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Despite being fierce competitors, the CEOs of Marriott and Hilton agree that the current era is a golden age of travel.
Speaking separately at the annual Americas Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles, in front of a crowd of more than 3,000 hoteliers on Monday, each pressed their own priorities.
Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said there is a great need to use technology to enhance security and personalize the customer experience while Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta urged the industry to do its part to address global youth unemployment.
Both see the respective issues they raised as crucial to the future of the travel and hospitality business.
Making Travel Better for Travelers
For Sorenson, the opportunity to improve the travel industry lies in customer experience. Echoing the sentiments of former Starwood CEO Frits van Paasschen who spoke about how travel today “remains anonymous, uncertain, and inconvenient” at the Skift Global Forum in September, Sorenson said yesterday that “the difficulty of travel” is something the entire travel industry needs to address, especially in an era that he characterized as “the Golden Age of travel.”
Sorenson, who has expressed concerns about the Trump administration’s stance on immigration, said that security and immigration, in particular, are an area ripe for improvement.
“We need to get to a place with the technology we have available to us so that if a traveler wants to sign up for a trusted global traveler program, it can be used so that the security and immigration process is applied to those who really produce risk,” he said. “It uses far less resources, lets us travel more simply.”
Sorenson added, “I would encourage all of you as leaders — every time you get an opportunity with an American or a local or foreign politicians or tech partners … let’s talk about and build momentum for a global trusted traveler program.”
By extension, Sorenson also encouraged fellow hoteliers to start using technology to better personalize the travel experience for their guests through keyless entry, customizing room amenities, improving loyalty programs, and emphasizing more local and authentic experiences.
Making Travel an Economic Engine for Employment
While Sorenson spoke about a desire to improve the guest experience, Nassetta focused his talk on improving the employment landscape for the more than 71 million people worldwide who are under age 29 and are unemployed.
Echoing what Sorenson said about this being a “golden age for travel and tourism,” Nassetta pointed out that half of the global population is now under age 29, making it “the largest generation of youth in human industry,” and that it’s an invaluable group for the travel and, especially, the hospitality industry.
As a group they represent 22 percent of all travelers, spend considerably more than the average tourist and are expected to take 370 million trips by 2020, he said.
“These young travelers add so much value to our business,” Nassetta said, but they’re also facing “serious and unprecedented challenges, namely the worst youth unemployment crisis in modern history.”
To that end, Nassetta implored the audience to “be a huge part of the solution” by giving more young people opportunities to develop careers in the hospitality industry. “We need to bring more people into the business.”
He said that if the hotel industry devoted half of its pipeline to youth unemployment, the industry alone could generate 86 million new jobs by 2026 and reduce unemployment levels by 60 percent.
“Our industry is the world’s largest employer in the world,” Nassetta said. And to help bring more young people into the hospitality and travel business, he said countries like the U.S. should encourage more apprenticeship programs like those that have flourished in Europe. And, the industry also needs to do a better job of making more young people aware of the job opportunities available to them in hospitality.
He ended his talk by reminding the audience that, “Half of all hotel executives started their career at a hotel,” and then, as an example, showing an old image of himself as a young man, when he got his start in hospitality — cleaning toilets at the Holiday Inn Capitol in Washington, D.C. Today, he’s the president and CEO of the second largest hotel company in the world.
“We have an amazing opportunity to use our engine of opportunity to make hospitality a top career choice of the future,” he said.