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Hilton CEO sees no recession, says we're in 'golden age of travel'

Christopher Nassetta, president and chief executive officer of Hilton, speaking at Skift Global Forum 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Stephanie Asymkos/Yahoo Finance)

The world is experiencing a “golden age of travel,” Hilton’s (HLT) chief executive said on Thursday, while also quelling fears of a looming recession in the U.S.

“We have a tremendous amount of wind in our sails,” Christopher Nassetta said at the Skift Global Forum in New York, noting that growth of the middle class worldwide has been a key driver for the industry.

“It really is a golden age of travel, people emerging in the middle classes,” said Nassetta, who is also president of the hotel operator. “All people want more experiences. People are spending more money on experiences than things. All of that bodes incredibly well for travel.”

Tourism accounted for 10.4% of global gross domestic product, or GDP, and 10% of total employment in 2018, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The rise of the middle class — and increase in consumer spending — has boosted the travel and tourism sector by 3.9% from the previous year, outpacing the growth in the global economy for the eighth straight year, the report said.

The U.S., China, Japan, Germany and the U.K. benefitted the most from the boom last year, the report said. Together, they represent nearly half of the global travel and tourism GDP.

The U.S. economy ‘will stay in decent shape’

While Nassetta noted that risks exist in the “very long cycle of expansion” in the U.S., he brushed off concerns of an impending recession that many economists are warning about.

“I’m an optimistic person by nature, and I remain reasonably optimistic ... that the U.S. economy is in decent shape and will stay in decent shape,” he said.

He pointed to many of the economy’s strong fundamentals, such as the job market and corporate profits.

“So the core underpinnings from a consumer and business point of view, I think — and this isn't just me being optimistic — I think they're actually quite good,” he said.

‘We invented much of the hospitality industry’

Nassetta also talked about the history of the storied Hilton brand, which was created a century ago in 1919 when Conrad Hilton bought his first hotel.

“The things you take for granted like an airport hotel, a reservation system, room service, having ironing boards in rooms, the pina colada, the brownie,” Nassetta said. “We invented much of the hospitality industry that you see and experience today.”

Nassetta touted the company’s contributions to the U.S. economy, noting that Hilton “has made $1 trillion in economic impact by way of job creation and community investment” in the last 100 years.

“We’ve been investing in growth and development economically… in thousands of communities… where nobody else wanted to go,” he said.

Looking forward to the next century of Hilton, the company’s goals still resemble its pioneering days and Conrad Hilton’s original vision.

Hilton is “a company that understands that, from our very origin,” Nassetta said, “it's about the people ... and the authentic, heartfelt experiences for our customers.”

Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.

Stephanie is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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