NYU Day One: Proactive paranoia from hotel CEOs
NYU Day One: Proactive paranoia from hotel CEOs
04 JUNE 2019 9:20 AM

Editors recap the opening day of the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference with takeaways, quotables and more highlights from the event.

NEW YORK—Hoteliers on Day One of the 41st annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference were very clear about one thing: Times are good for the hotel industry. But, as Jonathan Tisch, conference chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels, said in his opening remarks: “The best time to be paranoid is when things are good.”

There’s plenty to be paranoid about, or at least pay attention to, according to hotel executives. Topping that list is the scarcity and rising cost of labor due to low U.S. unemployment—an issue which touches everything from filling the more than 1 million open positions within the hospitality industry to finding workers to build and renovate properties.

Also on the minds of hotel company CEOs—including Marriott International’s Arne Sorenson, InterContinental Hotels Group’s Keith Barr, Hyatt Hotels Corporation’s Mark Hoplamazian and Choice Hotels International’s Pat Pacious—is the concern that macroeconomic and political issues such as an ongoing trade dispute with China will negatively affect outbound tourism to the U.S.

While the industry continues to ride out the current economic up-cycle, with growth (albeit slowing growth), hotel executives and their teams are dedicated to seeking and lobbying for solutions to these and other problems.

Day 1 recap video

Photos of the day

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló talks about the island territory’s plan to double its hotel supply to 30,000 rooms. (Photo: Sean McCracken)
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts President and CEO Geoff Ballotti accepts the Hotel News Now Stephen W. Brener Silver Plate Award. (Photo: Sean McCracken)

Quotes of the day
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts President and CEO Geoff Ballotti calling for greater executive diversity in the hotel industry as he accepted the Hotel News Now Stephen W. Brener Silver Plate Award: “We need more women on this stage for the CEOs panel. We need more women winning this award.”

“It’s fair to say that driving growth (in inbound travel) is not on this administration’s agenda, period.”
--Marriott International President and CEO Arne Sorenson, on the “The CEOs check in: A view from the top” panel. He discussed the need for U.S. hoteliers to continue to pressure the government to support efforts promoting tourism to the country.

“Not too much worried about it; they don’t come to America, but they come to Europe.”
--Sébastien Bazin, CEO, Accor, on concerns about reports that the U.S. is losing share of outbound tourists from China.

Tweet of the day

Slide of the day

STR President and CEO Amanda Hite presented a revised forecast on Day One of the NYU hotel investment conference, which accounted for slightly lowered expectations for full-year 2019 average daily rate and revenue per available room. (Source: STR)

Data point of the day
HVS projects that the San Francisco hotel market will see the greatest RevPAR growth (+12.3%) over the next two years; while Kansas City will experience the greatest decline in RevPAR (-3.5%) over the same period, according to Stephen Rushmore Jr., president and CEO of HVS.

Editors’ takeaways

I always enjoy hearing Jonathan Tisch, chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels & Co., open the annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference with his call to arms for the industry at large. He usually zeroes in on a few key issues he feels strongly about, and this year he offered some suggestions for ways the industry can continue to attract and retain quality labor.

Of course, he promoted the need for what he called “a coherent, national immigration policy,” saying that compromise on this issue exists in bipartisan ways, but must be fought for.

Second, he called for the industry to “make diversity and inclusion a core business strategy,” and that suggestion was met with applause from the industry. He said that when companies make this strategy part of how every division does business, companies reap rewards by reaching more qualified candidates, building a strong culture and ultimately boosting corporate and guest loyalty.

Finally, his third tip is to get better at “navigating the emerging world of automation.” On this front, he stressed hotel companies will never replace real human interaction with robots, but rather, automation and machine learning can be incorporated to make the hotel experience richer for guests, while freeing up employees to have meaningful interactions with guests.

The automation and artificial intelligence conversations continued in several panels during Day One, underscoring the desire the industry has to finally make that leap into a high-tech space.
--Stephanie Ricca, Editorial Director

So many of these large hotel industry investment conferences are dominated by discussions of how influences outside the hotel industry are impacting performance. But this year, it seems like hotel executives are making a concerted effort to instead key in on what they’re doing themselves and tuning out the noise (as much as they can). A lot of that is likely out of necessity. It’s clear at this point that no one really has the answer for the everlasting question of when this cycle ends. Maybe it ends tomorrow. Maybe it ends in 2028. Who knows? No one at the New York Marriott Marquis knows, but they also don’t have the liberty to sit on their hands and wait for the universe to send them a sign. It all comes back to hoteliers taking care of their own businesses, and that business is taking care of people.
--Sean McCracken, News Editor

The CEOs of some of the industry’s biggest hotel brand companies seem to be getting a little tired of the “are there too many brands?” question.

Moderating the general session panel, “The CEOs check in,” CNBC anchor Kelly Evans embodied the confused consumer, bombarded with TV commercials from the various hotel brands, asking “What’s with all the brands?”

After a quick, down-the-line brand headcount from Marriott, Accor, IHG, Hyatt and Choice CEOs, she announced that the tally of brands represented on the stage was at least 115. “Note that Sébastien (Bazin) has got more brands than me,” Sorenson said. (For the record, Accor has 38 to Marriott’s 30.) Yet, “we get beat up all the time,” he said.

It’s a question that seems to come up fairly regularly. Marriott’s Sorenson referenced a story by The Wall Street Journal, which quoted hotel owners who said the answer is yes, there are too many brands. (HNN Editorial Director Stephanie Ricca wrote about the same article in a recent blog.)

But I thought Sorenson in particular had a good retort to this claim.

“When we think about the 30 … there is one umbrella brand, which is our loyalty program, Marriott Bonvoy, and Marriott.com, basically providing choice to the members of our program that is broad enough to keep them with us as opposed to going to an (online travel agency) or Google or somebody else and being an intermediate customer,” he said.

“If we don’t have a breadth of choice, the prospect of succeeding with a growing, direct, owned customer portfolio is substantially weakened, which weakens the economics of every individual hotel.”

Hard to argue with that.

--Robert McCune, Managing Editor

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