Spending on travel in the US is expected to end the year 45% down from 2019 levels, and will still not return to its pre-pandemic strength by 2024, according to new estimates.

The new projected travel spending figure of $617 billion for 2020 is slightly worse than a previous forecast by the US Travel Association released of $622 billion in July.

But it is a “precipitous drop” from the $1.13 trillion spent on travel in the US overall in 2019.

The nosedive reflects a decline of 34% in domestic leisure travel spending, but even sharper drop-offs in the lucrative domestic business travel (55%) and international inbound (77%).

Nearly 40% – 3.5 million – of all direct travel jobs have vanished over the past seven months, even after taking into account modest growth over the summer.

Another million direct travel jobs – bringing the total to 4.5 million or 50% of pre-pandemic levels – are expected to disappear by the end of the year without another round of government relief, the trade body warned.

“It is unknown how many of those job losses will become permanent. Large numbers of travel businesses were unable to access early rounds of federal pandemic relief – and many businesses that did receive temporary aid have exhausted their relief funds,” the US Travel Association added.

Washington’s inability to reach a deal on a new round of relief prior to the November 3 election further devastated the travel industry.

Policymakers are being urged not to wait for the new Congress and president-elect Joe Biden’s administration to take office  before advancing another package.

US Travel Association president and chief executive Roger Dow said: “A lot of businesses that need help to retain and rehire their people won’t be there in January if we wait until the next Congress to get more aid passed.

“The pain among travel employers is extremely acute, and so is the frustration that Washington has been unable to act so far given the size and obviousness of this problem.”