New York, NY – Politics took center stage at the annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in New York this week as Lowes Hotel CEO Jonathan Tisch, the conference chair, said there might be a “Lost Decade” for global travel to the United States if recently announced government policies are implemented.
Those policies include calls for “extreme vetting” of visitors, executive orders on immigration and the proposed elimination of Brand USA, the marketing arm of the industry. Tisch cited the anti-travel environment after 9/11 as a troubling precedent, when the United States lost more than $600 billion in traveler spending and 467,000 jobs during a “Lost Decade” for travel.
Reinforcing Tisch’s remarks, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said in a conference interview that travel from the Middle East and Mexico is down 20% and he expects that to get worse as potential international travelers choose to go elsewhere “where they will feel more welcome.”
“Ending this 10-year slump required a united industry effort to push for pro-travel policies,” Tisch said. “We learned some valuable lessons that we need to put into action again today.”
Tisch highlighted the need for the industry to communicate to new political leaders the importance of travel, including its impact on U.S. economic growth, jobs and the trade deficit. He noted that travel generated $246 billion in U.S. exports last year, cutting nearly $90 billion off America’s trade deficit.
“Travel drives the U.S. economy,” Tisch said. “It’s our job to engage the new leadership in Washington to make sure they understand the role we can play in achieving our shared economic goals. If the Trump administration really wants to cut the trade deficit, they’ll need our help.”
According to Tisch, shaping the promised $1 trillion infrastructure investment program opens another leadership opportunity. “We need to make sure improving our aviation infrastructure – our airports, runways and other essentials – is front and center,” he said. “We can help achieve these goals by making the travel industry a major player in the debate over American infrastructure investment.”
Tisch also strongly defended Brand USA, which was zeroed out in the Trump administration’s new budget proposal. Eliminating Brand USA “makes no sense on a policy level,” Tisch said. “It’s completely at odds with the administration’s own economic goals…and will increase the federal deficit by $510 million over three years by reducing international travel to the United States.”
Tisch called on the travel industry to take a coordinated, proactive stance on these imperatives: “For years and years, we fought hard to get a seat at the table. Now it’s time to use that position: To protect the gains we’ve made. To seize the opportunities that lie ahead. And to launch travel on its next phase of growth.”
A panel of industry CEOs later agreed that infrastructure needs to be a top priority of the new administration and that the industry must make certain its voice is heard on this important issue. Panelists agreed with Tisch on the need for the industry to be engaged, using its voice to support reforms and initiatives that are critical to the country’s economic productivity and success.
In other news from the conference:
- Hoteliers and their representatives continued to focus on the battle to get lodging rental companies like Airbnb to face stronger regulations to establish a level playing field. Katherine Lugar, CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said the great majority of Airbnb rentals are now operated by absentee operators as commercial hotels. Fully 40% of Airbnb’s revenues come from operators of three or more rentals – which don’t have to meet the regulations involving safety, security and taxes that hotels must meet.
- Wyndham Hotels & Resorts became the latest large hotel company to create a “soft brand” of independent hotels. The new collection, called Trademark, will launch in the next few weeks. Lisa Checchio, vice president of brand marketing, said this collection is different from others like Marriott’s Autograph in targeting the upper-midscale segment rather than upscale and luxury.