HB on the Scene: Industry leaders talk post-COVID changes at AAHOACON23

During the opening general session at AAHOACON23 at the Los Angeles Convention Center, which included a keynote featuring a chat between comedian Hasan Minhaj and AAHOA chairman Neal Patel, five brand leaders took to the stage for an unscheduled panel discussion.

Moderated by TV personality Anthony Melchiorri, the panel featured Julie Arrowsmith, president/interim CEO, G6 Hospitality; Geoff Ballotti, president/CEO, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts; Larry Cuculic, president/CEO, BWH Hotel Group; George Limbert, president, Red Roof; and Keith Pierce, EVP/president, franchise & development, Sonesta International Hotels Corporation.

Melchiorri asked the panel, “Post-pandemic, what has been the biggest change that has surprised you?”

Pierce was the first to respond. “Post-pandemic, we have confronted inflation, macroeconomic issues and bank failures, yet the industry’s performance just continues to strengthen, and that’s just from our strong resilience,” he said. “It was three years ago when we were all sitting in our homes thinking that the world is coming to an end. And here we are where this year will probably be one of the strongest years in the industry.”

Ballotti said that one change during the pandemic that has stuck is that “hot breakfasts at Days Inn and Super 8 really aren’t drivers to their occupancy rate. That was brand standard before COVID. Certainly in the upper-midscale segment, it’s very important to have a hot breakfast as drivers. But there have been a lot of standards that we haven’t had to go back to.”

Cuculic brought up guest expectations, adding, “As ADRs continue to increase, guest expectations change as well.”

Limbert pointed out, “We were hyper-focused on guest satisfaction [before the pandemic], and we should still remain that way.”

Cuculic has also noticed the transfer of assets and wealth from one generation to the next. “It’s the early generations realizing life is short, and it’s time to give the younger generation a chance.”

On the topic of how short-term rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO are affecting the way consumers travel, Arrowsmith said that those guests who choose to stay at an Airbnb “want to come in and be left alone,” adding, “They want to just go in and make themselves at home, they don’t need a concierge or a restaurant [on-site].

Look for more coverage of AAHOACON23 in our post-convention recap newsletter and the May issue of Hotel Business.