Caitlin St John •
June 9, 2020

The Canopy by Hilton Minneapolis Mill District, designed by DLR Group

While the 42nd annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference was postponed until November due to COVID-19, the event’s planning committee organized a virtual conversation with the leaders of six global hotel brands to provide insight during these uncertain times.

Moderated by Loews Hotels chairman and CEO Jonathan M. Tisch, the “CEOs Check In” panel discussion included Keith Barr of InterContinental Hotels Group, Sébastien M. Bazin of Accor, Mark S. Hoplamazian of Hyatt Hotels Corporation, David Kong of BWH Hotel Group, Christopher J. Nassetta of Hilton, and Arne M. Sorenson of Marriott International.

The hourlong exchange touched on the current state of business, looking ahead to the future, the role of brands and technology, and advice for students who recently graduated from hospitality programs and are eager to enter the workforce.

The executives said they were confident that the travel, lodging, and tourism industries will come back online—and not as something entirely unrecognizable. “Ultimately, when we wake up in three years, the business will look a lot like it did three or four months ago,” says Nassetta. “But between here and there, it’s going to be different and it’s going to evolve.”

Barr adds, “We’re learning how to operate in this environment. We’re learning how to make customers feel safe, and that’s what we have to do as an industry. All of us have to work together on this.”

Thompson Washington DC, a Hyatt hotel, designed by Parts and Labor Design

For Bazin, the only panelist based in Europe, the current circumstances have been a time to reflect. “I believe it’s a time to reset your organization,” he says. “It’s time to rethink: What is it that should have been working better? How should you be reorganizing?”

Additional takeaways from the dialogue include the resurgence of drive-to destinations and importance of domestic travel, which is already coming back online in some regions. “The circle that our hotels will draw from has grown a lot,” says Hoplamazian. “People are prepared to drive some distance to get out and have a different kind of experience.” The U.S. and Chinese markets, especially, rely heavily on domestic travel, Sorenson points out.

As for brands, Hoplamazian believes their recognition is extremely valuable right now. “The world of brands has become more important in this environment, where reliability and security matters a lot to travelers,” he says.

While the recovery period will undoubtedly pose many challenges, “people’s desire to travel, experience things, and congregate is unstoppable,” says Nassetta.

Sorenson signs off with an inspiring message for recent graduates of the Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, and perhaps a welcome reminder for veterans of the industry, too: “I’d love it if they were patient and hang with us, because this is an industry that will make your life that much richer in so many different respects.”

Watch the full exchange, and for more COVID-19-related news and stories from HD, click here.

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