Hotels CEOs from some of the biggest chains in the world are doing a lot of thinking and talking about attracting Chinese travelers, simplifying the visa process, coping with the sharing economy and dealing with online travel agencies.
Across the board, the CEOs of Hilton Worldwide, Hyatt, Accor, Wyndham and Loews Hotels expressed the desire to generate stays from high-spending Chinese travelers but were cognizant of the challenges in the U.S., Canada, and Europe with lengthy visa processes. In addition to competing for those travelers in those markets, they also spoke of competition and coexistence with Priceline, Airbnb, and HomeAway.
Here are some of their key thoughts, along with those of Katherine Lugar of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, all of whom addressed hotel industry issues during a June 1 press conference at the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in New York City.
Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton Worldwide:
On distribution: “We are spending a lot of time to make sure that the customer knows, in a very straightforward way, that they are getting the best value booking directly with us. It’s not that we don’t want to do business with the OTAs (online travel agencies), we do, and we will, but the more we have a direct relationship with our customers the better.”
On the sharing economy: “When you think about Airbnb and HomeAway, I think there’s an opportunity, if everybody is playing by the same rules to be actually additive.”
Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Hyatt Hotels:
On Chinese outbound travel: “The U.S. was trailing significantly behind Europe. Primarily because of the visa process. That’s been mitigated and improved dramatically over the last couple of years.”
On Hyatt’s investment in OneFineStay: “OneFineStay exposes us to how customers look for different experiences. It’s a very small enterprise and fundamentally vacation and leisure focused and it is home ownership that’s embedded in this.”
Sebastian Bazin, chairman and CEO of Accor:
On Chinese travel: “The numbers don’t lie. A lot of it [missed opportunities in the growing Chinese traveler segment] has been visa constraints. Ninety percent of Chinese travelers stay in Asia-Pacific and many of them go to Australia. What we need to do here is to expand the attractiveness of Europe and the U.S. The name of the game is to get your brand as visible as you can in mainland China.”
On consolidation in the hotel sector: “You’re talking about multi-billion dollars, not only at risk but in terms of integration. One has to wonder, look at all those new digital players, gravitating on travel and leisure industry in the last 10 years. Whether it’s Priceline, Booking.com, Trivago, TripAdvisor, they all went from one million to multi-billion dollar valuations within five to six years and it took us 50 years to get to where we are.”
Geoff Ballotti, president and CEO of Wyndham Hotel Group:
On the Chinese visa process: “The Obama Administration [streamlined the visa process]. It had taken it from 60 days to [now] under a week and how big that was and if they were continue to do that — China’s probably not going to be a visa waiver country any time soon — but that would be something huge for us.”
Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association:
On the sharing economy: “This [Airbnb] is an issue that goes much bigger than hotels. Affordable housing. Consumer safety. Making sure that these sites are disabled accessible. The focus of our work is not on the guy who is renting his couch, and it’s not on the individual who’s renting out his bedroom to make extra income. It’s on the growth of commercial enterprises.”
Jonathan M. Tisch, chairman of Loews Hotels and Resorts:
On travel industry lobbying: “The partnership between the [travel] industry, American Hotel & Lodging Association, U.S. Travel, and our elected officials and visa wait times is a perfect example of how the industry went to our elected officials and went to the State Department and said we can make a difference for people who want to come to this country, we can grow jobs through more international travelers.”