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Will Business Travel Make a Comeback?

By Jeremy Bowman, Jason Hall, and Trevor Jennewine – Sep 27, 2021 at 10:45AM

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Does it make sense to worry about business travel long-term?

Few businesses have been impacted as much during the pandemic as business travel. International travel is still restricted or prohibited in much of the world, but the potential for its comeback creates an opportunity for investors.

What's the best way to play the recovery in the travel industry? In this episode of "The Five" recorded on Sept. 1, Fool contributors Jeremy Bowman, Jason Hall, and Trevor Jennewine discuss the options in the industry, ranging from hotel operators like Marriott (MAR 0.31%) to the home-sharing pioneer Airbnb (ABNB -0.14%).

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Jason Hall: Our good friend Market Musician here, asking about Marriott. Talks about its prospects when business travel comes back. Not sure if either of you follow Marriott or that sector very closely.

Trevor Jennewine: Go ahead, Jeremy.

Jeremy Bowman: I don't follow Marriott too closely. I mean, I've looked at the stock occasionally. I know that Marriott's the biggest hotel operator in the world. They acquired Starwood a few years ago. I think they're maybe more diversified than your typical hotel company. I think it's a good question about what happens to them and even what happens with business travel if that's going to return to pre-pandemic levels. I don't know. It doesn't seem like that's going to be happening anytime soon. If you look at international travels, still pretty restricted and stuff with the delta variant.

Jason Hall: Getting more restricted. We're going the other direction right now with delta. Trevor?

Trevor Jennewine: I will say this, I'm an Airbnb shareholder. I'm not a Marriott shareholder, but if I had to pick one of the hotel changes, it would be Marriott. I do think that they have a strong business. I don't personally think that business travel will ever look like it did in the past. I think so many companies on so many earnings calls have said how much more convenient is to meet virtually and how much more work they're getting done because they're not spending so much time traveling to the airport flying, and then you can hop on a Zoom call with somebody and connect pretty well.

Not the same as being in person, but I think in a lot of cases, it does the job. I don't know if business travel will ever get back to where it was. I think leisure, personal travel, consumer travel will eventually trend back in that direction. I think Marriott has a future. I definitely don't think it's a bad investment and it would be my first choice if I was looking at any of those hotel chains.

Jason Hall: I have a thesis. That thesis is that right now, we're still in this recovery mode. We're still in the supply chain period where basically, businesses are buying wherever they can, from whoever they can, just to get through things.

But as soon as sales starts getting competitive again, and companies are fighting one another over business, the first sales rep that loses a big deal on Zoom will be the first sales rep that's on a plane the next day to have a face-to-face with our customer. I really think we're underestimating how much business travel is going to bounce back. I really think we are.

Trevor Jennewine: Yeah, I didn't mean to imply it wasn't going to come back at all.

Jason Hall: No, you didn't. I think it's going to come back almost completely. I really do. Five-years from now I think it's going to be back. I really do. Because sales is going to drive it and companies are not going to not get face-to-face with customers that they're losing.

Trevor Jennewine: The way you put that, that makes a lot of sense to me. I can definitely see that being a promise as soon as you lose a sale, I think that that would trigger that reaction. I need to be there in person.

Jason Hall: Jeremy?

Jeremy Bowman: Yeah. I think that's a great point too. If you are a customer, you're probably going to favor the salesmen who come in and pays you personal visit, takes you out to dinner and all that, rather than a Zoom call. I mean, I think that transition is similar to when we think about remote work or what's going to happen with that. I mean, if you imagine a hybrid work environment where some people back in the office, some people are working from home. I think the people in the office and getting FaceTime and stuff. If there's some outperforming their remote peers and getting the promotions, that remote work isn't really going to last too long.

Jason Hall: It's going to be fun to watch. That's for sure. It's going to be really interesting to see how the dynamics change because there's no doubt remote work is going to be huge. But I still think that the business travel thing we're probably overestimating how much it's going to go away.

Trevor Jennewine owns shares of Airbnb, Inc. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Airbnb, Inc. and Zoom Video Communications. The Motley Fool recommends Marriott International and recommends the following options: long January 2023 $115 calls on Marriott International. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Stocks Mentioned

Airbnb Stock Quote
Airbnb
ABNB
$94.70 (-0.14%) $0.13
Marriott International Stock Quote
Marriott International
MAR
$161.16 (0.31%) $0.50
Zoom Video Communications Stock Quote
Zoom Video Communications
ZM
$72.16 (-0.28%) $0.20

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