Pre-IHIF, Preferred's Lindsey Ueberroth gives insight to the future

IHIF 2019
Lindsey Ueberroth, CEO, Preferred Hotels & Resorts, will speak at the upcoming International Hotel Investment Forum. Photo credit: Questex Media.

During the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) which takes place March 4-6 at the InterContinental Hotel, Berlin, Lindsey Ueberroth, CEO, Preferred Hotels & Resorts will be speaking on the panel "Evolving Hospitality: The Trends Shaping the Future of Hospitality," from 10 a.m. to 10:40 a.m. on Wednesday, March 6.

The panel will address the growing trends that will affect hoteliers' jobs in the future. For example: What initiatives will have the most positive impact on customer satisfaction, on revenues and on the value of a property? The panelists will examine these trends from the perspective of technology, innovative customer experience, sustainability and other subjects.

In March 2015, Ueberroth spearheaded the rebranding of Preferred Hotel Group to Preferred Hotels & Resorts, reflecting a new consumer-facing strategy for the company. The new brand architecture created stronger clarity for the company’s portfolio of independent properties among travelers, hoteliers and travel partners, according to the company. That year, Ueberroth led the company to achieve a major milestone in its history by generating more than $1 billion in reservations revenue on behalf of its member hotels worldwide, a 15-percent increase over the previous year.

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Ahead of the conference, Ueberroth shared her insights on how her company is adapting to new demands and where it will grow in the future.

1. How would you describe the hotel investment market in 2019?  

As a truly global company, we know that the state of the landscape varies by market. In the United States, we are beyond the “top-dollar” days of a few years back, and there is much talk of an impending recession. We are also looking at many potential pitfalls such as trade negotiations with China, restrictions on access for travelers coming to the United States, and the residual shocks from Brexit, so I would describe the U.S. hotel-investment market as “conservative” for the time being. If we are looking at Europe, there is still strong appetite from investors for most primary and secondary markets. There is currently a lack of available hotel assets in several key markets, so we believe this is still driving strong demand and fueling upcoming growth. In Asia-Pacific, there is still great demand especially in certain markets such as Australia, China, Vietnam and China. Finally, in Africa, we are seeing demand but in more emerging markets where there is foreign investment, such as Ethiopia and Ghana.  

2. What is Preferred Hotels & Resorts’ position and strategy for the year to come? 

We remain focused and steadfast in our commitment to the independent hotel segment. We see so much growth potential and opportunity in this segment with more hotel owners and operators who want greater control and flexibility over their assets while working with a strong partner that can assist with their global sales, marketing, distribution and loyalty needs. We have supported more than 40 hotels that have de-flagged from major chains and soft brands alike to go independent with Preferred Hotels & Resorts as their partner in the last five years. Further, emerging and even mature markets that used to be primarily dominated by the major chains are now growing and interested in the independent space. Further, it is of note that we will welcome more than 23 new hotel openings in our portfolio this year. Five years ago, not nearly so many asset managers and developers were aligning their new-build properties with an independent brand and this shows a growing confidence in the value of our model for these prominent projects.  

Preferred Hotels & Resorts is focused on three additional strategic areas of growth for the years to come.  

The first is the residential and vacation-rental space, as we see ever-growing demand and interest from leisure and business travelers alike. To capture this market, we continue to grow our Preferred Residences collection as a viable, compelling alternative to the likes of Airbnb, One Fine Stay and Inspiration by offering nearly 100 condos, villas, townhomes, and other accommodations that have all of the space and privacy of a home with the service and amenities of a luxury hotel.  

The second is destination consulting, which we fuel through our sister company, PHG Consulting. In October 2012, we launched PHG Consulting to assist travel and tourism organizations, such as destinations, cruise lines and tourism bureaus, in telling their story on a global scale. Many of our current clients are emerging and existing destinations that need dedicated support in creating top-of-mind awareness among a target audience of travelers such as those residing in North America and China. Through PHG Consulting, we assist these partners in boosting their business by providing an integrated approach that includes travel-trade outreach and representation, tourism-product development, digital marketing, public relations, training solutions and social media. I am proud to share that this division is booming, and our team recently won six awards for our work on behalf of clients as part of the annual HSMAI Adrian Awards. 

