Loews Hotels CEO Jonathan Tisch says it's time for the hotel and tourism industry to repair and restore the nation's crumbling transportation infrastructure.

“Over the next decade, an estimated two billion people will be able to afford international travel, most of them from the rising economies of China, India, Brazil and Russia,” Tisch told an audience of 1,900 hospitality executives at the New York University International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference on June 5.

“But let's be honest, at this moment of incredible opportunity the process of traveling is becoming more stressful, less convenient and more nerve-wracking.”

Tisch says an overhaul must begin with the air transportation system but should extend to roads, bridges, tunnels and public transportation.

The disparate components of the tourism industry united to spur passage of the Tourism Promotion Act and creation of the Corporation for Tourism Promotion. Tisch says it's time to harness that ecumenical spirit again to face this greater challenge.

Top priority is the aviation system, both the condition of the nation's airports (which Tisch likened to “an extended visit to the DMV”) and the efficiency of the air traffic system. Delays are irritating to travelers, but also carry an economic cost.

New York's three airports cost the regional economy more than $2.6 billion in 2008, a cost that will rise to $79 billion in the next 14 years, according to Tisch.

He urges the hospitality industry to champion the FAA's NextGen air space system, which would rely on satellites and digital communications to improve flight management.

The system could reduce delays by 35%, save 1.4 billion gallons of fuel and generate $23 billion in economic benefits. It would also create more satisfaction among air travelers, says the FAA.

Tisch called for technology-based improvements in roadways and public transportation. The problem is beyond the capabilities of the tourism industry alone, he added, but “the price of failure is even higher.” One study found that in 2008, some 41 million people avoided traveling due to frustration with the travel process, according to Tisch.

Public/private, local/federal alliances may overcome these challenges. The proposed America Fast Forward program would encourage local communities to dedicate tax revenues to transportation projects backed by low-interest bonds and federal loans.

Another proposal would create a national infrastructure bank to leverage traditional public funding with private investment from pension funds, private equity and sovereign wealth funds.

“Tackling the infrastructure challenge will require dozens of innovative ideas like this,” he concluded. “It requires a new mindset where we start treating infrastructure as the long-term public/private investment it is, rather than just an expense.”