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New COVID Cases Ground Air Travel

A new surge in cases of COVID-19 is leading businesses to rethink employee travel this fall.

As Bloomberg News reported on Monday (Sept. 6), airlines and hotels were counting on the typically dependable revenue source of business travel to bounce back in the next few months. But the spread of the COVID delta variant is causing those hopes to fade.

“I’d say it’s a pause, as compared to continued growth. That said, we understand why it’s paused,” Delta Air Lines Inc. Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian told Bloomberg.

His airline said corporate travel in the U.S. was back to about 40% of its pre-pandemic levels during the summer. Delta had predicted it would reach 60% this month, a prediction the company has since abandoned.

A recent survey by Morning Consult for the American Hotel & Lodging Association found that more than half of the 400 travelers interviewed said they would postpone their coming trips.

Bloomberg also interviewed Clarke Smith, who provides training for tech businesses and was set to take his first work trip in August. “Right about the time I started to get a little bit nervous is when they called and said, ‘Let’s pull the plug on this,’ ” he said.

Most of the companies Smith works with have put off going back to the office, following the lead of Apple and Google. Smith plans to work virtually for the remainder of 2021.

While business travel might be less robust than anticipated this fall, the trend of people traveling for pleasure doesn’t seem to be as affected.

Learn more: Buoyant Domestic Summer Travel Suggests Brisk Holiday Demand Will Follow

As PYMNTS reported on Monday, 22% of travelers plan to travel for Thanksgiving, according to the online travel planner TripIt, and 31 percent are already thinking about travel over the winter holidays.

Jen Moyse, TripIt’s senior director of product, said that a jump in interest in holiday travel could be in the wings, as many travelers are not making reservations until closer to the date. “We suspect that’s due to the environment changing so rapidly,” she explained. “People are keeping an eye on the COVID infection rates, they’re keeping an eye on the requirements, [and on] different restrictions in the places they want to visit.”

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