4 lessons learned at The Lodging Conference

(The Lodging Conference Arizona Biltmore)

Wow, what a week! After attending The Lodging Conference at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, I’m downright exhausted. But it's the good kind of tired. I say that because it was such a positive, high-energy week where I got to interact with so many people. (But if this article turns out to be a stinker, I'll blame it on lack of REM sleep.)

The event was a symbolic high-water mark for the hotel industry, one where everyone had the chance to celebrate the good times while finding more business opportunity that’ll hopefully extend the up cycle for some time to come. Plus, it was truly enjoyable hearing all the great hotelier success stories. The week also underscored the family feeling of this business, and how fortunate we all are to be a part of something special.

Here are four observations I made during conference:

1. Lack of Presidential Political Chatter

With a smidge over a month to go before the battle at the ballot box, The Lodging Conference is typically full of beltway chatter. Not this year. With political polarization high, people kept their political leanings to themselves. No one wanted to share how they really felt, lest they be chastised by someone taking the other side. During the last go around in 2012, the mostly Republican crowd constantly crowed about Mitt Romney. Constantly. Not this year. People were mum. More amazing, the first Presidential debate happened the evening of the opening reception and turned out to not be the conversation centerpiece the next day.  

2. Happy Happy

During the NYU conference in June, folks were feeling a bit freaked out. Like End Times were near. But this week was a totally different vibe. I think the root of that evil feeling was people were caught up by slowed growth after several years of buoyant bounces to their bottom lines. But the combination of the cyclical nature of this business, and basic math, means a slowdown is inevitable. Now everyone is once again peachy about the state of the business, even with a state of political future uncertainty.

Ethan Kramer, president of Paramount Hotel Group, summed it up best: "What I have been hearing is the same as what I have been telling our capital partners," he said. "Growth may have slowed, but it’s still growth, which is far better than the alternative."

3. People Everywhere

Forget looking at the numbers to determine where we are in the lodging cycle. The real bellwether was the vast number of first timers in attendance. We’ve returned to the phase where established attendees were bringing more sidekicks and associates compared to recent years, and the vast number of suppliers attending signaled a shift for the event. They’ve realized the event is a smart way to find entrée into meeting the right people, and it ballooned the crowd to the highest number of attendees ever—about 1,800.

4. Educational Excitement

I was honored to have the opportunity to host a pair of panels in my role here as editor-at-large. I was extremely delighted at the sheer level of participation by not just the panelists, but the audience. It was great to see so many people actively participating by asking intelligent questions and really using this forum to learn something new. Plus, I didn’t have to work too hard since everyone had so much to say. That’s always a good thing.

A major problem experienced at industry financial conferences is everyone is there to make deals, but most lack the time to attend breakout sessions. Not this year. Both my sessions were packed, my panelists were fantastic and the attendees participated in a fun and meaningful way. Thanks for making those panel so special everyone!

Glenn Haussman is editor-at-large for HOTEL MANAGEMENT. His views expressed are not necessarily those of HOTEL MANAGEMENT, its parent company Questex Media Group, and/or its subsidiaries.