Bay Area leisure and hospitality industry may take years to recover after pandemic

Setup for an outdoor event at the San Mateo Marriott hotel. (Photo courtesy of the San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau)

The leisure and hospitality industry has been one of the hardest-hit in the Bay Area during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number of jobs cut in half during 2020.  

In the nine Bay Area counties – plus San Benito County, which was grouped with Santa Clara County in the data – the number of leisure and hospitality jobs went from 437,200 in January 2020 to 247,000 in December 2020. 

The leisure and hospitality industry includes jobs in the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors plus accommodation and food service, according to series codes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and North American Industry Classification System. 

The biggest drop was in April 2020, following the stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders initiated in March as COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. Leisure and hospitality jobs hit a of low of 209,500 in April, the lowest point in the last 30 years. 

Jobs have increased slightly since last April but have not reached pre-pandemic numbers in the 400,000 range. In fact, the industry may not fully recover for several years.  

The California Hotel and Lodging Association forecast that the industry won’t return to pre-pandemic levels before 2024 or 2025, said Pete Hillan, spokesman for the association that represents 6,000 hotels, motels and inns, which employ about 245,000 hospitality workers in the state. 

“There’s really three levels of travel,” Hillan said. “There’s tourism, there’s business meetings and then there’s conventions. And conventions are huge because they deliver a lot of money in a short amount of time.” 

The Hotel and Lodging Association has developed health protocols and reopening guidance for hoteliers, working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health. 

However, California is the only state that’s not open for meetings and the state’s public health department has not yet established a timeline for when meetings or conventions would be allowed. The Hotel and Lodging Association and other groups are lobbying for meetings to return. 

Hillan said California is being left behind as people look to other states to host their events. Even if meetings return soon, the industry may not be the same. 

“You have hotels that have decided their future is being sold, or some who are saying we’re going to weather this out and we think we can come back,” Hillan said. “The double-edged sword of that is then as the hotels begin to gain business, there’s a risk if you’ve lost a number of hotels that you may not be able to support the level of conventions that you once did.” 

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