HILTON WORLDWIDE HOLDINGS is being a little conservative in its RevPAR projections for the third quarter of this year, and there are several reasons for that. However, concern about an impending trade war between the U.S. or other nations is not one of them, Hilton President and CEO Christopher Nassetta said in the company’s second quarter earning call July 19.
Overall the company continued to share the growth seen by most of the U.S. hotel industry in the second quarter. RevPAR grew 4 percent, the high end of Hilton’s expectations for the quarter. Leisure and corporate transient business grew 3 percent. It paid $1.6 billion back to its stockholders, 6.5 percent of its market cap.
“This includes participation in both HNA and Blackstone’s recent secondary offerings, during which both fully exited their positions in Hilton,” Nassetta said. “For the full year, we now expect to return a total of $1.8 billion to $1.9 billion to shareholders in the form of share buybacks and dividends.”
Hilton’s Chief Financial Officer Kevin Jacobs said the company forecasts its U.S. RevPAR will grow 2.5 to 3.5 percent by the end of this year and 2.5 to 3 percent in the third quarter alone.
“That’s slightly lower than our full year range to due to July 4 and Jewish holiday shifts,” Jacobs said.
The first question presented to Jacobs and Nassetta during the call, however, was whether the company was being cautious in its RevPAR projections due to fears of possible weakness from a trade war rather than just holiday shifts. Nassetta rebuffed the idea.
Instead, he said it was a question of supply and demand. There has been a rise in demand, due in part to favorable economic optimism generated among large companies as a result of the federal tax cuts. At the same time, hotel supply is peaking, he said. But, while Hilton’s business transient and group travel business has exceeded expectations, the business still suffered from having the July 4 holiday fall in the middle of the week, along with the movement of Jewish holidays toward a more impactful time.
“And so, I will be the first to say, as we look at that, third quarter I think is reasonably, because it’s upon us and we’ve already experienced 4th of July, I think that’s reasonably easy to forecast. Fourth quarter is harder,” Nassetta said. “But I would not want to leave anybody with the impression that we somehow think things are weakening because of trade wars or anything else. I’ve actually sat here with our team, preparing for this, and as I do every Monday morning, and I’ll stop on this, and asked are we seeing any impact of the sabre-rattling that’s going on, on the trade wars in any of our markets? Are we seeing any patterns of bookings, either business transient, leisure, or group in particular? Are we seeing any impact in our China business on the development side, on the operating side? And so far the answer is we are not seeing anything that we can measure.”
Concern does linger among several economists regarding the impact of trade disputes brought on by President Trump’s tariffs on steel imports and the retaliatory tariffs imposed by China and other trade partners. Last month the U.S. Travel Association warned that a trade war could impact international travel to the U.S.
“We urge officials to foster policies and messaging in the race to be globally competitive,” USTA Senior Vice President for Research David Huether said.
On Friday, China proposed $60 billion worth of tariffs on U.S. goods in retaliation for President Trump’s tariffs as concern over the possible trade war capped gains on the Chinese stock market, according to Reuters. Chinese state media said Sunday that the country is willing to endure short term losses in order to win the trade clash, according to Bloomberg.