I approached the ALIS conference with “been there, heard that” pessimism, until I took a hard look at all the change that the industry has experienced since 2007.
This week I covered my 13th consecutive Americas Lodging Investment Summit, and I’m not ashamed to say I approached the week feeling jaded. I was suffering from a case of been there, heard that—an occupational hazard for journalists, who thrive on diets of breaking news.
I had a funny idea: I’d make an ALIS conference bingo card, where each space contained a phrase I knew someone would say at the conference, or an activity that would happen. For example, a phrase might be “cautious optimism” and an activity might be “brand launch” or “all-male general session panel.”
Actually, if I’m trying to make the game more challenging, that last space should read “women on more than one general session panel.”
In order to break out of my supremely unexcited feeling, I sat down and took a hard look at some of the changes that have transpired in the U.S. hotel industry since that first ALIS I covered in 2007.
The exercise reminded me that a lot has changed—for better and worse—in 13 years, and that most importantly, change happens bit by teeny, tiny bit.
In 2007, nobody was talking about alternative accommodations, or even lifestyle hotels. What they were talking about was making money—hotel profitability was at what would turn out to be a peak. Just for a bit more context, the deal that won the merger and acquisition of the year award that January 2007 was Hilton Hotels Corporation’s 2006 acquisition of Hilton International. Ancient history, right?
The next few ALIS conferences reflected the downward spiral of the recession, and topics like distressed assets, bridge financing and the CMBS market. In those deep recessionary years, finding lenders to speak at conferences was a challenge, and people hung on their every word.
Donald Trump spoke at ALIS in 2012 to lukewarm response in part because he trashed brands pretty hard. I remember a press conference with him afterwards. His handshake was certifiably the worst politician handshake I’ve ever experienced (maybe “dead-fish executive handshake” should go on my bingo board?).
As the industry climbed out of recession and into surpassing-prior-peak territory over the next few years, the visible guest-facing industry shifts centered on shiny new objects like millennials, lifestyle hotels and even soft brands. Marriott International announced the first joiners of its then-brand-new Autograph Collection at ALIS in 2010, and I remember writing lots of explainer articles afterward dissecting what this “soft brand” thing really meant.
But at its core, ALIS is an investment conference, and that’s the side of the industry that looks so much different today than it did in 2007. Consider ownership profiles alone: Back then, brands still were major real estate owners. Hotel real estate investment trusts weren’t quite in their infancy, but they were still teenagers.
Since then, owner profiles have shifted a great deal, and the role of the management company has really crystallized. Today’s U.S. hotel industry is dominated by owners focused on margin and profitability, who want transparency into everything. Today we talk about things such as alternative accommodations, OYO Hotels & Homes and revenue strategy—words on this year’s bingo card that I would have scratched my head at in 2007.
Through this entire cycle, demand has been there—despite presidential elections, tariff woes, bombings of embassies and more events that in less-resilient times may have sidelined the industry. That didn’t happen this time around.
So I shifted my attitude and went into this year’s conference with more excitement after realizing just how much change really has happened in 13 years, and how much is on the brink of happening now.
Many of you have lived in this industry a lot longer than I have and have much better perspective on change. Care to share your thoughts on change (or reminisce about Starwood parties)? Comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @HNN_Steph.
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