Scars Inflicted On Travel Are Looking Permanent

Scars Inflicted on Travel Are Looking Permanent

Photographer: Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images 

Prior to the pandemic, the wealthy never traveled so well. With the economy on solid ground and financial assets soaring to new highs, investment in the travel industry boomed. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, one in 10 workers worldwide, or 330 million in all, owed their jobs to the travel and tourism industry. In the five years through 2019, the sector was responsible for one in five of jobs created globally.

But that was the economy we once knew. Now, this massive engine of growth has been thrown into reverse as Covid-19 continues to ping-pong around the globe. And unlike after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the scars inflicted on travel and tourism look to be permanent as companies shift away from massive travel budgets and experiential living becomes a memory. The monthly U.S. employment report on Friday made clear that many of those jobs aren’t coming back anytime soon — if ever. 

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The former strength of the travel and leisure sector can be tied to a confluence of demographic and economic factors. Income inequality concentrated record levels of wealth in a small coterie of financiers and corporations that spent freely on leisure and business travel. At the same time, Baby Boomers started to retire in droves, and hordes of Millennials sought lifestyles that embraced travel. Tack onto these drivers the emergence of China’s burgeoning middle class, which was eager to see the world beyond the mainland.

The massive pullback in business travel is apt to inflict the deepest economic pain. Airline and hotel business models have been designed around the steadfast and relatively price agnostic expense-account traveler. One way to illustrate this is via the $489 billion commercial mortgage-backed securities market. As of March, the lodging sector accounted for $86 billion of the outstanding securities, with California and Florida each accounting for 10% of the total, according to research firm Trepp. More than half of these loans backs full-service properties, reflecting the push into high-end properties that catered to well-heeled and businesses travelers.

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Ayelet Wolf 3 months ago Member's comment

Good read about a serious issue.