Smiles wide at hotel industry's first investment conference of 2015

LOS ANGELES -- A collective smile is planted smack across the face of the hotel industry at the moment. That is the countenance for those gathered here at The Americas Lodging Investment Summit, the first hotel investment conference of the year. 

The theme for this year’s conference, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” rang true as the 2,800 delegates in attendance, the highest number since 2008, exhibited a buoyancy that hasn’t especially been seen since the days before the globe was gripped by recession. 

In fact, of the delegates polled, 81 percent believed that the U.S. economy would continue to trend up in the coming years, and 44 percent called themselves “very confident” when it came to more transactions in 2015.

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Of course, it doesn’t mean challenges don’t lie ahead. Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the AH&LA, enumerated four during the general session: 1) assault on the franchise model, evidenced by the NLRB-McDonald’s ruling; 2) legislation on wage increases; 3) Airbnb and other home-sharing sites; 4) how to increase more international travel.

Echoing that, Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corp., discussed the hotel work force and introducing young people to it. “We are having an impact on millions of people. We are a significant employer, but there is a significant skills gap. We give the opportunity to open doors to people finding entry-level work. With passion, you can begin in our industry and get skills and grow.”

Meanwhile, David Kong, president and CEO of Best Western International, delivered a speech on the digital world, in particular how to be agile in a digital landscape made more and more crowded every day by newfangled intermediaries. “It’s changing the rules of the game,” he said. “The Internet was supposed to make our jobs easier, but has made it more complex,” noting that around 75 percent of travelers check TripAdvisor before making a booking.

“The Internet has changed rules of the game,” he continued. “It now takes agility and being able to iterate quickly. You have to develop strategies across all channels.”

One of those disruptors is HotelTonight, a mobile app touting last-minute bookings. “Our mission is to empower hotels to do best for the business,” said its co-founder Jared Simon to a skeptical audience.

“Hotels have the need to move rooms. We offer the ability to market to consumers in an unpredictable way. It’s part of larger trend of spontaneity. This is how we live. A life less planned.”

The CEOs Take
More specific to the hotel industry was a panel of CEOs who gave their thoughts on the overall state of the industry. One, Jim Amorosia, president and CEO of G6 Hospitality, is bullish. “We are pleased with what we are seeing: domestically, supply remains in check and demand is strong, which is good for pricing.” 

Although he did allow for some possible disturbance. “You have to consider the what ifs,” he said. “What can impact the industry?”

Still, there isn’t too much out there, independent of some economic worry in Europe, that is disconcerting. “It’s a good time for supply dynamics,” said Dave Johnson, president and CEO of Aimbridge Hospitality. “Prices are frothy. I’d much rather be a seller than a buyer.”

Added Jay Shah, CEO of Hersha Hospitality Trust, “The good news is that even with supply spikes, we continue to see significant demand.” It’s international, too. “Unique visitor growth to the U.S. is growing,” he said.

As for this upcycle, Alex Cabanas, president and CEO of Benchmark Hospitality Intl., called the financial landscape “more disciplined.” 

Quick Hits 
Here's a quick rundown of what else went down at ALIS: Marriott is buying a Canadian brand....Hyatt is launching a lifestyle brand....Danziger unveils Debut Hotel Group....and Marriott's budget Moxy brand is coming to America.