The hospitality industry is facing a bigger threat than even the recession, credit crunch and weak consumer confidence. It's the growing misperception that travel, and particularly luxury travel and corporate meetings and conventions, is anti-American and detrimental to the nation's economy. In fact, this wrong-headed notion that businesses shouldn't be spending their resources on any kind of corporate gatherings has been codified in the $787-billion economic stimulus package passed last week by Congress. That bill includes specific limitations on business travel by companies in line to receive stimulus funds.
But the problem goes beyond anything Congress mandates. Many companies, even those not likely to receive any emergency assistance funds, fear the adverse publicity scheduling any kind of meeting in a hotel could bring. Particularly hurt are any properties perceived as luxury or any with the words “resort” or “spa” in their names. Las Vegas, too, has taken it on the chin: according to a story in Sunday's New York Times, in the last month 30,000 roomnights connected to conferences have cancelled at a loss to the city of $20 million. So wary are companies of Las Vegas' reputation as a party town that at one firm, Goldman Sachs, paid a $600,000 cancellation fee and moved a technology conference to San Francisco, a more expensive city in which to meet.
The industry is trying to fight back, but with little success. Loews Corp. CEO James Tisch complained in a Bloomberg story published before Congress' vote on the stimulus package that lawmakers are “killing the resort business.” And Marriott Chairman Bill Marriott wrote in his blog that everyone, from housekeepers to CEOs, get hurt when America stops traveling.
You can do your part by telling anyone who will listen—the news media, politicians, members of your local chamber of commerce—how vital and pro-American it is for groups and individuals to travel and to meet. Unless we can change perceptions, these anti-travel sentiments could hurt our industry long after the economic climate improves.