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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Coronavirus lockdowns and the grand work-from-home experiment killed the business travel industry — and, just like everything else, it's not going back to normal anytime soon, if at all.

Why it matters: Traveling for work is a $1.5 trillion industry that encompasses transportation, hospitality and much more, and this moratorium is threatening countless firms and jobs.

  • "There is no doubt that COVID-19 has a devastating impact on global business travel, with business travel almost grounding to a halt overnight," says Dave Hilfman, executive director of the Global Business Travel Association, a trade group with around 9,000 members, including many airlines, hotels, ride-sharing and rental car companies.
  • Since March, the industry has lost around $518 billion, the group estimates.

And if all the management consultants, techies, campaign workers and journalists have shown that they can handle travel-heavy jobs from home, doing away with business trips could be a huge way for firms to cut costs in the post-pandemic world.

By the numbers: American professionals took more than 464 million business trips in 2019.

  • Business travelers make up around 10% of airline passengers across the major global carriers, but they account for 55%–75% of revenue, because they're typically more willing to spend big on last-minute tickets or book premium seats, reports the New York Times' Jane Levere.
    • Experts tell the Times that business flights won't be back to normal for a few years or longer.
  • People traveling for work make up a big share of hotel occupants, too. Hotel occupancy in the U.S. — which stood at 65% in February — dropped to a low of 22% in April and rose to around 46% as of the beginning of July, according to STR, a hospitality industry market research firm.
    • McKinsey projects it'll take until at least 2023 for hotel occupancy to return to pre-pandemic levels.

There are glimmers of hope. "For the first time since the start of the pandemic, we are now starting to see some positive signs of recovery," Hilfman says. He tells Axios that his trade group's members are reporting upticks in bookings in the last few weeks.

  • But even as travel slowly comes back, business travel looks like it'll be the last to recover.
  • "Leisure demand has started to return before business demand," a United Airlines executive told reporters last week, per Axios' Joann Muller.
  • Nearly a third of Global Business Travel Association members say they believe the worst is yet to come in terms of layoffs and furloughs as well as revenue loss.

The bottom line: "We don’t believe we’re going to see full recovery until we see significant advancement in the treatment of COVID-19 and until we see a vaccine for COVID-19," the United Airlines executive said.

Go deeper

Oct 21, 2020 - Technology

Google's search ad dominance is massive but shrinking slightly

Data: eMarketer; Chart: Axios Visuals

Google is expected to net more than 71% of the U.S. search advertising spending this year, down from roughly 74.7% of market share in 2017, per eMarketer.

Air quality alerts issued as California fires threaten more sequoias

The Windy Fire blazes through the Long Meadow Grove of giant sequoia trees near the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Forest, near California Hot Springs, on Tuesday. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Two wildfires were threatening California's sequoia trees over overnight, hours after authorities issued fresh evacuation orders and warnings, along with air quality alerts on Wednesday.

The big picture: Officials in the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley issued air quality alerts as smoke from the Windy and KNP Complex fires resulted in hazy, "ash-filled" skies from Fresno to Tulare, the Los Angeles Times notes.

Asymptomatic Florida students exposed to COVID no longer have to quarantine

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a September news conference in Viera, Fla. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced Wednesday an emergency order allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school if they're exposed to COVID-19, provided they're asymptomatic.

Why it matters: People infected with COVID-19 can spread the coronavirus starting from two days before they display symptoms, according to the CDC. Quarantine helps prevent the virus' spread.

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