HM on Location: CEOs talk business at The Hospitality Show

LAS VEGAS — The Hospitality Show, a conference and trade show production mounted by the American Hotel and Lodging Association and Questex Hospitality, launched here this week at The Venetian Resort. Following a kick-off reception Tuesday night, the two-day inaugural event made its formal debut yesterday, drawing more than 3,500 attendees and upwards of 300 industry-centric trade-show participants to the property’s Expo and Convention Center for two days of sessions, experiences and networking opportunities.

Delivering a welcome from the event’s main stage, AHLA President & CEO Chip Rogers urged attendees to reconsider the city’s time-honored maxim of What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas. “We need you to let the rest of the world know just how special this is. So, everything that happens [here] in Vegas over the next two days—within reason—let everybody know about it,” Rogers said, noting the show, also known as THS, will be part of a 10-year partnership with Questex.

“We’re thrilled to partner with AHLA on this new launch,” said Alexi Khajavi, president of Questex Hospitality, Travel and Wellness. “It’s been a tremendous collaboration over the past six months to get here.”

Rogers told the crowd THS is about technology and the innovative solutions that can help them, as hoteliers, create a more profitable hotel. “That’s why we’re here. That is our differentiator,” he said.

“This show is unique,” Khajavi agreed. “It’s the only one of its kind that connects owners and operators with the products and solutions to drive profitability. Yet there’s more than world-class content and high-level networking; it’s meant to be an immersive experience.” He pointed out conference offerings such as exclusive back-of-house tours at the Venetian, the Bellagio and the Sphere; insights to how to activate underutilized lobby space by visiting the THS Lobby; and a look at the “Hotel Room Reimagined,” where decision-makers can engage with innovative products and solutions.

“The beauty of this show is it’s meant to be a blend of discovery, information and the chance to network and meet the best and brightest of our industry. Because, frankly, that’s where the magic happens. That’s where connections are made, ideas are born, solutions are happening. That’s how hospitality moves forward,” Khajavi said.

2023 The Hospitality Show ribbon cutting
Industry insiders gathered to celebrate the inaugural The Hospitality Show at The Venetian in Las Vegas. (Joseph Donato/The Hospitality Show)

Also helping to usher in THS was Chair of the Nevada Commission on Tourism and the state’s Lt. Governor, Stavros Anthony, and Pete Boyd, general manager of The Venetian Resort Las Vegas, both of whom brought attendees up to speed on some of the latest projects and activities expected to help drive area tourism, such as Formula One racing in the fall and the Super Bowl in 2024.

Breakout Sessions

A variety of sessions made up the opening day of The Hospitality Show. Among the first was “The Demand Generation: Asking for Everything,” which examined how hotels react and address both high demand and high expectations along with the current labor shortages.

Moderated by Danielle Bozarth, senior partner/global leader, travel, logistics and infrastructure practice at McKinsey, the panel included Leslie D. Hale, president and CEO of RLJ Lodging Trust; John Murray, president and CEO of Sonesta International Hotels Corp.; and Jay Caiafa, COO, the Americas, IHG.

Caiafa said it’s “a tale of different markets, different cities” in terms of what customers may be looking for but suggested guests, having come through the worst of the pandemic years, “are a lot more tolerant” regarding certain hotel aspects and conditions. However, he added, guests also feel “service should be perfect” due to high rates, and expect things to be back to “normal.”

From her perspective, Hale felt the “new normal is still unfolding,” and tagged small-group business as “leading the charge” as an indicator of demand. She noted it’s also important to understand how hotel rooms are being used given the increase of remote work, even taking into consideration the size of guestrooms.

Murray noted one solution to offsetting the labor shortage was utilizing technology but advised keeping the guest experience in the forefront. He said one Sonesta property in Florida found a complementary solution by engaging a robot to deliver small items to guestrooms.

On a wider scale, another session looked at “Chasing Business Around the Globe.” Led by moderator Alex Alt, SVP and GM at Oracle Hospitality, the session brought Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian and Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority President and CEO Steve Hill to the main stage. Hoplamazian observed one of the global challenges stemmed from dealing with varying technologies in other countries. “In China, as people know, there’s the great digital wall—and it’s real—so you have to set up the whole stack in China that’s for China. So we’re not using similar technology in our hotels in China that we’re using anywhere else, which is perfectly fine. I could see a time when we’re not using the same technology in many different venues.”

Closer in, Hill noted, “everyone had a difficult time going through the pandemic,” particularly regarding inbound international travel, but felt Las Vegas “has recovered to the point that we still need to work at it, still trying to fill those last 4 percent, 5 percent of the jobs.” That said, he noted the influx of sports teams and business caused a surge, adding 3.5 million net square feet of meeting space during the pandemic.

Delivering the keynote address was Kat Cole, CEO of Athletic Greens, who detailed her career journey from Hooters’ hostess to president of Cinnabon and group president and COO of Focus Brands (Cinnabon’s owner) to her current position. Cole posed three questions she said should be used by companies assessing their go-forward plans, as she had with her team(s) when challenges arose.

The questions, she said, are: “What can we stop doing?”; “What can we start doing?”; and “If you were me, what’s one thing you would do differently to make the business better?”

“If you have never asked these three questions of your team members, I encourage you to do it,” Cole advised the audience. “I still ask these questions when I invest in high-growth companies. I ask these questions of my teams who live around the world. And I’ve asked these questions of diligence brands we would later acquire to bring into our parent company to invest in and help that business grow.”

Joining Cole on stage for a brief Q&A was Geoff Ballotti, CEO, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, who asked the executive what advice she would give to first-, second- and third-generation hotel franchisees in terms of their roles and responsibilities with their franchisor. “Operate with excellence and make the investments needed to keep your locations competitive,” she said. “The franchisor needs to make sure the franchisees are doing those two things. If you’re doing it but someone two cities down the road is not, it’s a poor reflection on the brand. ... Brand is the first layer of how customers perceive what they can believe about a business.”