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Just back from a White House meeting with the president, the CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association characterized the impact of coronavirus in the United States is already more severe for the hotel industry than the September 11 attacks and the 2008 recession combined.

“Half of the hotels in the United States could close this year,” AH&LA CEO Chip Rogers ┬ásaid in a press briefing Tuesday about a White House meeting with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and cabinet members.

Job losses just in the U.S. hotel and related industries could be in the four million range, Rogers said, if occupancy tracks to a 30-35 percent level for 2020.

Rogers, lodging association chair Jon Bortz, and U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow said Trump administration officials were receptive to their pleas for aid to the travel industry. Rogers characterized it as “a productive meeting.”

The message he heard from Trump, Bortz said, was the White House response would be “big, fast and immediate.”

The travel industry officials meeting at the White House asked for low-interest loans for small businesses, including hotel franchise owners, and monies to keep travel industry personnel employed.

Dow said the travel industry suddenly is facing a catastrophe “that needs to be fixed suddenly.”

Bortz, the CEO of the real estate investment trust the Pebblebrook Hotel Trust, said he has already “let go” 4,000 of his 8,000 employees, many of who work in some of the U.S. cities hardest hit by coronavirus, including Seattle, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

He said by the end of the month Pebblebrook will likely have to lay off 2,000 more employees, and close half of its hotels.

Marriott International has begun furloughing tens of thousands of employees.

The U.S. travel industry faces several hundred billion dollars in losses this year, Dow said, adding that 83 percent of the U.S. travel industry is made up of all small businesses.

Photo Credit: The lobby of the Hyatt Centric French Quarter New Orleans, where tourism has been hit. Hyatt