Transcript: Geoff Ballotti on "Face the Nation," May 24, 2020

Wyndham CEO calls for "more flexibility" in PPP program
Wyndham CEO calls for "more flexibility" in P... 05:23

The following is a transcript of an interview with Wyndham Hotels CEO Geoff Ballotti that aired Sunday, May 24, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now to Geoffrey Bellotti, the president and CEO of Wyndham Hotels Group, which is the world's largest hotel franchise. Their hotels include Days Inn, Ramada, Super 8, Howard Johnson and La Quinta. Thanks for joining us.

WYNDHAM HOTELS & RESORTS GEOFF BALLOTTI: Thanks for having us on, MARGARET.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is sort of the unofficial start to the holiday travel season for the summer. But AAA is out saying they expect the lowest amount of traffic on planes, trains and automobiles in modern history. What are you seeing in your hotels?

BALLOTTI: We are remarkably open and we have been throughout this pandemic. We're the world's, as you said, largest hotel franchise company. And our 6,300 hotels have essentially all remained open. 90 percent of our hotels have remained open and through this pandemic serving essential workers, the frontline workers, and our hotels are continuing to pick up. It's been five consecutive weeks of increasing demand. We're the world's leader in the economy, the midscale, the select-service space. Our- our midscale hotels are operating now at occupancy levels of close to 50 percent. And they- they continue to see- see increased demand.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But how do you keep customers safe, given that there are reception areas and hotels? There are people coming in and out. There are cleaning crews. Is it safe?

BALLOTTI: Well, MARGARET, we believe that the most important thing anyone can do is follow the guidelines of the CDC, the WHO and- and the states, and that's what we've been doing all along. And yes, our hotels have been safe at reduced occupancy levels that are beginning to pick up, but our hotels have been cleaner than they've ever been. And we are cleaning in a way that guests are- are looking for those visual cues the moment they walk in, from the social distancing throughout our lobbies and- and our public areas to all of the- the- the increased cleanliness levels that we're introducing with hospital grade disinfectants and EPA certified cleaning supplies.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And everyone has to wear a mask? Is that what you mean by visual cue?

BALLOTTI: Visual cues, certainly from our employees, yes. Our employees, you will- you will see our team members with masks. And you'll see, based on- on the guidelines, guests being asked to wear masks as they check into the hotel.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You, as we mentioned, have franchises. And so other business owners hold on to the properties themselves. Is the emergency support that Congress and the Fed have made available, is it enough to avoid bankruptcies?

BALLOTTI: It is incredibly helpful and we applaud the administration, we applaud Congress, we applaud all of the efforts that have been offered to our franchisees. Our franchisees look at this support as a lifeline. And it- it-  90 percent of our small business owners have applied for a PPP. And we believe 80 percent of those have either received a PPP or an EIDL loan. And it is- it is enough to allow them to avoid bankruptcy. They- they view this as- as a lifeline, an anchor at a time when- when they needed it most. One of my franchisees I was talking to yesterday, Kitty Singh, felt like she was in the deep end of the pool, about to sink with her three La Quinta hotels in Odessa, Texas, until that lifeline was- was thrown to her. But it has allowed them to go on, bring their employees back, pay their utilities. And what Congress, what the administration is working on now, what we're advocating on behalf of is, is more flexibility and more continued support. And we think it's coming. We think we're getting it from and from-from an administration that's listening to us right now.

MARGARET BREANNAN: So what are you asking the administration to do? What do you mean "more flexibility"?

BALLOTTI: More flexibility in the PPP program, the Paycheck Protection Program, in terms of how those funds will- will- will stretch out from from four weeks to 26 weeks, the- the repayment from two years to five years and-and the ability to be more flexible on the 75/25 percent rule. Right now, it's 75 percent of that loan must be used to pay for employee salaries, but our franchisees have other operating costs, like utilities, like taxes and like- like- like their mortgage. And they are receiving a lot of support from their from their local lending institutions. I mean, again, these are- these are small mom and pop shops--  

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah. 

BALLOTTI: --and we have not seen any bankruptcies yet. And we do think they're able to- they're able to operate at reduced occupancy levels and maintain that break even because of this support.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we know all of that is going to be up for debate before Congress. And thank you for your time this morning.

BALLOTTI: Thank you for having us on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back.