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On the Scene: 35th Annual Hunter Hotel Investment Conference

The 35th Annual Hunter Hotel Investment Conference kicked off at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis this past week to an impressive gathering of over 2,100 attendees from 950 companies across 48 states and 100 hospitality college students.


hunter hotel investment conference

Highlighting Diversity at the Hunter Hotel Conference: A Milestone Achievement


In his opening remarks, conference chairman Lee Hunter highlighted a remarkable achievement for the conference: 51% of the speakers represented diversity, ensuring different perspectives that reflect the multifaceted nature of our industry were represented on stage. Hunter emphasized the conference's commitment to "amplifying the voices of women and under-represented groups.”

 

The Role of Sponsors and Partners in Promoting Diversity


Hunter acknowledged to hertelier the support and role of their sponsor partners in this endeavor and that reaching this level of diversity was not about putting different people on stage, but fostering inclusion based on merit and expertise. Looking ahead to next year and beyond, he said the conference team is "not focused on a specific number or goal but on continuing to bring fresh and diverse voices that add value to the discussion."


Hunter Hotel Investment Conference
AHLA Foundation ForWard cocktail event

Perspectives on Diversity and Leadership from Industry Leaders

 

While many new and diverse faces were on stage, those I spoke with felt the vibe of the conference and the conversations happening off stage were as good or better than in previous years.

 

Lisa Lombardo, President of ARK Holdings, said she likes that the data point is being discussed and that the flag is being flown, which changes the conversations from the need to work on diversifying conferences to continuing to do so and ensuring the conversation needs to evolve from "we need more women in the room, and more women at the table but shifting to the fact that we are having conversations that are not about why more women need to be in the room. Women are just women in the room."

We are having conversations that are not about why more women need to be in the room. Women are just women in the room. –– Lisa Lombardo

Kimberly Rowell, EVP & COO of Five Star Group, said she feels there are "a lot more women in the roles of leadership with the brands and the management companies today and is so proud of the brands for promoting from within." However, she would like to see more women in leadership roles in finance and development. Rowell thinks the conversations have not changed but sees that women generically have become more accepted as being at the table and part of the negotiations.


Evolving Conversations and the Importance of Inclusion in Hospitality

 

Conversely, Lina Patel, Director of Strategic Franchise Initiatives at Red Roof Inn, said, "There is a significant presence of women in various aspects of the event, from educational sessions to the trade show and even social gatherings, there's a noticeable increase in female participation compared to previous years." Patel finds this trend refreshing, as it fosters a more inclusive environment, sparking diverse and dynamic conversations that encompass a wider array of perspectives and insights. Patel leads Red Roof's Diversity Initiative called RIDE - Road to Inclusivity and Diversity in Entrepreneurship. RIDE with Red Roof aims to expand and further diversify hotel ownership and entrepreneurial opportunities for women and underrepresented groups via four main pathways: Access to capital, educational resources, building a network, and creating connections to industry vendor partners. 

 

Evan Weiss, co-founder, COO, and principal of LW Hospitality Advisors, who moderated the opening session, "Market Overview: Financial Analysts + Forecasts," said he does not feel the conversation has changed significantly since, "while there is definitely a larger contingent of professional women at the conference in terms of the conversations candidly they're frankly the same it's all about deals, cap, interest rates, and rates of return."


Weiss, who considers himself an ally, feels if, "You're the best at what you do, I don't care who you go home with at night. I don't care what you represent or who you pray to. I don't care if you are male or female, what your race or religion is - it doesn't matter to me. What matters is the four criteria we use for hiring and what the entire industry should be about. Number one, are you a good human being first and foremost? Number two, are you going to be good to our people internally? Number three, are you going to be good to our clients? And, number four, are you good at what we do? If you are good at the first three, we'll be friends, but we won't hire you. But if you're the best professional ever but not good at the first three, there's no place for you in our firm." 


