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On the Scene: 46th Annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference

The 46th Annual NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference (NYUHIIC), themed "Driving Alpha," took place earlier this month at the Marriott Marquis in New York City. This year's event marked the first under its new owners, Questex, who reported an impressive 2,100 attendees, with over 20% being first-time participants and 20% being investors representing over $65 billion in assets under management. Hertelier correspondent Stacy Silver reports...

NYU 46 Annual NYU Hotel Investment Conference

New NYU Enhanced Attendee Experience

Rowan Scahill, Show Director for the conference, emphasized Questex's focus on improving the attendee experience. "We have implemented several new features this year. Firstly, we rejuvenated our speaker faculty, bringing fresh perspectives to the forefront against the current backdrop of macroeconomic conditions. Secondly, we have included more investors and financial experts among our audience, and enhanced networking spaces with the addition of the Marriott bar, a networking lounge on the 7th floor, and an investors lounge, providing a VIP meeting area with privacy and comfort," she noted.

Additionally, a new Spotlight Stage in the exhibit hall showcased rising stars and talent in the industry, and a first-timer reception helped new attendees connect before the opening event. The conference also launched the new Questex Hospitality Networking app, using AI-generated matchmaking technology to facilitate connections based on attendees' interests and knowledge.

Opening Address and Keynote Highlights

Jonathan Tisch, Chairman, Loews Hotels, makes welcome remarks at NYU Hotel Investment Conference
Jonathan Tisch, Chairman, Loews Hotels, makes welcome remarks

Jonathan Tisch's Opening Remarks

Jonathan Tisch, CEO of Loews Hotels, opened the conference by highlighting the importance of the national tourism industry to the US economy and called for immigration reform to address labor shortages. Labor remains a critical issue for the industry, as echoed by Lan Elliott, Principal and Co-Founder of Acacia Hospitality LLC, who noted, "Finding staff is still a major challenge for many operators."

Ellen Zentner's Keynote on Economic Environment

In the opening keynote, "Adapting to an Evolving Macro-Economic Environment," Ellen Zentner, Managing Director and Chief US Economist at Morgan Stanley, discussed the current economic landscape. Despite some slowdowns, population growth continues, with 3.3 million immigrants arriving in the US last year, balancing the labor market. Zentner predicts that by the end of the year, there will be more workers than jobs available.

Investment and Economic Challenges

Inflation and Operating Costs

Investors at the conference discussed challenges such as inflation and the cost of capital but maintained long-term optimism. Michelle Russo, Founder & CEO of hotelAVE, pointed out that while inflation helps drive rate growth, it also increases operating expenses. "Labor costs are rising above inflation, as are many other operating expenses," Russo explained. She also noted a pullback in the "aspirational luxury traveler," affecting the luxury segment.

Michelle Russo, Founder & CEO, HotelAVE
Michelle Russo, Founder & CEO, HotelAVE

High Interest Rates and Market Implications

Lan Elliott highlighted the impact of high interest rates on new construction and existing deals, categorizing hotels into three groups: resorts that thrived during the pandemic, struggling properties pre-pandemic now sold or taken back by lenders, and well-performing pre-pandemic hotels now facing financial strain due to higher mortgage payments and reduced cash flow. Russo noted that high interest rates are the primary concern, citing a report from HVS showing a 14% decline in hotel values and CBRE's findings that every 100 BPS increase in interest rates leads to a 3% drop in values.

Technological Advancements in Hospitality

AI and Hotel Operations

The conference also covered technological advancements, with mixed opinions on AI's role in hospitality. Tyler Morse, Chairman and CEO of MCR, described current hotel technology as "in the stone ages. AI is bullshit. No one is using it in hotels." However, Joe Bojanowski, President of PM Hotel Group, and Warren Fields, President and CEO of Pyramid Hotel Group, saw potential in AI for improving efficiency, particularly in revenue management and accounting processes. Russo highlighted her company's use of Singlepaneapp for business intelligence, reducing analyst time by 30%.

NYU IHIIC Hotel Conference
Great to see more women on panels! Agnes Roquefort, Accor (L), Noah Silverman, Marriott, and Julienne Smith, IHG (R)

Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

Questex is committed to increasing diversity among speakers, aiming for 30% women and underrepresented minorities by next year. Currently, the planning committee includes nine women out of 23 members, demonstrating progress towards this goal.

Stacy Silver with Keith Barr
Keith Barr, former CEO of IHG, and Cornell honoree with Stacy Silver

Notable Announcements and Awards

Several significant announcements and awards were made during the conference:

  • The Shah Family, founders of Hersha Hotels and Resorts and HHM Hotels, was awarded the HotelNewsNow Stephen W. Brener Silver Plate Award.

  • Jonathon Gray, President & COO, Blackstone, was presented with the Jonathan Tisch Active Citizenship Award.

  • Hilton announced they are set to double their lifestyle portfolio to 700 hotels within the next four years. The recent addition of Graduate Hotels and NoMad to Hilton's portfolio, coupled with increasing guest and owner demand, has positioned the company to further accelerate lifestyle category growth.  

  • Smith Hill Capital and Bain Capital Special Situations announced they closed on a $111-million first mortgage loan secured by a portfolio of four properties. 

  • Sonesta International Hotels Corporation announced the debut of its unified loyalty program, Sonesta Travel Pass, and combined website. This singular loyalty program means that members now have access to unified benefits and a single currency across a network of 1,100 hotels.

  • Aimbridge announced William Davenport as its new chief financial offers effective July 8.

  • Raines announced it entered into a joint venture with Atlantic Hotels Group to add 16 properties to its management portfolio and expand its operations into the Texas market.

  • UJA Federation of New York honored Geoff Ballotti for his professional and philanthropic achievements at its event following the conference.

  • Cornell University held its annual Icon & Innovator Awards Celebration, hosted by the Cornell Nolan School of Hotel Administration following the event. This year's 2024 Cornell Hospitality Icon of the Industry Award was bestowed upon Keith Barr '92, former CEO of IHG. Chef José Andrés and Rob Wilder, Co-founders of José Andrés Group and World Central Kitchen, jointly received the 2024 Cornell Hospitality Innovator of the Industry Award.

Until next year....!


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