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Omicron variant threatens hotel recovery


It’s all Greek to me. The COVID-19 pandemic has so thoroughly dominated everyday life that we have all got an education in the Greek alphabet. From Alpha and Beta to Gamma and Delta, each new strain is a grim reminder of the coronavirus’ intractability.


Now, Omicron—the newest variant that has already spooked markets and caused travel bans from some southern Africa countries. Though nascent, there is the reality and worry that the new strain could derail the hotel industry’s fledgling recovery, in particular if plans move forward to tighten testing policies, like in the U.S.


Indications are that future hotel bookings, meetings and other hotel-related activity will be impacted by the presumed expectation of future travel impediments, whether self-imposed, company-imposed or government-mandated.


Europe’s recovery is following a similar trajectory to that of the U.S. in terms of the numbers. RevPAR, TRevPAR and GOPPAR were off some 30% in October versus the same month in 2019—auguring a daunting fall and winter season. This is being made abundantly more difficult as the continent deals with a recent surge in COVID that is now being exacerbated by Omicron and prompting many countries to turn back to restrictions.


After Austria reinstituted a lockdown on November 22, it has extended it until December 11, becoming the first EU country to take such a measure in the face of the COVID-19 surge.


Meanwhile, Portugal reintroduced tighter restrictions, making face masks mandatory and mandating a digital certificate proving vaccination or recovery from COVID in order to enter restaurants, movie theaters and hotels.


Among other costs, one to pay special attention to are utility expenses, which, at €5.28 per available room, are now at the same level as 2019. Annual inflation across euro-using countries hit 4.9% in November, driven mainly by soaring energy prices, according to Eurostat, the EU statistics office.


“The problem for the travel industry is that the fear factor, whether science proves it to be justified or not, has returned almost overnight,” Gary Bowerman, director of travel and tourism research firm Check-in Asia, told Al Jazeera.


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