Hoteliers with properties in major U.S. convention markets are not experiencing the usual fall-season pickup in demand from attendees, and are unlikely to match pre-pandemic performance amid continued travel restrictions and vaccine mandates.
Hotel markets in cities such as San Francisco, New York and Chicago face the greatest challenge due to vaccine mandates and restrictions on attendance, as well as delays in the return of inbound international travel.
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Warmer-weather cities where state COVID restrictions are relatively lenient, such as Orlando, will likely fare relatively better this fall as planners will have the option of conducting meetings in outdoor facilities.
Still, fall convention numbers may be off by between 50% and 75% at traditional U.S. meetings destinations, as many businesses and associations have opted to delay annual events until 2022.
“We literally have five conventions from now through the end of the year, and we’re not going to pick up much more,” said Nicole Rogers, chief sales officer at the San Francisco Travel Association, last month. She estimated that the city’s Moscone Center hosts more than 30 events during the second half of a typical year. “We’re one of the few cities with a vaccine mandate for gatherings over 1,000 people, so that’s definitely limiting the amount of people.”
The combination of travel restrictions, vaccine mandates and caution on the parts of both private businesses and associations continues to put a crimp on convention spending in Orlando, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. Overall, North American conventions generated $381 billion in direct spending in 2017, according to a 2021 study by the Events Industry Council and Oxford Economics.
Investment, as a result of that demand, in expansion and capital improvement projects at convention centers will now take longer to yield returns.
San Francisco’s Moscone Center completed a four-year, $551 million expansion project in 2019, while New York’s Javits Convention Center this spring completed a $1.5 billion project that added 1.2 million square feet to the Manhattan facility.
Not all convention destinations will feel the same pain.