Two big stories this week that represent the importance of a global perspective in the hotel industry …
Obama launches new travel initiative
When President Obama in January 2009 rode into the White House on a campaign promising so much hope, all much of the hotel industry could do was shudder. Here was a liberal, untested political commodity whose proposed policies drew more angst from the “pro business” conservative base than would a living wage subsidy provided to protestors during Occupy Wall Street.
It certainly didn’t take long for things to get off on a bad foot. As the financial meltdown worsened, President Obama made his now infamous remark (and one that’s sure to be a sticking point in Nevada come the November elections) advising against superfluous travel: “… You can't go take a trip to Las Vegas or go down to the Super Bowl on the taxpayer's dime.”
Those words, a reported blacklist of select U.S. tourism markets and several other boneheaded decisions sent many in the hotel industry into a tizzy, leaving a stinging pain that took a sputtering recovery to help ease … until, that is, the president last November issued an executive order requiring government agencies to cut travel (among other areas) by 20%.
What an interesting juxtaposition, then, to see President Obama standing in front of Cinderella’s Castle Thursday afternoon at the epicenter of the U.S. travel experience, Walt Disney World Resort, to promote a new strategy to boost international travel into the country.
“I want more tourists here tomorrow. I want America to be the top tourist destination in the world,” he told attendees of the news conference.
I can see many of the industry’s more conservative members rolling their eyes already.
But suspend your sarcasm just a minute, if you will. Let’s take a look at the key highlights from the president’s address:
• The president directed the Department of Commerce to create a task force to develop a “National Travel and Tourism Strategy.”
• He directed the State Department to accelerate the ability to process visas from China and India by 40%.
• He will add to the 36 existing countries in the Visa Waiver Program.
• The U.S. Global Entry program, which prescreens frequent travelers to allow for a quicker trip through customs, will be made permanent.
All talk? I don’t think so. Keep in mind this is the guy who signed the Travel Promotion Act in 2009. It was the first time the U.S. government took steps to promote the U.S. as a tourism destination outside the country’s borders. The resulting Brand USA campaign just kicked off, and I, for one, have high hopes for its potential impact.
And let’s not paint a broad stroke on President Obama’s view on travel based on a few, ahem, ill-advised comments during the heat of the recession or, more recently, the mandate to pull back on government travel. At a time when the masses are calling for reduced government spending, cuts have to be made somewhere, and travel was among many, many heads to get a haircut.
The president’s new strategic initiative is a welcomed step that can only help travel—and one that answers the long-ignored cries of the industry, especially in the areas of easing visa applications.
So in the end, the National Travel and Tourism Strategy is a win for the U.S. hotel industry. Even the most ardent conservatives among you must get a little bit tingly when you hear the leader of the free world utter, “We’re going to do everything we can to continue to boost tourism for the years to come.”
Or maybe I’m all wet. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. (But, please, let’s keep it civil, folks.)
Carlson and Rezidor get a little bit closer
Also this week Carlson and its long-standing partner-in-arms in Europe, Rezidor, announced a new strategic alliance under their new name, The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. (A little wordy for my liking, but I’m naturally inclined to edit.)
First, let’s make one thing clear: It’s not a merger. The companies are remaining separate legal entities. Carlson’s staying private (much to we reporters’ chagrin), while Rezidor (OXM: REZT) remains a publically traded company on the Stockholm Stock Exchange.
So what has changed, you ask? For one thing, the two companies, which have been working together for 17 years, formed an overarching council that now shares the same strategic goals.
Still not impressed? They’re also forming subcommittees to help achieve shared goals in the areas of brand alignment, revenue generation and various others.
Still nothing? Think about it this way: The companies for years now basically shared the same brand platform. By working more closely under a singular name, they provide a more unified position in the market that can only help spur development and investment. It was a necessary, and smart, step from a commercial angle—one that can only boost the fast-growing company’s clout in the global hotel industry.
Stat of the week I
8.2%: Increase in revenue per available room for the U.S. hotel industry during 2011, according to STR, parent company of HotelNewsNow.com. I’d call that a pretty solid step in the right direction, especially as the comparables got more difficult as the year progressed.
What’s interesting is from where that growth came. In a year when most pundits predicted RevPAR growth to be fueled by gains in average daily rate over occupancy, that simply wasn’t the case. Occupancy ended the year up 4.4%, while ADR was up only 3.7%.
Stat of the week II
513 million: The number of Web users in China as of December, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. That’s more than 200 million more Web users in China than total people in the U.S. Something to ponder as you prep your Internet marketing and distribution strategies in this emerging economy.
Quote of the week I
“We’re going to do everything we can to continue to boost tourism for the years to come.”
President Obama during a press conference to discuss his new, national travel initiative.
Yeah, we talked about this earlier, but how could I not include this as the top comment of the week?
Quote of the week II
“At the end of the day, you have a tsunami of debt coming due in the next 18 to 24 months. That’s going to trigger a lot of activity.”
LW Hospitality Advisors’ Daniel Lesser on the transactions outlook for the U.S. hotel industry in “US hotel transactions gaining speed.”
The bubble is about to burst, people. Are you ready to take advantage?
Comment of the week
“A convention center in queen (sic) would make it a lot more convenient to get in and out through the airports, but would be horrible for anyone trying to stay in a hotel on Manhattan. Yah, Manhattan hotels would suffer a lot. Would a bigger center bring in more business? idk, is there any evidence that Javits is suffering because it isn't big enough? From my experience, the only problem with Javits is the lack of a nearby subway line, so getting there from grand central or Penn station is difficult, taking the Bus takes too long, and Cabs aren't cheap.”
Commenter “Stephan” responding to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed plan to redevelop the Javits Center and build a new convention center 16 miles away in Queens.
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