The third is Preferred Hospitality Solutions, which is a division of PHG Consulting that we launched last year. Different from our destination consulting division, Preferred Hospitality Solutions provides dedicated support to current member hotels of Preferred Hotels & Resorts that fall outside the scope of the traditional services provided within our brand contracts. Preferred Hospitality Solutions allows us to further support the goals of our member hotels by providing hotel pre-opening services, guiding them through property transitions and management conversions, support during renovations and refurbishments, PR and social media initiatives, and revenue management to name a few examples. We have already executed on several success projects and are excited about the potential Preferred Hospitality Solutions has in helping us further champion the independent hotel space. 

3. What are the biggest challenges faced by hoteliers/investors in the current hotel-investment market?  

The first is a general question: Can we avoid a steep and prolonged drop in demand for the hotel experience, especially in the luxury space, should the economy see a downturn soon? When demand slows, we will learn how much we have overbuilt and the true impact of the home-sharing business. Since Airbnb and other similar models have come to the market, we have not seen a slowdown in demand in hotels from a consumer or development standpoint. From there, if and when we do see any weakening in the economy, how much will these extra rooms impact traditional hotels. Will it make the drop more significant? 

Attracting staff to work in the hospitality industry in general remains a huge challenge. Preferred Hotels & Resorts partners with several educational organizations to help engage promising new talent to seek out opportunities with us on a hotel and corporate level. Finally, managing and understanding the true cost of sale—looking at OTAs, metasearch, social media and other channels—still remains such an area of focus, especially in the face of so much consolidation. 

4. What existing hotel brands do you think are most interesting to watch? 

I have many hotel brands on my radar for a variety of different reasons. First, I think it will be interesting to see if Accor can absorb the many new businesses [it has] acquired in the past few years, especially if and when there is a lodging recession. I also think that the constant growth and innovation behind Rosewood make it a very fun brand to watch. Others that I keep an eye out for are Soho House, 25 Hours, H10 and Nobu Hotels.  

5. Who or what is the biggest inspiration guiding your career? 

To me, travel is a fundamental part of life and the biggest inspiration that has guided my career. I believe that travel and the business of hospitality is borderless in creating unity, understanding and kindness across cultures, languages, religions and many other demographics. If everyone had the opportunity to travel, our world would be a more understanding place where people showed more tolerance when faced with differences.  

My parents, who started my brother and I traveling at a very young age, have been my mentors and the inspiration guiding my career. I am also lucky to work with many hoteliers who inspire me for their vision of hospitality and their strength as strategic, humble leaders. That is one thing about working in the independent hotel space. I am grateful to partner with more than 700 hoteliers who each put their own spin on what authentic hospitality means to them and learning more about their methods, their stories and how they get guests to embrace their vision inspires me on a daily basis.    

6. What are you most looking forward to at IHIF? 

It is a dynamic conference, and I am looking forward to learning about the latest trends, re-connecting with fellow industry colleagues and meeting new players in the industry, such as new brands and new business models. I always walk away with a new perspective on our business and that is invigorating.  

7. Do you think that the future of hospitality will involve more women in senior positions?   

I have been very pleased to see the growth of females in executive positions across the hospitality industry over the past few years. While there is still a lot of room for growth, I am seeing a change especially in the area of female general managers. On the corporate side, I see more female leadership as well and this has been, in part, due to the help of technology and a more-flexible working environment, such as the ability to work from home at times, which has allowed women to support their personal and professional desires. 

Ueberroth will be speaking on Evolving Hospitality: The Trends Shaping the Future of Hospitality, 10 a.m.-10:40 a.m. on Wednesday 6th March during the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF), which takes place March 4-6 at the InterContinental Hotel, Berlin. IHIF is presented by Questex Media, the parent company of Hotel Management Magazine.

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