Hoteliers at NYU conference take veiled shots at Trump

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NEW YORK — Speakers at the 38th Annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference on Monday didn’t mention Donald Trump by name, but they appeared to take aim at the presidential contender’s protectionist and anti-immigration proposals.

Loews Hotels & Resorts chairman Jonathan Tisch, in his conference keynote speech, decried what he called “fear-filled rhetoric” in politics, while Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson criticized “demonizing foreigners” and “overstating risks.”

American Hotels & Lodging Association (AH&LA) CEO Katherine Lugar said that the “political vitriol” was “unprecedented.”

Blackstone’s global head of real estate, Jonathan Gray, spoke in favor of “comprehensive immigration reform,” implying his support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Tisch appeared to be the most impassioned, warning that taking what he called the “Fortress America” approach by making it harder for overseas travelers to enter the U.S. puts the domestic hospitality industry at risk by potentially repeating the damage caused by policies implemented after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Tisch estimated that such policies during what’s known in the industry as “the Lost Decade” cut inbound travel visits by 68 million and cost the domestic travel industry more than $500 billion.

He also pushed for a broader Visa Waiver Program, but he wants to change the program’s name to the “Secure Travel Partnership.” Tisch claims that the current name has provoked political opposition.

“America can continue to be both welcoming and secure,” he said. “Pulling back from the rest of the world simply is not an option.”

“This rise in nationalism … threatens the ability for people to move freely around the world,” Sorenson added.

In response to a question from Fox Business Network anchor Maria Bartiromo about whether increased China investment in U.S. real estate poses a security threat, Blackstone’s Gray demurred. “The more integrated we are as a global economy, the better it is,” he said.

Gray added that “comprehensive immigration reform would help a lot of people.”

“It’s easy to get negative,” he said. “We have an amazing country. I don’t think America’s best days are behind us.”

As for what the industry should expect as the country’s leadership switches from the Obama administration to Trump’s or Hillary Clinton’s, U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow quipped to the panelist moderator: “I thought you were going to ask me about something easy, like religion or sex.”

Dow followed that up with a more political answer.

“We’re dealing with two candidates who very much understand our world,” Dow said, possibly referring to the fact that Trump himself is a hotelier.

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