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ALIS: Women on the Scene but Not Seen on a Key Panel

Just back from the busy ALIS (Americas Lodging Investment Summit) conference in LA, hertelier's "Conference Correspondent," Stacy Silver reports, "ALIS was busy and the overall mood was relatively upbeat with muted concerns. Industry fundamentals are positive, leisure remains strong, and many said they are seeing the return of group business. At the same time, many are worried about inflation, interest rates, and a recession." In addition to a robust conference schedule, other highlights included a ForWard/Castell Reception by AHLA, a meet-up of the Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance, and a gathering for the She Has a Deal squad.

Conference Correspondent Stacy Silver with Dorothy Dowling and Melissa Maher, who announced joining Horwath at ALIS
Conference Correspondent Stacy Silver with Dorothy Dowling and Melissa Maher, who announced joining Horwath at ALIS.

Hotel Brand News

Several brands launched immediately prior to the conference:

  • Sonesta Essentials––a new select-service brand by-you guessed it-Sonesta offering a core selection of services. According to Sonesta Chief Development Officer, Brian Quinn. "With tremendous demand in the select-service category, we are confident that Sonesta Essential will become a leading brand in an exciting, timely, and relevant segment."

  • Spark by Hilton––Hilton's foray into the budget sector, "In looking at the economy category, we saw a segment that has grown dramatically but lacks consistency, providing us an opportunity to deliver on the needs of this underserved segment of travelers," said Matt Schuyler, chief brand officer, Hilton. We have a full interview on Spark coming up this week with brand lead, Alissa Klees.

  • Handwritten Collection––Accor's new mid-scale entry, an option for independent or boutique hotels that want the benefits and reach of being part of a big hotel company without having to make much change to the physical property. "Our aim, beyond delivering a truly authentic guest experience, is to support the growing number of independent and boutique hotel owners looking to boost their global profile, connect with more audiences and grow their revenue without losing their identity," said Alex Schellenberger, Chief Marketing Officer, Premium, Midscale, Economy Brands, Accor.

"This leads me to something a developer once told me 'No matter where we are in the cycle, brands will create new brands, developers will build, brokers will sell, and deals will always get done. They may not be as easy as they once were, but trust me, they will get done.'" –– Stacy Silver

What the Hotel Data Says

STR data shows ADR is slowing down, and costs continue to increase, which will slow down profitability in 2023.

  • 2022 actual– occ 62.7%, ADR change 19.1%, RevPAR change 29.8%

  • 2023 forecast - occ 63.6%, ADR change 2.1%, RevPAR change 3.7%

  • 2024 forecast – occ 65.3%, ADR change 3/8%, RevPAR change 6.6%

  • 2025 forecast – occ 66%, ADR change 3.7%, RevPAR change 4.7%

AHLA ForWard reception at ALIS Hotel Investment Conference
AHLA ForWard/Castell reception at ALIS

Sentiments from Senior-Level Women

Stacy spoke to several senior-level executive women in attendance at ALIS about what concerns them/keeps them up at night regarding our industry:

Dorothy Dowling, Managing Director, Horwath HTL, "For me, the number one thing is really being open to thinking differently, so it's a lot of disruption that I think we have to embrace and start to look at in terms of how business is going to be sourced, how it's going to be booked, how we're going to attribute, and who is going to be able to take credit for it."

Kate Henricksen, Co-Chief Investment Officer, RLJ Lodging Trust, "The trajectory of the lodging market still looks fairly positive but obviously, increasing interest rates, the overall fear of the recession and how that could possibly impact the continued lodging recovery, but you know, still overall fairly net positive on where the industry is at as a whole."

Marina McDonald, CMO, Red Roof, "What worries me is that as much as everyone knows that travel is so important and is critical to their life, that they may take a pause for a little bit and not take that extra trip. That's what keeps me up at night."

Zahara Kassam, FTI Consulting, "It's been a busy start to the year for FTI Consulting. As you know, we deal a lot with insolvency, workouts, and restructurings, and so given the increased pace of Chapter 11 filings since the end of last year and the rising macroeconomic and microeconomic risks that we are seeing, I think we'll experience a little bit more stress this year and then potentially a lot more going forward for the next few years. Given where interest rates are right now, a lot of underwriting models weren't built for that, and so we're seeing a number of challenges––and disputes––come up around valuation, cash flow declines, etc.

Labor has been a big issue that's been discussed at length here at ALIS. Finding a solution to how we bring back or replace the millions of employees––and leaders––that have left the industry is a big concern.

