As he kicked off the 43rd annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, Jonathan Tisch, chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels & Co., welcomed a reported 1,100 industry insiders back for the conference’s first in-person edition since June 2019. This year's event kicked off, coincidentally, on the day U.S. borders reopened to international travelers. 

“If you’re like me, you’ve had about enough of Zoom,” he said. “This event reminds us that there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction.” 

Tisch described the world as “separated and disengaged” during the height of the pandemic, when travel was stymied and people isolated. While recovering from the impact of the downturn will take time and uncertainties will remain, Tisch said he is encouraged by travel’s impact over 2020, with more than $1.5 trillion generated in economic output and more than 11 million American jobs supported.

Tisch also expressed optimism at the clear demand for inbound travel to the U.S.: “When the White House announced we would once again welcome international visitors, commercial flight bookings by Europeans jumped tenfold,” he said.

With that in mind, Tisch outlined three issues that he considers “top of mind” for the industry.

Business Travel

Tisch cited a recent Bloomberg survey of 45 large businesses in the U.S., Europe and Asia that found that 84 percent of these businesses plan to spend less on travel post-pandemic. At the same time, the American Hotel & Lodging Association predicts hotel revenue from business travel to be $59 billion lower this year than it was in 2019. “At first, that may not be surprising—until you consider that’s $10 billion worse than last year, when there was no vaccine and many states and cities had safety restrictions, including lockdowns, in place,” he said.

While the long-term impact of reduced business travel paints a worrisome picture for a range of travel industries and business-focused hotels, Tisch sees some opportunities in the new normals as well.  

“During COVID, millions of people learned they can work from anywhere,” he said. “If workers don’t need to be in the office, how can the industry encourage them to stretch out vacations, work away from home while spending time with family and enable them to be just as productive?” The growing trend of “bleisure” travel—a blend of business and leisure—can support leisure destinations as well as other industries, Tisch said. 

Global Events

The second issue is how travel is regularly at the center of major global events. “Our global economy has elevated travel’s importance, which puts our industry center stage when a global crisis occurs. We’re first to be exposed and first to be restricted when concerns rise,” Tisch said.

At the same time, he said, travel can also help get recovery started again. “If you want to jump start economic activity, get people traveling," he said. "A huge percentage of consumer spending on dining and shopping happens when people are away from home. The faster travel comes back, the faster spending will come back for other industries, too.”

Travel’s role in global events gives industry leaders a responsibility to take charge of challenging situations, Tisch added, as well as the “imperative to engage with stakeholders and policymakers, to help shape policy and events and to be strongly positioned to tackle emerging challenges.”

The Healing Power of Travel

The third issue is travel’s ability to help build bridges in communities. “Too often, today’s public discourse descends into tribalism,” he said, noting that travel can be an “antidote” to the current state of affairs. “It can pull us out of our digital cul-de-sacs by exposing people to new cultures and new experiences. It can help break down prejudices, bridge cultural division, breed civility and foster greater understanding.”

Tisch also underlined the need to create equitable opportunities and develop diverse talent for leadership positions in the industry, especially during an “unprecedented” labor shortage. “Top talent has great power to decide where they will build a future career,” he said. “If travel and hospitality is to be an employer of choice, our industry must make progress—to incentivize, recruit and develop a diverse range of talented team members and leaders. ... There are over 200 professional pathways available in the hotel industry alone that can lead to great opportunities and careers. We need to convince job-seekers that working in hospitality can be an exciting—and rewarding—lifelong endeavor.”