Day one of the Hunter Hotel Investment Conference felt more like a family reunion than an industry event. Once inside the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, all around there were people greeting others as if they were seeing them for the first time in years. You could almost see a smile under the masks of those who were attending their first in-person conference since 2019.
“I feel like it’s overdue, and I’m happy that we can finally do these things again,” Noah Silverman, global development officer, U.S. & Canada, Marriott International, told Hotel Business. “Business travel and group meetings are a key part in what drives our business, and the hospitality industry needs to lead the way. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to spend time with folks in person for the first time in 14 months.”
Health and safety measures were in place as soon as one walked into the door. Masks were on, hand sanitizer stations were plenty and CLEAR kiosks were taking attendees’ temperatures before heading into the main ballroom for the general sessions.
During the C-Suite Conversations session, Chip Rogers, president/CEO, American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), moderated a panel that included Carlos Flores, president/CEO, Sonesta International Hotels Corporation; David Kong, president/CEO, Best Western Hotels & Resorts; Jim Alderman, CEO, Americas, Radisson Hotel Group; and Liam Brown, group president U.S. & Canada, Marriott International. They discussed the pandemic, recovery and the challenges they are facing. Here are some takeaways:
- Rogers asked and answered the question: Does business travel actually resume post-Labor Day? “If it does, I think we’re great. If it doesn’t, I think we might be in a little bit of trouble,” he said.
- Flores on how the pandemic has changed how he operates: “It’s really about leading and driving, as well as just making sure that we’re being smart not keeping our eye off the ball of that which is most paramount, which is the health and safety of our employees and guests.”
- Kong on how his company helps its hoteliers survive: “From the get-go, we immediately launched a fee relief program which amounted to about $30 million. And we’ve continued to do that, and now it’s amounting to about $65 million.”
- Kong on business travel: “The companies that used to give us a lot of business suddenly have no business to give to anyone.”
- “I was in London as the lockdown began, running our European, Middle East and Africa operations, and trying to deal with over 100 different countries and with 90% of our hotels closed,” said Brown. “The one thing I think I have learned is to have a deep appreciation and gratitude for the people who work in this business and make it happen on a day-to-day basis.”
- “We’ve seen great improvement now week-over-week and month-over-month, especially April,” said Alderman. “We’re starting to show a lot of June bookings and postponed weddings coming back, [as well as] fall bookings for groups, and small and medium-sized corporate travel.”
- Alderman on the daily reports he’s been getting: “The great ones are the one I get on Saturday morning and what I get on Sunday morning. I want the Mondays through Fridays to start to look as good as that.”
- Flores: “I think we’re gonna see one hell of a summer. The question will be: Will it be the springboard into the fall?”
For the “Main Street Talks” session, Teague Hunter moderated a panel that included Corry Oakes, CEO, OTO Development; David Marvin, founder/president, Legacy Ventures; DJ Rama, president/CEO, Auro Hotels; and Mitch Patel, president/CEO, Vision Hospitality Group Inc. Here are some takeaways:
- Rama: “I ask all the lenders in this room to treat this as a health pandemic; it’s not a business pandemic. We’re cleaning rooms for you and keeping your assets in check. Hopefully, the lenders look at this and see what hotel owners have all gone through…in the times that the toughest ones.”
- Patel on additions to Vision’s portfolio: “In 2019, we opened two hotels. We’ve opened two already this year, and we have five more that will be opening this year.”
- Oakes: “When you go see a lender and say, ‘I want you to give me relief on this line, and let me borrow money to do a new one,’ that’s not a great conversation.”
- Oakes: “We just have to be comfortable being uncomfortable with the uncertainty.”
- Marvin: “I think the underbelly of CMBS has really been exposed here, and it’s just a structural problem.”
Stay tuned for more conference coverage in the 6/15 issue of Hotel Business.