Alabama-based hotel management company LBA Hospitality President and CEO Beau Benton shared markets his company is favoring right now as well as his strategy for operating in the U.S. hotel industry’s “new normal.”
ATLANTA—Beau Benton called 2018 LBA Hospitality’s year of efficiency.
During an interview at the recent Hunter Hotel Conference, the president and CEO of the Dothan, Alabama-based management company discussed how his company prioritized smart spending in 2018 and plans to continue that strategy this year.
“I think really 2018 was trying to be more efficient and better at some of the things that we do,” Benton said. “You’re seeing inflation and wages (making it) tougher to find help; really the only thing you can do is be more efficient. We tried to really focus as a company on being more efficient whether it was in purchasing or in labor.”
LBA Hospitality recently signed management deals to operate the 165-room TownePlace Suites Miami Airport and the 128-room Home2 Suites by Hilton Orlando Airport.
Benton said both Miami and Orlando are great markets with steady demand generators.
“We just opened a new Home2 in Orlando (on 19 March), so we’re excited about some of those dynamic markets,” Benton said. “We’re seeing a lot of good things happening in Florida markets and really all throughout our portfolio this year.”
Looking ahead to the remainder of 2019, Benton said he’s anticipating the opening of the 151-room Delta Hotels Ashland Downtown in Ashland, Kentucky.
“A little bit later this year, we’ll open our first Delta hotel, so we’re excited about that,” Benton said. “I’ve been talking to a couple of owners—there’s not a large number of them out there—so you kind of feel like you get to be on the ground floor of something new. Our company was the first developer of Home2, so we’ve been in that mode before; it’s exciting to be a part of that.”
While the hospitality industry continues to deal with labor issues including low unemployment and high turnover, Benton said LBA Hospitality has continued to find ways to find the right people during the hiring process and retain them.
Millennials, for instance, want to feel like their employer prioritizes their career development and can be flexible when scheduling their hours, he said.
“What we’ve seen with millennials is they want to know you care about them, and how you care about them is how you invest in their career,” Benton said. “It’s being flexible with scheduling—8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. doesn’t work for everybody. … Even with housekeeping, if you’ve got a market that maybe some come in early, some come in late, rather than everybody has to start at 9:00 a.m. and has to be out of the hotel by 3:00 p.m. I think flexibility is one of the things that really hits home with millennials.”
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In February, U.S. revenue per available room increased 2.6%, which was the strongest increase since October. Benton said he expects to see low growth totals for as long as the cycle continues.
“I think for the first time I can remember in the last three to five years, people have quit trying to predict when’s it going to end and maybe realized we’re in a new normal,” Benton said. “Maybe 1% to 2% RevPAR growth is the new normal.”
As an operator, Benton said he’s focused LBA Hospitality on responsibly trimming costs while at the same time remembering to “enjoy where we are.” There’s a lot of strides that can be made in revenue management, for instance.
“We’re at record levels; there’s not a lot you can do in so many of our markets on a weekday basis other than just doing a better job of revenue-managing,” Benton said. “If you’re selling 96%, 98% or 100% of your rooms, you don’t have a lot to grow there. But we’ve really seen with both Marriott and Hilton, what they’re doing with artificial intelligence on the revenue-management side, we’re just getting started there.”