NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The American Hotel and Lodging Association is calling 2022 “The Year of the New Traveler.”

According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), the 2022 State of the Hotel Industry Report forecasts an uneven and volatile recovery across the U.S.

Though the industry continues moving toward recovery this year, with close to pre-pandemic occupancy rates and room revenue, experts say full recovery is years away, mainly due to ancillary revenue which includes food & beverage and meeting space.

Major live events in Nashville continue playing a significant role in helping get Nashville’s hospitality industry back on its feet.

In 2020-2021, Tennessee hotels lost more than $1.8 billion in room revenue, with $296 million lost in state and local tax revenue.

Now, we’re moving forward.

“I like what 2022 looks like,” Butch Spyridon, CEO of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corporation said. “I am very optimistic.”

Spyridon says it’s more than wishful thinking; his bullishness is backed by facts.

“New Year’s Eve was a record hotel sales night. October was a record hotel tax collection month and summer was pretty good,” he said.

Hotel tax collections in October 2021 represented the highest single month’s collection in the city’s history.

In addition, Davidson County hotel occupancy on Dec. 31, 2021 was 79 percent with a record of 29,118 hotel rooms sold, an increase over the 25,529 rooms sold on Dec. 31, 2019. NCVC says it’s growth that is more important than ever as there have been 3,752 more hotel rooms added into the market since then.

Leisure travelers will continue to drive recovery, with business travel, meetings and events lagging behind.

“It’s 40 percent of our business,” Spyridon said. “We need it.”

He says NCVC only saw one big cancelation for February, and unfortunately due to the omicron variant, they lost most of their scheduled business in January.”

According to STR, hotel occupancy in Nashville for the week ending 1/15 was 49.9 percent. At this time in 2019, occupancy was 64.72 percent.

Spyridon hopes to end the year at 65 percent or higher.

Like other industries, hotels have been dealing with a major workforce shortage which could impact recovery. In fact, AHLA says the pandemic wiped out 10 years of job growth.

In 2019, Tennessee hotels directly employed 42,022 people. They finished 2021 with 35,604 jobs, a loss of 6,418 or 15.3 percent.

“It’s an ongoing problem, has been for the last 12 months,” Spyridon said. “It’s better, but it’s still an issue finding labor so that restaurants can be fully open, guest rooms can be cleaned, room service. You know, the hotels have been extremely creative, flexible and noble in how they have adapted, but it would be nice for everyone to get fully staffed, but that will be a couple year process I’m absolutely sure.”

The AHLA Foundation is launching a campaign to help fill the hundreds of thousands of open jobs in the hotel industry. “The Hotel Industry: A Place to Stay” aims to help job seekers discover the 200+ career pathways and many perks that the industry offers, including competitive wages, benefits, flexible schedules, and travel opportunities.