Almost 3,000 Hospitality industry executives gathered at LA Live last week in Los Angeles for the 23rd annual ALIS (Americas Lodging Investment Summit). The amount of press releases issued before the start gave a good indication that the conference would be positive. Still, even the rainy, gloomy weather did not damper the optimism this year, hertelier contributor Stacy Silver reports.
Notable announcements at ALIS:
sbe's Sam Nazarian is partnering with Marc Anthony and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts on the launch of a smart lifestyle brand with the working name Project HQ Hotels & Residences. The brand will fall under Wyndham's Registry Collection Hotels and will build communities and create memories for its millennial and Gen Z guests.
TPG Hotels & Resorts launched the Intera Collection, its independent luxury and soft branded collection. The collection will emphasize TPG's decades of experience as an owner, operator, and management partner in the independent space.
Hilton debuted a new ownership program, Unlocking Doors, aimed to assist entrepreneurs new to the industry on their path to hotel ownership. The program will provide support through educational programs, networking opportunities, and access to affordable capital.
David Kong, former Best Western CEO and current Founder and Principal of DEI Advisors, was presented with the ALIS Lifetime Achievement Award. The award is presented to an individual who has significantly contributed to the hospitality industry through their actions, deeds, and great accomplishments.
AHLA Forward honored 2023 Board Chair Leslie Hale, President and CEO of RLJ Lodging Trust, at its annual event during the conference.
Tracy Prigmore honored by the International Society of Hospitality Consultants (ISHC) Pioneer Award 2024, which recognizes an individual for making an outstanding contribution, achievement and or improvement in the hospitality industry.
Shatterproof, a national nonprofit dedicated to transforming addiction treatment in the U.S., honored Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Hyatt, with their Hospitality Hero Award. More than 60 hospitality companies raised $2 million during the event to advance the critical work Shatterproof is doing and to support its Founder and CEO, Gary Mendell, a former hotelier (chairman and co-founder of HEI Hotels and Resorts), who lost his son Brian to addiction in 2011. Hoplamazian was also awarded the Arne Sorenson Social Impact Leadership Award at the Night of a Thousand Stars. This award honors industry icon and former president & CEO of Marriott International Arne Sorenson, who passed away in February 2021, and is presented annually to a senior-level executive in the lodging industry who strives to drive change through strong leadership and community engagement.
Cornell University Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration announced it has selected Keith Barr, IHG's former CEO, and Cornell alumnus, as the recipient of the 2024 Cornell Hospitality Icon of the Industry Award, which will be presented on June 4, 2024, in New York City.
Top Discussion Points: Labor, Financing, and Deals
Labor, financing, and deals were hot topics throughout the conference. I spoke with four influential women to gain insights into the challenges faced by the industry and the evolving role of women in shaping its trajectory.
Impact of Federal Reserve
2023 was a challenging year for financing based on interest rates. The consensus at the conference was the expectation that the Federal Reserve would follow through on current expectations and lower interest rates at some point in 2024. However, most experts see it happening later in the year.
Caroline Royster, VP Business Development, Hospitality Management for Peachtree Group, acknowledges the Fed's decisions will certainly have an impact. Still, it is not whether they decide to lower rates but how many times they decide to do so.
Eva Wassermann, Senior Managing Director, GEM Realty Capital, sees a positive outlook and anticipates increased demand activity if interest rates decline. "As interest rates decline, our guests will have more discretionary dollars to allocate towards travel, which should increase demand. From an investment perspective, the reduction in interest rates should result in transaction activity."
Ariel Sanett, Vice President of Development, Americas, Ennismore, added the significant impact for investors waiting on favorable rates: "Many investors we work with are sitting on the sidelines waiting for interest rates to fall to help their deals pencil."
Buy, Sell, Hold
With the current microeconomic conditions, 2023 was a challenging year to be on either the buy or sell side of a deal. Royster said Peachtree is always open to buying or selling based on market conditions. "Everything is always for sale in our group. Peachtree is a transactional company. We are not emotionally attached to any of our assets. It's all based on the numbers that make the most sense." She added that they were net sellers this past year and hope to be net buyers in 2024. Wassermann is looking to identify hotels to acquire and potentially even sell some they have completed implementing their investment strategy. Carmen Almos, Founder and CEO, Ashburton Hospitality, which is in its first year of business, is highly acquisition-focused. "We are looking for unique opportunities that others in the space may not be considering."
While everyone is focused on those tailwinds, when asked about headwinds and what keeps these women up at night. Royster is focused on "finding the right relationship and ensuring that what we say Peachtree can do is coming to fruition." Wassermann is concerned about "rising operating costs affecting the guest experience. Everything from labor to operating supplies as well as insurance and property taxes in certain jurisdictions have experienced high inflation." Sanett, on the other hand, is focused on getting deals done. "With the lack of financing and increase in development costs and insurance in many markets, moving projects forward is difficult." Almos worries about "breaking the cycle of generational wealth disparity, especially for women minority entrepreneurs who often face additional barriers to systemic inequalities."
Cultivating Female Leadership
Laura Blake, CEO of AAHOA, said on stage that a stunning number of women and minorities have left the workforce after COVID, and women in the workforce are down by one million, which led to the discussion of how we are cultivating female leadership in our industry.
Peachtree Group recently launched "Women Leading Peachtree", which is committed to cultivating and promoting female leadership and advocating for equality to create sustainable change and inspire future generations of women leaders. In 2024, they are kicking off Fireside Chats, where inspiring women of Peachtree come together to connect, learn, listen, and create new connections.
"By offering a hybrid work culture, Ennismore does an incredible job supporting people at all stages of life, including parenthood," Sanett added. "This flexibility is a huge part of keeping women engaged and in the workforce."
Women on Stage at Conferences
Rachel Humphrey, Founder of Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance, has been working on changing the makeup of hotel industry conference panels one speaker at a time, along with other industry leaders. Humphrey was encouraged by the greater diversity across all panels at the ALIS conference, "Especially where the focus was showcasing the business-focused subject matter expertise of the speakers. It will take continued collaboration between conference organizers, sponsors, companies, and speakers for us to see parity, but this is a perfect example of demonstrating how we are stronger together as an industry when we work together to reach a goal." Royster agreed remembering her first investment conference in 2016 and the feeling you could count the ladies in the room. Today, while we are "still below 50%, there are more and more every year." Wassermann notes, "The efforts made for the 2024 ALIS conference to have more women panelists and speakers was much appreciated."