Summer Vacationers Help Make Up For Lost Airport Business Travelers, But What Happens In The Fall?
Despite the rising number of COVID-19 cases around the country, Charlotte Douglas International Airport is jam-packed with vacationers. The airport reports 4.2 million passengers either boarded or departed a plane in Charlotte in June. That's nearly the same as in June of 2019. The busy summer travel season typically ends around Labor Day. So what does that mean for the airport and airlines after that?
WFAE’s “Morning Edition” host Marshall Terry talks with Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.
Marshall Terry: Tony, airports usually see business travel pick up in the fall, but is that likely to happen this year?
Tony Mecia: Well, Marshall, I think it's going to be a slower recovery for business travel. Yes, the airports are jammed. Anybody that's been out to the airport lately has seen the usual things you've seen in previous years — you know, the long-term lots are full, the long line to get through security, some of the concourses feel crowded. But experts tell us that it's pretty much all leisure travelers at this point.
Leisure travelers don't necessarily pay the bills for airlines. They pay lower fares. They're not as lucrative as the business travelers. The business travelers ... companies still are not feeling fully confident in sending people on business trips. Analysts say it could be into 2022 maybe a little bit longer. American Airlines says it thinks it's going to be next year when it sees that. But so far, we haven't seen this huge return of business travelers yet.
Terry: The Ledger this week highlighted an industry that's suffered during the pandemic but hasn't received as much attention as others — and that is dry cleaning. And you focused, in particular, on a longtime Charlotte dry cleaner. What did you find out?
Mecia: Not a lot of people think about dry cleaning. You hear a lot about restaurants and hotels and all other kinds of businesses that have suffered during the pandemic but dry cleaning has had a hard time too. We talked to Jimmy Lee who's the owner of five dry cleaners in Charlotte — Jones Dry Cleaning, Quail Dry Cleaning, Colwick Cleaners. They're very much tied into what happens in getting back to the office. And as you know, Marshall, and as we've talked about, a lot of these bigger employers are not fully back to the office yet and maybe won't be for a number of months. Which means that people, as they're sitting in their shorts and T-shirts and yoga pants at home, they're not getting those things dry cleaned.
Mr. Lee told us they're back to about 70% of where they were. They're still getting some business people bringing in drapes and bed covers, that sort of thing. But the gowns and the jackets and the dress shirts — they're not seeing as much of those. So it's been a rough time for dry cleaners and they're hopeful that people are going get back to the office and that their business will pick up.
Terry: Often during the segment, we talk about how hot development is in Charlotte. But you wrote this week the sale of two complexes in SouthPark may indicate the market for office space is, at best, “treading water.” How so?
Mecia: Yes, last week a company called Highwoods Properties out of Raleigh bought a couple of office complexes in SouthPark — the Capitol Towers and the Morrocroft Centre. And the amount of money that they paid was about the same as the previous owner had paid a couple of years ago. Usually in Charlotte real estate, you think everything is just going up all the time.
It really shows that the office market is being kind of flat. There are a lot of questions about what's the future of the office going look like, how many people come back, how many people are working from home or have a hybrid arrangement? So both of those complexes are almost fully leased, and the fact that the price is about the same indicates that the market for offices maybe isn't increasing as much as, say, residential real estate or industrial or some of these other sectors.
Terry: Finally, Tony, the Ledger reported on a Matthews church that during the week doubles as a coworking space. Now, is that a new trend?
Mecia: Well, I'm not familiar with any other local coworking spaces that are run by a church. We talked to Ridge Church, which operates Nexus Co-Work in Matthews. They sort of explained it as, look, you know, our campus is very busy on Sundays, but the rest of the week it's fairly empty. And we want to reach out to the community. And so they've opened a coworking space and people can come in, pay $25 for a day pass or $149 a month.
Certainly, we've seen a lot of coworking spaces in Charlotte in the last few years. That's certainly a growing trend. They're starting to come back a little bit. They're seeing more people come in there. Entrepreneurs, people with small companies or companies that are based somewhere else that need a place to work that's quiet.
Terry: All right, Tony. Thank you.
Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.