LODGING is LIVE at the 2023 NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference. Find our show coverage here.
The revitalized travel industry, both domestic and international, was a major talking point of “The CEOs Check In” session at the 45th Annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference. Moderated by CNBC Anchor Sara Eisen, the panel discussion convened top hospitality executives to share industry observations and best practices in brand leadership.
Despite facing significant headwinds emerging from the pandemic, “we see the U.S. [hotel industry] being an incredibly robust and strong market, and European also continues to do really well,” said Keith Barr, CEO, IHG Hotels & Resorts, noting that Q1 has seen performance above 2019 levels. “So, I think we’ve got some great years in front of us,” he added.
Travel demand is healthy in the leisure sector due to the level of disposable income, and in the business travel sector, demand continues to grow. “The level of [travel] spending that people will have engaged in over the last few years has been zero, zilch. So, people are back on the road,” said Leslie D. Hale, president and CEO, RLJ Lodging Trust and 2023 AHLA Board Chair. “If I look at fundamentals today, they remain healthy. We’re encouraged by what we’re seeing in midweek trends and national accounts from a business traveler perspective. The booking pace is very aggressive…And then international demand is emerging.” While the return of group business is seeing some lag, the remote work trend has bolstered the call for small meetings, and several panelists noted that many hoteliers are capitalizing on that demand.
At the “Policy Update” session, participants stressed the need for more government support for the travel and hospitality business to optimize recovery. Laura Lee Blake, president and CEO, AAHOA, emphasized the need “for Congress to really identify the fact that travel is such an important industry, and especially international travel. We’re also seeing that on the international tourism side, there are so many things that have not been done. There is a new U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Travel and Tourism, and that has not even been funded yet. So, we are asking Congress to allocate $3.5 million to get that funded so that a plan can be developed to expand travel…and we would strongly promote that. It’s really to raise our voices to make sure that Congress knows that the travel industry is a key indicator of what’s going on with the rest of the economy. We bring in more international travel, we support business travel, and we can get back to pre-pandemic levels, which will help everyone at every level throughout the country.”
The U.S. travel infrastructure also needs government attention, noted Andy Ingraham, PHD, president, founder and CEO of NABHOOD. “We have the Federal Aviation Administration up for reauthorization this year, and it desperately needs funding to build a world-class air travel system,” he stressed.
However, AHLA President and CEO Chip Rogers pointed to an underlying sentiment in Congress that must also be addressed as part of the initiative to secure more government support. “What can Congress…really do stop being so anti-business? To me, that is the biggest challenge we face,” he said. “The number of elected officials who do consulting have no clue how business works. It gets alarming…The FTC is getting involved in the very model of how we do business, and again and again, there is this anti-business, anti-hotel kind of thought process that is overtaking Congress. So, I don’t know if we just need new members of Congress; that may be one way to solve the problem…We’ve just got to figure out how to improve our relationship and make our concerns [heard].”