PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — The days and weeks following Labor Day were predicted to be when employees began returning to the office and business travelers were restarting their old routines again. 

What You Need To Know

  • Increase in COVID cases is putting big business plans on hold

  • Business travel can now be done through video conferencing

  • Hotels are now having to rethink their marketing strategy as big business conferences have not returned yet

  • It's not clear when business travel will return and to what extent

The rise of COVID-19 cases put many big business plans on hold which is also leading to a delay in business travel. It’s not clear when that will resume or if new video conferencing technologies will take the place of travel for some companies. 

Steve Hayes, president of Visit St. Pete Clearwater, says beachside hotels have been doing well in recent months but that’s not the same for those by conference centers and airports. 

“The inland hotels, while they may also get leisure visitors, they have predominantly been for meetings and conferences as well as business travel,” Hayes said. “Those two segments haven’t come back yet.” 

At the Hollander Hotel in downtown St. Petersburg, they are selling out on many weekends. Associate General Manager Tim Calandrino says while they’re staying busy, where their visitors are coming from has shifted a bit. 

“We’re seeing a lot more staycations of people from Fort Lauderdale and the east coast,” he said. “Also northern Florida and southern Florida, all converging on St. Petersburg.”

The Hollander is also getting a good deal of visitors from northern states as they continue to rely on people traveling for leisure and repeat business. 

“We’re not getting that international travel right now when prior to the pandemic we did get a lot of those international travelers,” Calandrino said. 

But as a whole, hotels in Pinellas County are seeing strong occupancy numbers. 

In April-July of 2021, hotels have seen more visitors than in the same period in 2019. 

“Overall, we have outpaced 2019 which is by all records a banner year, and we’re definitely outdoing 2020. We’re starting to see that slow down now,” Hayes explained. 

September is typically a slow month for travel in the Bay Area as students are back in school. That’s holding true this year. 

Hayes says with the return of business travel a big unknown, some hotels are starting to change their marketing strategies

“Those are the ones that are having to relook at some of their audiences and say, how can I pivot if I can’t get that business traveler in?” 

It's not clear when business travel will return and to what extent. ​