Hunter Hotel Investment conference
DEI Advisors gathers at Hunter

Looking Ahead: Industry Trends and Predictions for 2024

 

While diversity was a hot topic throughout the conference, there was a lot of discussion about the fundamentals regarding how 2024 will finish, deal activity, and, of course, interest rates where they are today and where they are headed. Many speakers felt that the Fed might lower interest rates in the latter part of 2024, but we won't see the low-interest rates we saw two years ago anytime soon. It is time for the industry to go back to fundamentals and figure out how to pencil and get deals done at current rates.

 

Patel said, "As interest rates remain stagnant, investors are acknowledging the situation. However, they're also wary of committing to fixed rates and are opting for variable rates instead. This choice provides them with flexibility in case interest rates eventually decrease."

 

Lombardo is an optimist for the remainder of 2024. "I feel like we have had a settling in after the turbulent times that we have come from. 2020, 2021, and 2022 brought some obstacles and challenges but also brought tremendous opportunities for a lot of us in this business. I think in 2024, it will come down to focusing on the fundamentals and remembering what it is to be an operator of a hotel. It is one thing to acquire or go vertical on an asset; it is another thing to make sure that its heart is pumping, things are working, and the people feel fulfilled and are doing well by one another and our guests and our owners. We're going to have to make sure that we remember in 2024 what it is to be a solid operator if we are going to be successful."

In 2024, it will come down to focusing on the fundamentals and remembering what it is to be an operator of a hotel. It is one thing to acquire or go vertical on an asset; it is another thing to make sure that its heart is pumping, things are working, and the people feel fulfilled and are doing well by one another and our guests and our owners. –– Lisa Lombardo

Rowell says her outlook for 2024 is similar to many of the panel discussions at the conference. They are "heavily divesting our equity into the extended stay market with legacy brands." Rowell is concerned that "especially in the extended stay segment owners are getting into the segment without the experience of historically operating an extended-stay hotel. These owners are automatically thinking because they opened an extended stay hotel, it will leverage those 60% GOPs that the brands promise on the front end. Unfortunately, that requires great experience in driving revenue, understanding segmentations, and managing expenses effectively."


Innovative Initiatives and Announcements from the Hunter Hotel Conference

 

The conference also had several announcements, including:

 

  • Wyndham Hotels & Resorts award-winning Women Own the Room initiative surpasses 15 hotel openings and more than 50 signings over 24 months. The program offers comprehensive financial solutions, personalized operational support, and a community that promotes networking and education. Women Own the Room was specifically curated and continues to evolve to meet the needs of the women in the industry.

  • Access Point Financial unveiled its new PIP Renovation Program designed to support hotel owners in meeting franchisor-mandated improvements and refreshing their assets. Key features include loan size from $1 - $5 with a typical loan structure featuring a 24-month interest-only period followed by a five-year fully self-amortizing period, allowing flexibility for the hotel owner. One percent origination fee. Available to all qualified multi-unit hotel owners of branded properties throughout the United States.

  • Hyatt celebrated its global RiseHY program, which is designed to connect young people with long-term careers in hospitality. Since its inception in 2018, more than 5,700 Opportunity youth have joined Hyatt or a Hyatt hotel, which marks a pivotal step toward Hyatt's global commitment to hiring 10,000 Opportunity Youth by 2025

Honoring Leadership and Excellence: The 2024 Hunter Conference Award

 

Bob Hunter, Founder of the Hunter Conference, was recognized with the 2024 Hunter Conference Award for Excellence and Inspiration. Hunter, who is also the founder of Hunter Hotel Advisors, was awarded for his leadership, citizenship, and innovation. Bill Reynolds, senior managing director of The Marcus Corporation, presented the award.


Hunter Hotel Investment Conference Bob Hunter
Teague, Bob and Lee Hunter at the awards ceremony

A Farewell to a Visionary: Debby Cannon's Legacy in Hospitality Education

 

Debby Cannon will be stepping down at the end of this year after 23 years as Director of the Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality at Georgia State University. She will remain on faculty to continue to teach future generations of hoteliers.


Debbie Cannon with Stacy Silver
Debby Cannon with Stacy Silver

See you in Atlanta next year!! The 36th Hunter Hotel Investment Conference will take place March 18 - 20, 2025.

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