Amid generally rosy projections for the hotel industry, the question of who's next in the White House was a topic of much discussion at the 38th annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, June 5-7 at Manhattan's New York Marriott Marquis. Early in the agenda, conference chair Jonathan M. Tisch, chairman of Loews Hotels & Resorts, led a "Government Update" session with Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, and Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
Dow noted that, after a rocky start with the current administration, leaders in the nation's capital now "get it." He recounted President Obama's fateful comments in 2009 ("You can't go take that trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayers' dime"), among similarly damaging events, which spurred industry forces to mobilize and attempt to mitigate the damage. The Meetings Mean Business campaign was created to underscore the message to federal, state and local lawmakers that travel directly impacts the economy. Since then, said Dow, "we have met with Obama three times, and he is extremely supportive of what we're doing."
Tisch asked, "In a few months we will have a new president. How do you feel about the two candidates with respect to our industry?" Dow quipped: "I thought you were going to ask me to talk about something easy, like religion or sex." He went on to say, "We are working right now to get with both campaigns before the election" so they understand key issues of concern. Added Lugar, "We are dealing with two candidates who very much understand our world. Whoever is president doesn't change the fact that we need to maintain good relationships on both sides of the aisle."
Regarding the current mood in Washington, D.C., Lugar said, "I have never seen the level of political vitriol I'm seeing right now." Added Dow, "It's a little more frustrating than the corporate world."
The topic was raised again in a panel discussion Tuesday morning, Scott D. Berman, principal and industry leader, hospitality and leisure, for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Berman asked a panel of hotel chain executives, "How do you feel about the possibility of having a hotelier in the White House?" Kevin J. Jacobs, executive vice president and CFO of Hilton Worldwide, replied, "Why wouldn't you want a hotelier in the best seat in the land? I just don't know if you want that hotelier."
"The politics really matter. I get that," said J. Allen Smith, president and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. However, he said, it's important to remember that "the noise" that could result from decisions made by the next administration is likely to be relatively short-lived, while the long-term trajectory for the hospitality industry -- and for the country -- is undoubtedly upward.
Jonathan Karl, chief White House correspondent for ABC News, shared his inside view of the issue in a Q&A with Tisch on Tuesday afternoon. "This has been the strangest campaign of my lifetime," he said. Among other unusual aspects of covering this particular election, he said, "We've all had riot training. And I mean everyone who is going to be covering either of the political conventions -- across all networks."