ESG has also been a big trend across many panels. Historically, the focus has largely been on the E(nvironmental), but I think this year we're hearing more about the S(ocial) (including DEI, but also employee engagement and human rights) and the G(overnance), and efforts to bring a holistic and comprehensive approach to reporting, risk mitigation and identification of top line and bottom line opportunities."

ALIs hotel conference 2023
Tracy Prigmore, founder of She Has a Deal, center, with her squad at the AHLA Forward party

Cindy Estis Green, Co-Founder, and CEO, Kalibri Labs, "My area of focus is the digital marketplace, and it is going through some really big changes. There are new players entering the fintech space, for example, that are going to have some meaningful impact on it, like Capital One, Hopper, and JP Morgan Chase who acquired Frosch Travel. So the merging of some of the leisure and the business travel the way it's booked they're evolving into new sort of OTA models with loyalty programs attached.

My big concern: people keep doing stuff the way they've been doing it for 20 years in a world that is not the same. The tools they're using are tools that were designed for 1993, and we're in 2023. I do so much work with owners that are vaguely aware there are changes, but I'm worried it will suddenly take them by surprise. We're on a big growth path right now to build out tools precisely to address these changes, because what exists today is not going to help with these issues and the hoteliers need to be better informed about what's going on."

Julienne Smith, Chief Development Officer, IHG Hotels & Resorts, "The economics of getting deals done, interest rates, cost of construction, cost availability of labor on the construction side and hotel side, all concern me. Secondly, I would say attracting great talent to our industry and making sure we have the best in class to move this industry forward and think about things differently."

Kendra Plummer, Founder, Elise Capital, "As an industry, we need to continue to innovate and ensure we are giving our sponsors (investors) the highest return on investment."

Kristie Dickinson, Managing Director, CHMWarnick

"I'm concerned about the future pipeline of people who truly want to work in the hospitality industry."

Students, Job Seekers and She Has a Deal

About 100 university students attended ALIS, we caught up with Makenna Price, who attended ALIS with the goal of networking for a job. She is a December 2022 graduate of Washington State, "ALIS is a great event, I got some leads, but as a student coming fresh out of college looking to go straight into development, it’s very hard to find a position where I meet the requirements," said Makenna.

ALIS Hotel Conference 2023
She Has a Deal squad

Which is why she is also a participant in the She Has a Deal education and pitch competition program. "I am super excited for SHaD pitch 2023 on April 27-28th at the Marriott Headquarters! I am also beyond grateful for Tracy Prigmore leading this program. I have always wanted to go into hotel ownership ever since I was little and this program gives me exactly what I need to succeed. It is so inspiring to have such strong women role models to look up to and help guide me."

The She Has a Deal squad had a group dinner, and days of networking and planning for the pitch competition coming up in April.

Diversity and Inclusion on the Agenda

Rachel Humphrey, founder of the Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance, reported that over the course of the conference, the panels at ALIS and ALIS law were "incredibly diverse."

Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance meeting at ALIS 2023
Women in Hospitality Leadership Alliance meeting

However, the CEO panel seems to have been a glaring oversight. Billed as "Leadership and Accountability in a Changing World" and was intended to be a discussion covering how leaders are coping with the ever-changing labor landscape; diversity equity & inclusions efforts; environmental, social & governance adoption; demands from owners, shareholders, and consumers; and a host of other challenges.

No Women on Panel at ALIS Conference 2023
What is wrong with this picture?

The moderator Rod Clough, President, Americas, HVS; guided panelists: Geoff Ballotti, President & CEO, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts Michael George, President & CEO, Crescent Hotels & Resorts Mark Laport, President, CEO, Concord Hospitality Enterprises and George Limbert, President, Red Roof. While the topic was on point, the glaring omission of a least one woman or a person of color has drawn much criticism on LinkedIn and by Geoff Ballotti during the panel.

The glaring omission of a least one woman or a person of color on the CEO panel has drawn much criticism on LinkedIn

Women owned this room...AHLA ForWard Reception

ALIS 2023
the AHLA ForWard party had more than 150 people

AHLA ForWard Panel

As part of ForWard @ ALIS, Blackstone Global General Counsel of Real Estate Asset Management Ama Romaine, Choice Hotels International SVP of Upscale Brands Janis Cannon, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts EVP & Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Checchio, Donohoe Hospitality Services President Thomas Penny and TLTsolutions + She Has a Deal Managing Partner Tracy L Prigmore discussed advancing women & minorities in hotel ownership.

AHLA ForWard panel at ALIS
AHLA ForWard panel at ALIS


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