HM on location: NYU investment conference kicks off with optimism

NEW YORK—The 41st annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference got underway at the Marriott Marquis here in New York City Sunday night. Over cocktails and canapes, some of the hospitality's best and brightest caught up on the latest buzz and looked ahead with sustained optimism for the industry's future.

This year’s conference, hosted by the NYU School of Professional Studies Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality, has a new twist in its traditional core purpose of providing scholarships and will give back to students in a way unlike past years. According to conference mainstay Dorothy Jennings, EVP at HVS, this September, every student at the school will receive $10,000 toward a scholarship, all from conference sponsorship funds.

“We’re not just in this to make money, it’s for the university and for the students of the Jonathan [M.] Tisch Center [of] Hospitality,” Jennings told HM. “They’re our next generation of hoteliers.”

This year also is the first time the conference has had a Diamond-level sponsor. Hilton, which celebrated its centenary last week, sponsored last night's opening reception, where the company’s CFO, Kevin Jacobs, a member of the conference’s executive committee, told attendees Hilton would not be the last Diamond sponsor. “I see a bunch of you in the audience that we will be having conversations about taking up the mantle in the future with this level of sponsorship,” he said.

Together Again

Every company, of course, has different reasons for attending the conference. Phil Cordell, global head of new brand development at Hilton, noted the industry is based on relationships, and the conference provided the company with an “opportunity to connect and share a spirit of optimism” with fellow attendees. Hilton, he added, has had “a hundred years of innovation,” and is working on launching new brands and programs in the coming years.  

Anne Lloyd-Jones, senior managing director and director of consulting and valuation at HVS, echoed Cordell’s sentiments, noting the conference brings people together who might only see one another annually. “Any industry thrives on relationships, any business thrives on relationships, and it’s events like this that really give you the opportunity to stay connected with people who are important to your business, and important to your life.”

Mark LeBlanc, EVP/development and acquisitions at Interstate Hotels & Resorts, said he was there to “expand [Interstate’s] network of contacts, and as well as meet old friends.”

Vijay Dandapani, president/CEO of the Hotel Association of New York City, was attending the conference to “get a sense of what others are seeing in the marketplace” and see what other new developments are coming along. “Every one of my members is here,” he added. “Almost every one”

Sue Zabloudil, managing partner for law firm Akerman's Los Angeles office, came to New York to connect with clients and look for new projects. “We try to partner with our clients not just on the legal side but on the business side,” she explained. “It’s a great networking opportunity because this conference really does focus more on the deals component, and so you hear about new projects, you hear about new ideas all the time.”

Attendee Outlook

Across the reception, attendees discussed the latest industry trends and pondered what the future would bring—long term and short term.

“A lot of people have come here hoping to get some clarity,” said Lloyd-Jones. “There’s a lot of mixed messages right now in all of the things we’re seeing—in hotel performance and ... in the broader economy. So I’m here hoping that someone will say at least one brilliant thing, if not multiple brilliant things and add some clarity to the picture.”

Interstate’s LeBlanc noted a sense of “cautious optimism” among the insiders, “particularly because it’s been so good for so long that people are reluctant to say it’s going to keep going on, but I think it’s going to keep going on.” Overall, he said, the overall industry outlook is “fantastic.”

Bruce Ford, SVP/director of global business development at Lodging Econometrics, agreed. “I think the outlook is very positive right now,” he said. “We’re in good economic times [and] we have a good pipeline.”

Dandapani was somewhat more circumspect, but still expressed optimism for the industry’s future. “The outlook is, in broad terms, good,” he said. “We have some challenges because of the macroeconomic conditions, but overall it’s looking good.”