LOS ANGELES – Cheap gas prices are good for summer vacationers, especially those taking road trips. That's one of the reasons that Steve Joyce, CEO of Choice Hotels, is optimistic about this year.
Yes, he says, there is fear over the presidential election, China's economy slowing, the stock market and falling oil prices. But most Americans still have jobs, the housing market is strong and they want to travel.
The Rockville, Maryland company has 6,300 hotels with more than 500,000 rooms under brands including Comfort Inn, Clarion, EconoLodge and Rodeway Inn. Joyce wants to encourage more people to book via the hotel company's own website by offering promotions in the loyalty program.
Here's what Joyce had to say about how hotels look, what travelers want, and how he plans to compete with companies like Airbnb. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Why are low gas prices key?
A: It's hugely powerful. We think it will be a monster summer. I guarantee you will have record travel because of those prices. Our customer drives. That's a pay raise to our customers. It's extra money in their pocket on a weekly basis and while traveling.
Q: What does today's traveler want?
A: Firstly, its technology accessibility. People would rather lose their luggage than lose their phone. So, free Wi-Fi. Paid Wi-Fi is a major annoyance. But also being about to utilize your TV as a screen. Then, the millennials want a place to gather. They don't like staying in their rooms. Turns out baby boomers like the same thing. The difference between boomers and millennials in the public spaces: the boomers talk to each other, the millennials just sit and text.
Q: Do guests want chain hotels to look identical?
A: No. That's the big change. They want the hotel to have a sense of place. They don't want it to look like it could be placed anywhere. So we have regionally-themed concepts in terms of design. And we will use local art and photography.
Q: What impact will the industry's mergers have on you?
A: If I were an online travel agency, I would be worried. But as a brand guy, I'm not. Megamergers give the brand companies more leverage with the OTAs which is a good thing because they charge too much for their service. All of us have a similar goal: not to cut these guys out of the equation but to give them a reasonable price for the service they deliver.
Q: You recently visited Cuba?
A: It's fascinating, probably the most interesting thing I've done since going to China in the early '90s. It is stopped in time in 1959, but the energy of this change, the rise of entrepreneurs and the government's acceptance of foreign capital coming in is going to change the very nature. It's all going to be difficult. They're going to go from 50,000 rooms to 200,000 rooms in five to seven years. The airport is going to be crushed. The highways are going to be crushed. They are going to need to work on the infrastructure.
Q: How are you competing with apartment rental companies like Airbnb?
A: I'm (upset) that we didn't think of it. We are getting into that business, but we're going to do it with rental management companies. We're going to take their inventory, sell it on our website and give those customers points.
Follow Scott Mayerowitz at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-mayerowitz .