13th Annual Ricelle “Bunny” Grossinger Distinguished Lecture Series in Tourism Management, A Conversation with Jonathan Tisch
April 20, 2016

The following post was written by sophomore, and Tisch Center social media assistant, Camille Aké. Camille will graduate in May 2018 with a B.S. in Hotel and Tourism Management, and a minor in Food Studies.

In the heart of Times Square, amidst the hustle and bustle of New Yorkers and tourists, NYU Tisch Center students and faculty gathered in the Marriott Marquis to have a conversation with the one and only Jonathan Tisch. Moderated by the Associate Dean of the Tisch Center, Dr. Kristin Lamoureux, the evening was set to be professional and insightful.

To give some context to the evening, this was the 13th Annual Ricelle “Bunny” Grossinger Distinguished Lecture Series in Tourism Management. This series of lectures was created in recognition of Ms. Ricelle “Bunny” Grossinger’s contribution to not only tourism marketing, but in honor of her commitment to hospitality and tourism higher education as well. Ms. Grossinger has worked fifty years in the industry, beginning in the sales department of the Grossinger Hotel and Country Club, and eventually entering academics as an international academic program coordinator. Presently, Ms. Grossinger is the co-chairman of the New York Academy of Travel and Tourism, which is a school-to-work program. Not only does Ms. Grossinger possess the leadership qualities to properly represent the tourism industry, but she is an inspiration to women and young, up-and-coming industry professionals as well. “We’ve come a long way as women, and as an industry,” the Dean remarked at the end of Ms. Grossinger’s introduction.

Lecturers for the series are chosen for their achievements and contributions to the tourism industry. To bring the audience up to speed about who he is, Dean Lamoureux asked Jonathan Tisch to talk about his [famous] family and his personal interest in the hospitality industry. Tisch began by telling the room that it all began 75 years ago with his grandparents selling clothes in Brooklyn, New York. They eventually came to lease a hotel in Lakewood, New Jersey, and bought another [hotel] in South Florida in 1955. In 1959, his family took over Loews Theaters after Loews split with MGM because of the antitrust laws established at the time. His family decided to build hotels on Loews properties instead of movie theaters! The Loews Lexington Hotel thus opened in 1963. Jump 53 years ahead to 2016, and the Loews Corporation now has $75 billion in assets, possesses many subsidiaries such as Loews Hotels & Resorts (of which Jonathan is the chairman of), and the corporation as a whole is run by Jonathan and his 2 cousins.

Loews Hotels is a small company that’s seeing growth, remarked Dean Lamoureux. “What is it doing?” she asked. Tisch replied that Loews Hotels has a very loyal clientele, but is also strengthened by the fact that his company employs great team members. Aside from the people aspect, Loews Hotels & Resorts has access to capital from the Loews Corporation [since it is a subsidiary of it]. LH&R created a new agenda to keep growing as a company; 4 years ago Loews had 16 hotels, and now they have 24 hotels thanks to acquisition and development.

Next, Tisch was asked how he sees the traditional hotel concept changing to adapt to new needs.
“The more it [our industry] changes, the more it stays the same,” he says. He emphasized that the business of hotels has changed dramatically in the last 25 years as the finance side has gotten so sophisticated. “Hotels are becoming the favorite thing to invest in because of their return on investment.” However, Tisch made sure to tell the audience that the ‘hotel business’ has not changed since it is, “still about the people.” This means hotels still practice the exchange of money for a service; that service is ensuring guest safety while simultaneously meeting, and exceeding, guest expectations. To adapt to the changing needs of the hotel industry, Loews has created different hotel brands, similar to other major hotel groups such as Marriott and Hilton, to appeal to the business traveler, the lifestyle market, and having a parent company that does not try to appeal to one specific clientele.

The Dean asked Tisch’s opinion on the Starwood/Marriott merger, and his opinion on hotel investing in general. Tisch thinks that people are looking for where they can invest, in order to get the most heft they can out of it. In regards to the Starwood/Marriott, the same idea applies. Marriott will now have a lot of heft in hotel industry, meaning they’ll have major purchasing power, not only for purchasing property, but they’ll have major power with the Expedias and Pricelines of the world as well. “The big are gonna get bigger,” he says.

It is not as ominous as it sounds however. “The smaller guys are more nimble; it’ll be easier for them to move. They want to get bigger too, so they’re open to acquisitions!” The whole industry post-merger will not be an easy one to navigate, as competition will continue to grow acutely.

On whether or not American brands will majorly be owned by international brands, Tisch just replies with a simple, “Unclear.” 20 years ago the Loews corporation and hotels were completely different, so there’s no telling what the future will hold! Loews is proud to be well capitalized; they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

The tone of the evening shifted when the Dean wanted to explore Jonathan Tisch’s thoughts on the New York 9/11 rebound process. The Dean acknowledged New York’s incredible positivity and resilience after the 2001 attacks, and roots part of that positivitiy and motivation to the travel and tourism industry. Tisch agreed. Tisch noticed the power of travel and tourism while watching his father, Robert, have a vision for the industry while he worked in it. While the world was reeling on September 12th, Mayor Rudy Giuliani asked Jonathan Tisch to help bring the city back to their feet using travel and tourism. So, Tisch gathered all the leaders of the industry he could to see what’s the proper way to put a smile back on New Yorkers’ faces. A week later, NYC held New York Rising. The event showed that normal life was possible, thanks to the joint collaboration of airlines, hotels, restaurants, and attractions. The whole industry came together. In addition, the industry tried to heavily promote tourists abroad to come to New York; not only did the city need their money to help rebuild, but they needed to know that the world was supporting them as well (which they were). Waves of people responded and came to NYC, showing that they, “<3 New York”. (This was the same sentiment we gave to New Orleans post-Katrina). It is also the same sentiment being given to Paris and Brussels today. Travel and tourism was the first industry that could respond to a situation like this, by showing that their hotels, restaurants, theaters, and more could put their differences aside and promote each other to let the public know they were all open: Life can carry on.

On a similar subject, the Paris and Brussels attacks specifically, showed that, “The most hurt to assets is through the tourism sector,” remarked the Dean. “We’re a target, but we’re a vibrant industry,” said Tisch in response. This is also what worries Tisch the most about the hospitality industry: geo-political events can greatly impact the safety and security of guests and staff members.

The evening concluded with Tisch offering general advice to students. First, when constructing an email, never begin with the word ‘I’. “Go back and read your email/letter and see how many times you start a sentence with ‘I’ and change it. You’re making it seem like you’re more important than the person you’re communicating with.” His second piece of advice was to, “Take a job…any job. You never know what’s going to happen. You will learn from every interaction and experience.”

It is safe to say that those in attendance of the Grossinger lecture learned a lot from Tisch’s lecture and will take his words beyond the classroom and into the industry.