with people,” Jenatian says.

For instance, Duke Energy has returned about half of its corporate employees to the office. In this new hybrid environment, employees work a few days in the office, then a few days remotely, spokesperson Neil Nissan said.

  • Additionally, corporate travel that’s necessary for business is happening, too.

“It’s less than compared to pre-pandemic but I can tell you it has been occurring,” Nissan tells Axios.

What’s more, Charlotte’s big event business hasn’t taken much of a hit amid the latest surge.

  • The city has not had any big conventions/group cancel due to Omicron, according to Karen Brand, spokesperson for the CRVA.
  • From January-June, Charlotte currently has 62 events booked in the Convention Center. This includes 17 citywide conventions, which are events that involve at least three hotels.
  • “Our calendar year 2022 convention pace is at 104% of pre-COVID levels,” Brand said in an email.

Charlotte hotels are busier during the weekends, Jenatian adds — a sign that leisure travel is up. This has helped make up for some of the revenue lost during the weeks.

  • “As it relates to corporations, the silver lining has been as more and more people have been able to work remotely, family travel has really picked up,” Jenatian says.
  • Uptown hotel data from November 2021 shows that weekend revenue is up 15% compared to 2019, per CRVA.

It helps that Charlotte has hosted high-profile weekend events that’ve drawn thousands in recent months, Jenatian adds. There was the Rolling Stones concert back in October at Bank of America Stadium, for instance, and the wildly popular Duke’s Mayo Classic the month before that.

Yes, but: No one knows when the current COVID wave will subside. Plus, companies have learned how to make remote work happen efficiently — and in many cases, more cheaply, than before.

“As it relates to corporations and dealing with the virus, you find yourself in a position that they’re not a whole heck of a lot you can do in that regards,” Jenatian says.

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When will business travel in Charlotte bounce back?