Chris Nassetta likes to describe himself as an optimist. And so, despite the gloomy forecasts for the economy and the global markets, the CEO of Hilton Worldwide Holdings (HLT) is still hopeful.
“I think 2019 is going to be a reasonably good year for the U.S. economy,” he tells Fortune, adding that his confidence is based on what he hears from Hilton’s biggest corporate customers. “They read the newspapers, they watch the news, and it’s hard for them not to be a little bit more cautious. But they’re still reasonably optimistic. They’re still incrementally hiring more people. They’re still incrementally spending more on cap ex.”
Nassetta will also be hiring this year and adding to Hilton’s workforce of 400,000 thanks to solid revenue and earnings growth in 2018. With revenues of more than $9 billion dollars, Hilton is ranked on the Fortune 500 list of the largest companies in America.
But there is one thing that does concern Nassetta. It’s China. Hilton has been investing heavily in China. The giant hotel chain has been opening more than one hotel every week in the Asian nation. Nassetta points out that one-third of all hotels under development in China carries the Hilton flag. So, it’s no wonder he worries about how the political tussle between the United States and China over tariffs, could impact his company’s expansion plans.
“Well, of course I’m worried,” Nassetta says. “I think it’d be silly to say that we don’t think about it, worry about it.” Right now, he says, the China impasse has not hurt Hilton’s business, nor has it impacted travel to and from China.
He predicts that trade talks this year will get heated at first, but “Ultimately there will be a trade deal that will get done.”
While he waits on that trade agreement, Nassetta is not holding back on Hilton’s growth plans in China. “We are full speed ahead,” he says.
Watch the video above for more from my interview with Nassetta.