HDC Day One: Drum beats on for hotel industry
HDC Day One: Drum beats on for hotel industry
17 AUGUST 2018 7:51 AM

Editors recap the opening day of the 10th annual Hotel Data Conference with takeaways, quotables and more highlights from the event.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee—Appropriately, the first day of the 10th annual Hotel Data Conference got underway with the rhythmic beating of drums.

For hoteliers in attendance, confidence in the industry was high, as performance metrics remain positive, while at the same time, they continue to watch for clouds on the horizon. 

Photos of the day

Hotel News Now editorial director Jeff Higley kicks off the 10th annual Hotel Data Conference by walking in with a drum line from Pearl-Cohn* High School. (Photo: Sean McCracken)
Speakers on the “Beers with the bosses” panel toasted to the Hotel Data Conference’s 10-year anniversary. From left: STR and Hotel News Now’s Jeff Higley, Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s Jim Chu, G6 Hospitality’s Rob Palleschi, Vision Hospitality Group’s Mitch Patel and STR’s Randy Smith. (Photo: Stephanie Ricca)

Day 1 recap video

Quotes of the day
“We’re in the best demand environment we’ve ever seen as an industry.”
—Isaac Collazo, VP, competitive intelligence, IHG, on today’s hotel operating climate, during the “10 x 2 x Now” general session panel.

“Loyalty means different things to different people, and delivering that is key. It has to be through the entire experience. It can’t just be a ‘thank you’ with points at the end or a bottle of water at the beginning. It’s got to be from the time when you envision the trip to the time you’re telling your friends about it afterward.”
—Andrew Taymans, VP of asset and revenue management, GF Management, during a panel discussion titled “Two decades of love and hate: OTAs.”

“(Revenue management is) a tough job. It’s every single hour, every single day … You forget about yesterday and last week, and you focus on the moment and what you can do better and better every day about growing RevPAR and market share. It is a tough game that you actually never win. Yeah, it gets reset, but it’s a new game again. So it’s a challenging job, and I really appreciate it. It’s one of the most important jobs in our company, and in the industry. Great revenue managers and analysts can do wonders for your portfolio. I say, have fun with it.”
—Mitch Patel, president and CEO, Vision Hospitality Group, during the “Beers with the bosses” panel, on the role of revenue managers.

“Brand proliferation, I do think, is an issue. Overall, I think our ability to introduce new and creative concepts is something that makes our industry very fascinating. … I do think some brands have run their course … but it does add to the creativity of being a dynamic industry.”
—Randy Smith, chairman and co-founder of STR, during the “Beers with the bosses” panel, on the hotel industry brand landscape.

Tweet of the day

Slide of the day

Presenting STR’s updated forecast for the U.S. hotel industry, STR President and CEO Amanda Hite said the outlook remains positive, even if metrics are predicted to be slightly duller for 2019 than for the rest of this year.

Editors’ takeaways

For the U.S. hotel industry, the drum beats on, with an up cycle that continues to stretch farther than many believed it would or could. The industry has already cleared the 100-month mark on revenue-per-available-room growth, and that upward slant is expected to continue at least for the near future, according to a forecast presented by Amanda Hite, president and CEO of STR, conference host and parent company of Hotel News Now.

But that doesn’t mean hoteliers are letting their guards down.

Mitch Patel, president and CEO of Vision Hospitality Group, said there’s one thing he can guarantee with 100% certainty: “This can’t go on forever.”

It has to end, he said, and hoteliers just have to be ready for when it does.

Jim Chu, global head of development and owner relations at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, said during the “Beers with the bosses” panel that he doesn’t think the industry is at the end of the cycle just yet.

But he said hoteliers have to be careful about self-fulfilling prophecies. “If we will it to be at the end of the cycle, we’ll be there,” he said.

It’s OK for hoteliers to feel good, he said; for one, “we’ve never had the kind of demand we’ve had.”

“We don’t have to follow history. We can create a new future; we just have to have the belief to do it,” he said.
—Robert McCune, managing editor

Hoteliers are continually reworking their strategies when it comes to working with online travel agencies. In two panels I attended Thursday, “Distribution: A hotelier’s guide to channel surfing” and “Two decades of love and hate: OTAs,” hoteliers spoke about the evolving and at times contentious relationship between hotel companies and OTAs.

Hoteliers generally have reached a place of acceptance that they need OTAs at times because of how they can help to boost occupancy, but there is a limit to how much they’ll allow in terms of commission fees and lowered room rates. There’s some concern, however, about possible moves OTAs have been making, such as exploring the concept of OTA soft-branded hotels, which coupled with OTA loyalty could prove to be a challenging combo.

The panelists also spoke about how hotel staff could convert guests who book through OTAs into guests who book directly through creating a better overall guest experience. It looks like hoteliers are putting into action the lessons they’ve learned over the years working with the OTAs to create better booking experiences for guests, which helps both the guests and the hotel companies.
—Bryan Wroten, senior reporter

The U.S. hotel industry appears to still be in fine fettle, and if there is something to be nervous about panelists in the opening general session said it’s macroeconomic events and what might be a turbulent couple of years in domestic politics. Hoteliers in my experience are naturally optimistic souls, and there is no doubt that the urge to travel continues to be a force, perhaps now a right, in an increasing number of guests and those yet to stay in hotels.

In a panel titled “The art of a hotel’s most important science,” a discussion on revenue management and pricing, Kathy Hood, VP of sales and revenue management at Davidson Hotels & Resorts, said the U.S. hotel industry is not in a downturn but in a “cooling off period.”

Meanwhile, Raul Moronta, SVP of revenue management at Crescent Hotels & Resorts, said the industry is “at post-peak.”

Clever euphemisms to camouflage woe, or a real sense that while metrics may not be off the chart, they are still doing well many, many months after one might have expected a decline to begin. A rule of thumb was perhaps that any cycle enjoys approximately five years of growth, but the end of official end of the Great Recession was in June 2009—almost a decade ago.

That said, change might be necessary to gain any individual company the share of wallet it requires. Moronta added that he believes one of the things that needs to change is segmentation. “If we cannot change pricing, we need to change the customer,” he said.
—Terence Baker, senior reporter, Europe

One big takeaway from panelists on a session titled “Alternative accommodations: Are they really alternative?” was that hoteliers can find ways to embrace alternative-accommodations platforms and make them fit in with the hotel business. To achieve this, panelists said there need to be professionally-managed options in the space to avoid negative press like Airbnb has had with legality challenges and other issues.

Steve Caron, VP and head of vacation rentals at Choice Hotels International, mentioned that bookings for alternative accommodations are going to be direct and through OTAs—you can’t have one or the other. He added the focus should be on how you manage bookings through these channels and watching your costs.

There’s been so much talk around Airbnb and alternative accommodations as a disruptor, so it will be interesting to see if there’s more chatter around hotels embracing these types of accommodations throughout the conference.
—Danielle Hess, reporter

*Correction 20 August 2018: A previous version of this article misidentified the high school which provided the drum line for the opening session. 

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