NYU: Sessions to cover a wide range of topics

Heading into next week's 36th annual New York University International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, June 1-3, Bjorn Hanson, conference host and divisional dean of the NYU-SCPS Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, expressed confidence that the agenda the Tisch Center’s executive planning committee has put together will be both stimulating and timely, and relevant to veteran attendees of the three-day event, as well as first-timers.

“Many don’t realize, but the process of planning one year’s conference actually begins the day following the close of the previous year’s event. We take developing the agenda seriously and track attendance and reaction to each session in an almost scientific way,” Hanson said.

With industry fundamentals strong and the transactions market continuing to gain momentum, owners, developers, lenders and managers are feeling confident going into the second half of the year, Hanson noted, all of which bodes well for record-breaking attendance at the conference.

The Agenda  
Once again, the program will be a mix of signature sessions like “The CEOs Check In: A View from the Top” on the first full day of the conference, and “Beyond the Boardroom” on the second full day, as well as new additions to the program, such as “The Hospitality Stakeholders: A Summary from the Experts” on the second full day.

“The strategy in developing the program is two-fold: to retain plenary sessions and workshops that continue to draw strong attendee interest and positive feedback, and to introduce subjects that not only draw people in, but then hold their interest for the entire length of the session,” Hanson said.

Asked to name two plenary sessions he had particularly high expectations for, Hanson first cited conference chair Jonathan Tisch’s “Beyond the Boardroom” interview with Ivanka Trump, EVP of development and acquisitions for The Trump Organization. Hanson praised Trump for her talents in design and fashion as well as her track record in hospitality. “As a member of the millennial generation, she also brings insights into this important demographic group,” he said.

Tisch (pictured), who is co-chairman of the board and member of the office of the president of Loews Corp. and chairman of Loews Hotels & Resorts, is celebrating his 20th anniversary as conference chair this year.

Hanson also cited as a “must attend” the “Titans of Real Estate” interview with Jonathan Gray, Blackstone Group’s global head of real estate. “Jonathan has been behind so many transformative hotel deals in recent years that he—and Blackstone—have become major figures in the industry,” Hanson said. Gray will respond to questions posed by ABC News chief business and economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis.

Robert Boland, Tisch Center academic chair and clinical associate professor, is moderating the “CEO Check In” for the second year. The four CEOs chosen for this year’s panel are Four Seasons’ J. Allen Smith, IHG’s Richard Solomons, Marriott International’s Arne Sorenson and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide’s Frits van Paasschen. They “all represent companies whose brands have a strong global reach, which just demonstrates how international the lodging business has become. Each has a perspective on the challenges and opportunities that come with operating in different cultures and languages,” Boland said.

At one time, the Western style of hospitality might have prevailed worldwide, but no longer. Today, a high percentage of these companies’ hotels in Asia, for example, may not be hosting Western travelers, but business and leisure travelers from within the region.

Each of the four companies also has rolled out ambitious alternative energy initiatives as part of their environmental programs and Boland expects to ask for an update. “These companies have green programs at the property level, but also at the corporate level. The need to develop solar and other alternative energy sources is such a pressing concern in many of the countries they operate in,” he said.

The issues raised in “The CEO Check In” have been so substantive over the years that the executive planning committee saw the need for a second CEO panel the following day—with a different set of CEOs—that could drill down deeper on some of these questions. From this was born the “Hospitality Stakeholders” new-this-year panel, according to moderator Scott Berman, principal and Hospitality & Leisure U.S. industry leader for PwC.

“The CEO roster here (Interstate Hotels & Resorts’ Jim Abrahamson, Wyndham Hotel Group’s Geoff Ballotti, HN Hotel Group’s Federico Gonzalez Tejera and Loews Hotels & Resorts’ Paul Whetsell) is quite impressive and will shed different light on the challenges CEO face today. Given the connection to the first CEO panel, I’ll be waiting until that night to finalize the questions I’ll be asking the Stakeholders panel,” Berman said.

Branding remains a key industry concern. “Research in the field has begun to question the link between customer loyalty and brands,” said Adam Weissenberg, vice chairman and U.S. tourism, hospitality & leisure leader & global hospitality leader at Deloitte & Touche, who is moderating the panel on “Building Brands.”

Weissenberg also expects the panel to address the issue of “brand overload”: the profusion of new entrants and what it means to be a “national brand” in the age of the Internet and social media.

On the transactions side of the business, real estate investment trusts remain a force, if not as dominant in the first years coming out of the downturn. “Given public REITs’ strong share performance since 2012, we expect them to continue to feature strongly on the acquisitions front this year with up to $5 billion in purchases,” said Arthur Adler, managing director and CEO of Jones Lang LaSalle, who is moderating “The REIT Beat” panel.

Likewise, HVS founder and chairman and long-time conference speaker Steve Rushmore has upbeat news to share with attendees this year on the valuations front. “While the rate of increase may not be as great year-over-year this year as we saw in 2012 and 2013, we still expect the 2014 increase to be healthy,” said Rushmore, who will share the stage with “Targeted Intelligence” co-presenter Amanda Hite, STR president & COO.

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