'Let’s Get Paranoid,' Loews CEO Jonathan Tisch Warns Hospitality Leaders

An “incoherent” immigration policy, lack of diversity and lagging tech innovations threaten our talent pool, Tisch said in opening remarks at the NYU Hospitality Industry Investment Conference.

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We’re in the midst of a decades-long travel boom, noted Jonathan M. Tisch, chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels & Co., in his opening remarks this morning at the 41st annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference. In other words, he said, now is a good time to worry: “In my view, the best moments to be paranoid are when times are good.” 

At the two-day event at New York City’s Marriott Marquis, Tisch noted that the economic forecasts now predict a looming slowdown in this country and around the world -- a slowdown that, inevitably, will impact the hospitality realm and its leaders of tomorrow. So what does the events industry have to offer the talent pool, and how are we going to retain the best-of-the-best candidates despite brewing pushback?  

For starters, we need to keep the wheels turning when it comes to keeping the event world's talent pipeline full. As an industry, Tisch believes we need to focus on the following, as excerpted from his remarks. 

1. Advocating for a National Immigration Policy

Traditionally, immigrants have been a valued source of talent for our industry. It's a fact that we're proud of. Immigrants make our industry -- and country -- stronger and provide a huge economic incentive. Therefore, a coherent, rational immigration policy is vital to ensuring that both our business and country continue to flourish.

Let's not forget that the word "compromise" is built into our nation's political system. We have two houses of Congress for a reason -- they're our nation's system of checks and balances. This wasn't a mistake. 

When it comes to immigration, the compromise is laid out in plain sight. Democrats want legal status for DREAMers, and most Republicans agree. The Grand Old Party wants to maintain control of the nation's borders, and most Dems agree. Given these facts, there should not be a business leader in the world who can't forge a reasonable deal. 

On behalf of the travel and hospitality industry, it's time to start weighing in with elected officials. An immigration solution is crucial to our industry and thus, a continually stocked talent pipeline. Let's explain to our trusted leaders that compromise mirrors an act of leadership, not cowardice. 

 2. Making Diversity and Inclusion a Core Business Strategy

We're fortunate enough to work in an industry that welcomes and accommodates individuals from all walks of life. Each day, we look after and provide for people of varying races, ages, colors, genders, sexual orientations and the like, and we're actively pushing the inclusion needle. 

To do our jobs right, we need a workforce that's as inclusive as our customer base, and by actively recruiting such an employment pool, we are attracting better talent. We are creating a more positive corporate culture. We are tapping into our most creative thinking patterns to aid in best serving our customers. And we're building both employee and customer loyalty. 

The good news is that we're making progress. The bad news is that we've got a ways to go. We must make a concerted effort to close the gaps -- gender, religion, race, what-have-you. To recruit and retain the highest-potential talent, we need to make diversity and inclusion an entry-level reality. Overall, we must become known as employers of choice.

3. Navigating the World of Automation 

This isn't news. Artificial intelligence and other technologies are disrupting the meetings industry. In fact, according to a Pew report, 42 percent of hospitality workers worry their careers will be wiped out by machines. 

But instead of abandoning the human potential for technology, we need to embrace the innovations that make guest experiences more personal and convenient than ever before. Hospitality and travel will always require face-to-face interaction. The key is to incorporate high-tech innovations without wasting high-touch interactions. 

There's a way to make technology work side-by-side with people: As we continue to invest in enhancement opportunities, we need to work closely with our teams to integrate it successfully, improving outcomes for everyone. Specifically, we need to focus on how tech can free-up our team members from the most mundane of tasks, allowing them to focus on high-value added services that only humans can deliver. Once we do this, we can use technology to our advantage in attracting the highest-potential talent. 

Overall, it's important to remember that these issues aren't necessarily challenges to overcome. Instead, they're opportunities to be seized in supporting the future growth and flourishing of the events industry. They offer us a chance to strengthen the hospitality workforce, attracting the most qualified candidates and industry-relevant talent to the meetings sector.

Working together, we can lift travel and hospitality to new levels of growth and prosperity.