AUSTIN (KXAN) — University of Texas football fans flooded the stadium for the team’s season opener, which provided a welcome sight for the Austin hospitality industry. After taking a hit during the COVID-19 outbreak, hotel occupancy rates are expected to nearly bounce back to pre-pandemic levels with the help of out-of-town Longhorn fans.

Vijay Patel, the president and CEO of Humble Origins Hospitality Management, said they were expecting “sellouts at most of the hotels, if not all” for the first game. He said the industry has been bracing for a strong fall travel season, resembling the fall before the pandemic.

“We really felt a big, big shift in travel patterns as soon as school started back up. We’re seeing the same kind of traffic patterns that we used to see in 2019,” Patel said.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association released its midyear report in July, tracking nationwide trends in the industry. The report projects U.S. hotels to see an average of 63.4% occupancy, which is just behind the 2019 average of 65.9% occupancy. Data from 2020 showed the average occupancy nationwide dipped to 43.9%, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the midyear report notes hotels are expected to employ 1.97 million people by the end of 2022, which is only 84% of the pre-pandemic workforce.

Locally, Patel also serves on the board of the Austin Hotel and Lodging Association. He noted that normal, predictable patterns help hotels and other hospitality businesses with gauging staffing levels.

“We don’t have the starts and stops. We don’t know how many folks to keep or not keep; we don’t know how to shift people in and out, but with a more predictable pattern we can deliver a better experience for our guests,” Patel explained.

The first Longhorn football game falling on Labor Day weekend created what Patel calls a “multiple demand scenario.”

“We don’t know if they’re coming for a game or if they’re going to Zilker Park or coming to do dining at one of our finer restaurants in town,” he said, noting that either way demand was high.

Looking ahead to next week, when UT faces top-ranked Alabama, Patel estimates similar high demand many, if not all, of Austin’s 410 hotels.

“They come with a big group and a lot of loyal followers,” he said of Alabama football fans.

In total, Austin offers 47,000 hotel rooms, according to Patel. He said they are already seeing capacity constraints at some hotels for the upcoming game weekend, but he encourages any last-minute planners to keep searching.

“People’s travel plans do change last minute, and we do get some cancellations,” he said. “Some hotels do hold rooms.”