Travel | October 20, 2020 2:01 pm

America Is Building More Hotels Than Any Other Country During the Pandemic

We've opened 55,000 rooms this year. But can the trend continue?

hotel construction
In the U.S., new hotel rooms are opening — but how long will it last?
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Hotel bookings absolutely cratered earlier this year after the pandemic forced a pause in global travel. And as of August 31 — which was actually a somewhat rosier time, before the second wave began to hit much of the Western world — occupancy figures across the nation were still down 50%. Many in the industry have come to accept that they may not be filling rooms as they once did until at least next summer, when a safe, effective vaccine is available for wide distribution.

Nevertheless, brand-new hotel rooms continue to open up across the world, and especially in the United States. According to market research firm STR, America opened up 55,000 new rooms from March through September, as reported by Skift. The second-highest number belonged to China, at a distant 23,000 rooms. The average upscale American hotel contains about 325 rooms, so we’re talking somewhere in the ballpark of 170 new hotels have opened up since the country entered into lockdown from COVID-19.

Even as an estimate, that number is astonishingly low; the number of new hotel openings in the U.S. increased every year in the 2010s, as flight costs went down and travel fervor (with an assist from social media) exploded. There were 412 openings in 2012, and 1,303 in 2018. Still, the fact that hotels were opening at all this year speaks to how many were being built. Many projects that had already broken ground were brought to the finish line. The more sobering stat here is that 211 additional American hotel projects were deferred. That trend will likely continue, as the industry has had time to catch up to its own depleted funds.

That said, there is an opportunity now for hoteliers — both the big chains and the boutiques — to imagine stays with a post-pandemic landscape in mind. That could spell a move towards more automation across the overall experience (mobile check-ins, robotic servers, voice-activated tech in rooms), dining options that are spaced-out by design, a heightened emphasis on outdoor areas, and gussied-up guest rooms, which may look more like apartments — with small dining or workout areas — so visitors don’t have to visit shared spaces.