Seven Hotel CEOs on Navigating the COVID-19 Crisis

During last month’s NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference Virtual Hospitality CEOs Check-In Panel moderated by the conference’s chair, Jonathan M. Tisch, chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels & Co. and co-chairman of the Board of Loews Corporation, Tisch and six participating hotel CEOs commented on the current crisis, their approach to navigating it, and more.

1Jonathan Tisch, Chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels & Co. and Co-chairman of the Board of Loews Corporation

“Travel will not resume until people feel confident in the safety of the entire travel experience. To move forward, we need widespread and regular access to testing, health and safety guidelines, liability protection, and we need to find ways to incentivize people to travel again—of course, when it is safe.”

2Sébastien Bazin, Chairman and CEO of Accor

“The first thing you have to do is you have to accept the unknown, accept that you don’t have the answers, and then cope as much as you can…The only thing you care for is your employees, your owners, and spend as much time as you can answering the questions they have, even though you may not have the answers. Be present, be humble. Make sure everyone is safe. Get information from the outside, learn as much as you can, and then provide them with direction.”

3David Kong, President and CEO of BWH Hotel Group

“One of the lessons I’ve learned is to expect the unexpected. I am really heartened by the way this industry has come together, whether it be the brands, operators, management companies, or owners. For example, AHLA’s Safe Stay initiative has brands coming up with cleaning programs to demonstrate that the industry cares about the health and wellbeing of our customers, and to give people the confidence to come back… The industry is comprised of people who care about people, and we’re optimistic about the future.”

4Keith Barr, CEO of IHG

“[After] record years of performance in an industry that had so many tailwinds, to all of a sudden run into that one thing that you can’t really prepare for, what’s humbled me the most is our teams around the world: From people helping front-line workers, to reopening hotels, to building temporary hospitals, and the care and concern people have shown for each other.”

5Chris Nassetta, President and CEO of Hilton

“From my point of view, it’s been pretty straightforward: Always protect our people, protect the business, prepare for recovery. What goes down will come back up. We all have to band together as much as we did in good times, and to rebuild the business of travel and tourism, preparing for recovery is mission-critical. The core lessons that I’ve always learned are to keep a steady hand on the wheel… Whether it’s our family, children, loved ones, or people who work in our companies—they need hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s our job to give them that.”

6Mark Hoplamazian, President and CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation

“As I think about a leadership lesson, and how we’ve led through this, I’ve been preaching to all of our leaders at the company that they really need to practice self-care. They need to stay attuned with what’s happening with them mentally, emotionally, and physically to keep well holistically, [which] affects the lives of others. People always say on an airplane to put your own oxygen mask on before someone else’s, and it’s the same with respect to taking care of yourself.”

7Arne Sorenson, President and CEO of Marriott International

“To me, it is about listening first… it is about being transparent. Tell the truth, tell people what we think is happening. Then at the end of that, hold out, hopefully, some path forward, some strategy, some hope that we’re going to get to a place at the other end of this that we can latch onto and think about a better day that’s coming down the pipe.”

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Lara Becker is a LODGING Magazine Summer 2020 intern.