March 4, 2009 / 6:39 PM / 11 years ago

Reuters Summit-Hotel CEOs bite back at anti-travel talk

 (For other news from the Reuters Travel and Leisure Summit, 
click on 
    By Bill Rigby 
    NEW YORK, March 4 (Reuters) - Political outrage over the 
use of public money on corporate perks is scaring many 
companies away from legitimate travel spending and could -- if 
unchecked -- cost thousands of jobs in the U.S. hospitality 
industry, according to hotel, casino and airline leaders. 
    Attempts to paint all travel to convention centers like Las 
Vegas as boondoggles will hurt, not help, the economy and delay 
recovery, travel chiefs told the Reuters Travel and Leisure 
Summit in New York this week. 
    "It's a real disservice to the U.S. travel industry and the 
global travel industry," Dara Khosrowshahi, chief executive of 
Expedia Inc , the U.S. No. 1 online travel agent, told 
the summit on Tuesday. 
    "There has been this demonization of corporate travel and 
group travel which really threatens to fundamentally hurt the 
infrastructure of travel. We hope that the rhetoric lessens 
because it is absolutely hurting the business." 
    Dozens of struggling U.S. companies, from financial titans 
American International Group Inc  and Citigroup Inc 
 to automaker General Motors Corp , have received 
government loans or other support in the past few months. 
    Politicians, sensing a backlash against corporate greed and 
folly, have jumped at the chance to police the spending of 
these companies, after public funds ensured their survival. 
    "You can't take a trip to Las Vegas or down to the Super 
Bowl on the taxpayers' dime," President Barack Obama famously 
said in February. 
    High-profile companies are now wary of attracting attention 
with flashy trips. Wells Fargo & Co , which received $25 
billion from the government bailout program, had a plan to send 
40 insurance employees to a Las Vegas conference for several 
days but decided against it to avoid a public outcry. 
    The de facto boycott of Las Vegas and other convention 
centers is making a bad situation worse, industry leaders say. 
    On Wednesday, the U.S. Travel Association launched its 
"Meetings Mean Business" campaign 
(, an attempt by the industry's 
trade group to push back against the rhetoric and prevent 
companies from canceling thousands of events. 
    "The pendulum has swung too far," said Roger Dow, president 
of the U.S. Travel Association on Wednesday. "The climate of 
fear is causing a historic pullback of business meetings and 
events, with a devastating impact on small businesses, American 
workers and communities." 
    Meetings, conventions and other events make up nearly 15 
percent of all U.S. travel, according to the campaign, creating 
$101 billion in spending, 1 million jobs and nearly $16 billion 
in federal, state and local tax. 
    "To take this completely negative view of every bit of 
travel to Las Vegas right now as a boondoggle is just a silly 
position to take," Stephen Holmes, chief executive of hotel and 
timeshare company Wyndham Worldwide Corp  told the 
Reuters summit on Tuesday. "It's doing a lot of damage to an 
industry like ours that is a great provider of jobs and 
vibrancy to the economy." 
    Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson ridiculed the new 
atmosphere of fear of having fun at corporate-sponsored 
    "What is the implication here? That the government, on 
taxpayers money, will only allow people to go to places where 
they cannot enjoy themselves, where they have got to hate it?" 
Adelson, chief executive of casino operator Las Vegas Sands 
Corp  and pioneer of the convention business, told the 
summit on Tuesday. 
    Airlines are also feeling the pinch. 
    "Congress's efforts to point fingers has led to businesses, 
in some cases, not wanting to have even their top performers 
traveling, fearing that they will look as though they are doing 
something wrong," Doug Parker, chief executive of US Airways 
Group Inc , told the summit on Tuesday. 
    "That is certainly not the driver of the airline softness 
right now, but it doesn't help. And I know it is not helping 
places like Las Vegas," said Parker. "It is not a driver, but 
it is a contributor to this. It's one that we think is not fair 
and that is hurting our economy, not helping." 
 (For summit blog: 
 (Reporting by Bill Rigby, Kyle Peterson, Deena Beasley and Tim 
Hepher, editing by Gerald E. McCormick) 
 ((; +1 646 281 6122)) 
 (For more on Reuters Travel and Leisure Summit, see 
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