UPDATE 1-Hotel, travel executives press Obama on downturn

Wed Mar 11, 2009 5:13pm EDT

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WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - Hotel and other travel executives pressed President Barack Obama on Wednesday about the downturn in bookings for business meetings and other events they blame largely on negative sentiment fueled by government and media comments about corporate spending during recession.

"Travel will play a critical role in driving America's economic recovery," Jonathan Tisch, co-chairman of Loews Corp (L.N) and Chairman of Loews Hotels, said after he and other travel executives met with Obama at the White House.

The U.S. Travel Association, which lobbies for hotels and other businesses, said the session with Obama partly focused on "the need to maximize the benefits of meetings and events," which the group said generates more than $1 billion in spending and creates more than 1 million jobs.

Travel executives have tied sudden problems at their businesses to recent sharp criticism of corporate travel (particularly by companies that receive bailout money) from Obama, other government officials, and the media.

The association has launched a "Meetings Mean Business" campaign to reassure policymakers and others that corporate travel is important to the economy. (Reporting by John Crawley; editing by Carol Bishopric)

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