Even as leisure travel has recovered from COVID-19, hotels in many major U.S. cities have continued to feel the absence of business patrons this year.

But Charleston lodgings aren’t seeing as much of a decline this year compared to the rest of the U.S., according to a recent analysis from the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

Nationwide, business travel revenue is projected to be 23 percent below pre-pandemic levels this year, the group found — a $20 billion-plus setback for the industry compared to 2019.

In Charleston, the projected decline is well below that, at 5.5 percent. That put the Holy City among the destinations with the smallest setbacks in the business travel segment.

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Fort Worth, Texas and St. Petersburg, Fla., each had smaller declines, at 2.8 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively.

San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C. are expected to see the biggest drops, with revenues for all three this year projected to be less than half compared to 2019.

The analysis noted that urban hotel markets “which rely heavily on business from events and group meetings,” have been “disproportionately impacted” by the pandemic. 

Smaller and mid-size cities with less to lose have fared better in their business travel recovery.

Based on projected 2022 revenues, leisure-heavy Charleston had the smallest corporate travel business of the cities included in the analysis.

Also, the state of South Carolina is in better shape than the U.S. overall, according to the report. Hotels in the Palmetto State are expected to see revenues from business travel that are about 8 percent below 2019 figures, the AHLA found.

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Charleston’s reliance on leisure travel has been a benefit as that segment bounced back and business lagged, and the dynamic could continue to be helpful as more studies indicate that business travel recovery will continue to be sluggish.

A 2022 travel outlook from Deloitte found that corporate travel was “at least two years from reaching pre-pandemic spend.”

Some have speculated whether business travel will ever return to pre-pandemic levels. In November 2020, Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates told a crowd at a New York Times event that he thought more than half of all demand from briefcase-toting road warriors would go away permanently.

State tourism director Duane Parrish has said that the business travel market has likely been changed for good by the pandemic.

New boutique hotel The Pinch opening on King and George streets in downtown Charleston

Morning Consult has been tracking this potentially permanent shift. Last October, data indicated that 39 percent of people who were frequent business travelers before the pandemic didn’t think they’d ever get back on the road. That number grew to 42 percent in February.

That report also pointed to changes in what business travel looks like and the rise in “bleisure” — travel that’s partially for business and partially for fun. Travelers may be adding on extra leisure time to a work trip or taking remote work with them on an out-of-town stay.

The Pinch hotel (copy)

The Pinch, a new boutique hotel in Charleston, has three units that can be booked for stays of one month or longer. One target market for the units is remote workers looking to plan an extended trip. Provided

The latter is a segment that some new Charleston lodgings are looking to capture. The Pinch, a 25-unit boutique property that Philadelphia-based Method Co. opened in April on King Street, is one example. It has three units that are considered residences and can be booked for stays of 30 days or more only.

Remote workers seeking “bleisure” trips are one of the target customers for those units, and Method CEO Randall Cook said last month that the property had already gotten an inquiry from a Washington, D.C.-based worker whose office is allowing him to work from anywhere for one month out of the year.

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