HB on the Scene: Cautious optimism continues at Hunter

“Cautious optimism” seemed to be the phrase of the day at the 34th annual Hunter Hotel Investment Conference, held at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, as the hospitality industry looks ahead.

That was certainly the case during the “A View from Top” session when Julie Arrowsmith, president/interim CEO, G6 Hospitality; Geoff Ballotti, president/CEO, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts; Larry Cuculic, president/CEO, Best Western Hotels & Resorts; Elie W. Maalouf, CEO, Americas, IHG Hotels & Resorts; and John Murray, president/CEO, Sonesta International Hotels Corporation, offered their thoughts on what the near term looks like for the industry.

“[I have created a] new term: ‘cautiously bullish,’” said Cuculic. “Everyone else is cautiously optimistic, I am going cautiously bullish. There are five things you’ve got to watch: inflation, interest rates, banking stability, geopolitical actions and unemployment.”

Arrowsmith did admit that she is cautiously optimistic. “We keep getting this bad news, but, honestly, we are continuing to see investment interest,” she said. We are still seeing growth. So, it is just this dichotomy that is really interesting times. Being in economy lodging, we’ve got a little bit of a cushion there, so we tend to perform well, but I think we have some choppy waters ahead.”

IHG’s Maalouf said he is optimistic for the long term. “The pandemic, supply chain, inflation and higher interest rates just haven’t broken the will of people to travel. They haven’t broken the will of this industry. Demand is near a record, rates are at a record. Global travel is actually just resuming. We resumed two years ago. China is booming again now. Europe is very strong.”

He added, “We should take courage from the fact that this industry has not been broken. It’s been interrupted here and there. We’re going to have other interruptions, but long-term trends are really good. The fundamentals are unchanged.”

Murray said to “throw caution to the wind, I am bullish…The industry is headed in the right direction. The pandemic showed everybody how important travel is to their lives. People feel it is one of their rights to get out and travel. If times get tough economically, that will demonstrate, particularly to business people—and people attending conferences like this, the importance of personal interaction, getting out and meeting your customers.”

Ballotti pointed to a blog post by Mark Woodworth titled “Waiting for Recession is like Waiting for Godot.” “Mark believes ‘cautiously optimistic’ for ’23, much brighter for ’24 and ’25 for all the reasons we just mentioned,” Ballotti said.