At the virtual NYU International Hospitality Conference Webinar Series hosted by the Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality at NYU School of Professional Studies from June 7-8, 2021, Jonathan M. Tisch moderated a panel called “Policy Matters: Emerging Considerations for Evolving Conditions.” During the panel, industry executives discussed policy issues affecting hospitality and advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C. Tisch said that the panelists “and their organizations have been absolutely invaluable in creating a conversation with mainly our elected officials, with owners, and with the CDC about what is important and what we can look forward to as we move together in this great industry of ours.”
Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said that “there are several things that stand in the way” of international travel and borders opening. “One is getting consistency among countries. Things are changing so rapidly and it’s hard for people to tell what the situation is” in multiple countries, Dow said. He also noted that he believes opening the travel corridor between the United States and the United Kingdom is most important to encourage international travel.
In the Caribbean, Andy Ingraham, president, founder, and CEO of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators, and Developers (NABHOOD) added that he is “very optimistic” but that “there must be a consistent policy among the various governments.” He added that across the Caribbean, there is not yet widespread access to COVID-19 vaccines and that accessibility will be critical to encouraging travel to and from the area once more. Ingraham said, “That is going to help move travel pickup and we need it so desperately.”
As travel picks up, Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), noted that the industry is facing a labor shortage. To address this, Rogers said it’s important to attract individuals to the industry early in their careers. “We, as an industry, must do a better job of convincing young people that hospitality is the way to go to build a promising career and there is easy access to the American dream by joining our industry.”
Cecil Staton, recent president and CEO of AAHOA, echoed Rogers’ sentiment: “As I listened to our members, the biggest problem they are facing is the fact that travelers’ confidence is outpacing their ability to recall furloughed workers and hire more employees to meet the rising demand for labor,” he said. “Fortunately, we are seeing occupancy rates head in the direction we want them to, and we’re just going to have to be very creative in recruiting people to this industry.”
Staton added that getting creative in recruitment is important for brands and that they “are very focused on this issue. I can tell you that in the last several weeks, I have probably been in meetings with most of the brand executives who are franchisors to really make sure that we are all together on this particular issue.”
Ingraham added that “getting more young people in the industry” is critical. He said, “This is a great industry and it is a worldwide industry that can absorb so many people, so many different races and ethnicities—we can’t really move away from that. I think we just have to do a better job making people feel more comfortable.”
On the subject of diversity, Ingraham said that he is both optimistic and frustrated. “We have a lot of women moving in the business, but we see very few people of color, and that’s concerning,” Ingraham said. “How do we make this industry inclusive for all of us? I think we can do that… It just takes real commitment.”
Regarding collaboration across travel sectors, Dow noted that airlines, cruises, hotels, and more have come together through the pandemic. He mentioned, “We are such a diverse industry when it comes to segments, but each haw come together […] through this pandemic with a singular voice. We have never been closer with the airlines, the cruise lines, lodging—all because of the same issue.” However, government support of these industries throughout the pandemic has been inconsistent.
The panelists are all optimistic yet cautious. Staton remains concerned “about getting the government where it needs to be to really come together,” whether on the issue of international travel or ensuring more consistency of state and local policies nationwide.
Rogers is heartened by the trend of people prioritizing family in the wake of the pandemic. “That gives me a lot of hope that people recognize after not being able to travel—not see their loved ones, their friends for 15 months—just how important it is in our lives.” However, he’s concerned that the industry and world might not learn from this experience.
Dow thinks that the industry will quickly rebound, but also believes “the reason this [virtual meeting] is working is because we all know each other. If we were strangers, this virtual stuff would not work. And we are going to get closer in a couple of years to being strangers if we don’t bring the travel industry back.”