When the Trump Administration announced its first travel ban in January, most hotel companies remained silent on the matter, deferring to the industry’s trade association, the American Hotel & Lodging Association to speak for them collectively.
Choice Hotels, however, was a lone exception, and its CEO, Stephen P. Joyce, recently reiterated his thoughts about the Trump Administration’s various stances on travel, including trying to reinstate yet another travel ban and cutting funding for Brand USA, the organization tasked with promoting tourism to the U.S.
Joyce spoke to Skift on June 6 at the NYU Hospitality Industry Investment Conference in New York City. We began by asking him for his thoughts on Loews Hotels CEO Jonathan Tisch’s opening remarks at the conference, calling on the travel industry to work together to prevent another “lost decade” of travel from taking place.
Skift Editor’s Note: Joyce’s comments have been lightly edited for clarity.
“I was chairman of the U.S. Travel Association when all that [backlash against meetings] happened [in 2009], and I went and met with Obama, and we got him to reverse his position, and then Larry Summers [the American economist and former director of the National Economic Council for President Obama from 2009 to 2010] realized that, if we want to correct the trading imbalance, that travel is a pretty easy way to do it,” Joyce said.
He continued, “We shut down the borders after 9/11. We lost one-third of our international travel market share, just as international travel exploded. That’s millions of jobs, billions and billions of tax revenues that were lost.”
“The administration needs to understand [that] their desire for the health of the country, for putting people back to work, for correcting trade imbalances, [that] one of the best ways for them to do that is travel. There is no one arguing that we should open the borders and make them insecure, but there’s a difference between that and making sure that people feel wanted, welcome, and respected in this country.
“The travel ban that he [Trump] wants doesn’t matter from the standpoint from those countries. It’s not like we get a lot of customers from there anyway, but he’s telling the rest of the world, ‘We don’t want you here.’ Not only do I find that offensive, I find it incongruent with his stated objectives.
“We were the first and the only [hotel company] to write a letter to him about that, and our legislative vice president is very close to several people in the administration. We will be having several very high-level dialogues and try to respectfully point out the ability for them to accomplish the goals that they want and, at the same time, strengthen the travel business and our attractiveness to international travelers, because what people are doing is they’re going to go where they’re wanted.
“We’re getting crushed by Europe because Europe, in spite of the fact that they wore more of the brunt of terrorism than anyone else in the world, they are welcoming those travelers and they are making it easy to get a visa. They are having more friendly border crossings. That’s where this country needs to go.
“It doesn’t do us any good to improve the infrastructure and the airports if there’s not people coming into them. International travelers come and spend $5,000 in this country, on average. If you want to correct the trade imbalance, that’s the quickest and best way to do it.
“We’re going to have dialogues around that. We’re going to try to convince the administration of a balanced, but travel-positive environment.
“The last administration started out anti-travel and was the strongest travel proponent that we’ve ever had in the present. They had a travel policy. [Obama] had a travel agenda. He personally attended lots of different events around it. … [Hillary] Clinton was always a big travel supporter, but she led the charge in the State Department, because in the State Department there was the issue around the visas. We also worked with the TSA and Roger Dow and his organization [the U.S. Travel Association] not to change the level of security but to make it friendly. We did things like we had Disney teach the TSA how to do queues, and we need to continue to do that. … I just don’t think he’s [Trump] hearing it from the right people yet.”