NYU Day Two: Hoteliers talk tech, experiential focus
NYU Day Two: Hoteliers talk tech, experiential focus
07 JUNE 2017 8:43 AM

Editors recap the second day of the NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference with takeaways, quotables and highlights from the event.

NEW YORK—“Proactive” has been the name of the game at this year’s NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference.

Speakers kicked the conference off on Day One with an upbeat attitude about how today’s current hotel operating and transacting environment is still full of opportunity, and Day Two was more of the same.

Talk turned to big-picture guest-facing trends on the horizon, including technology innovations and wellness, and much of the conversation focused on labor issues. CEOs from across the industry spectrum spoke about the importance of investing in the hospitality workforce by treating employees well, not just with wages and benefits, but with other perks, too.

Brands are taking proactive steps on the innovation front by launching and refining brands even more to stand out from the pack. Day One’s news about Wyndham Hotel Group’s new Trademark soft brand was followed by two brand announcements on Day Two: The official naming of Trump Hotels Group’s new midscale/upper midscale brand, American Idea, and Red Lion Hotel Corporation’s relaunch of the former Vantage Hospitality Group Signature Inn brand, a boutique-style option for upper-economy properties.

Here are some highlights from Day Two of the conference.

Day Two recap video

Photo of the day

The Industry Real Estate Finance Advisory Council (IREFAC) awarded its annual C. Everett Johnson Award to Ian Schrager, chairman and CEO of the Ian Schrager Company. Pictured from left: Laurence Geller, chairman of Geller Capital Partners; Schrager; and Neil Shah, president and COO of Hersha Hospitality Trust. (Photo: Bryan Wroten)

Quotes of the day
“Cricket is hard to follow, you don’t know what the rules are, it’s complicated. It feels like you’re there for a long time, which is what 2% to 3% RevPAR growth feels like.”
--Mit Shah, CEO and senior managing principle, Noble Investment Group, on Tuesday’s “The leaders check in – Part two,” talking about how the hotel industry cycle is more comparable to cricket than to baseball.

“Technology is a great tool, but it can never replace the personal touch.”
--James Murren, chairman and CEO, MGM Resorts, on Tuesday’s “The leaders forum” panel.

Tweet of the day

Editors’ takeaways

Two different types of “experience” continued to be hot topics on the second day of the NYU conference in the Big Apple: the experiences guests are seeking; and the experiences hotel owners, operators and developers are hoping to achieve.

The former is all about providing travelers with customizable visits. The disconnect comes when the question of if that mentality needs to be an across-the-board, one-size-fits-all approach, or if the customized experience can itself be customizable based on property type and guest demographic. The short answer: Yes. The consensus is that it’s OK for hoteliers to treat business guests checking in at 10 p.m. for what they hope is less than a 10-hour stay different than guests camping out at a resort for a week or two. One can be driven by technology in which interaction with hotel employees is minimal. The others can be driven by employee interaction—but technology also has to be a center piece. The consensus: Do what’s best for the individual property and the guests.

The latter is all about trying to figure out the best opportunities for buying, selling, building and renovating hotels. Regardless of the timing, there’s always a risk regardless of which of those four steps an hotelier takes. The best advice from the halls of the Marriott Marquis has been simple: Don’t worry about the macro environment … do what’s best for the market and property in question.

The obvious similarities in those two scenarios are clear. The bottom line is it’s good to understand the over-arching trends for the overall industry, but if you don’t understand what’s happening in your market and at your front desk, well, perhaps it’s time you seriously consider checking out.
—Jeff Higley, Editorial Director

Dovetailing off Jeff’s takeaway above, I agree this year’s conference was all about experience, whether it was brand executives talking about new distinctions they’re offering, or owners and developers talking about new ways they’re seeking financing or franchising opportunities. Compared to some major investment conferences, where there’s a clear trend or worry emerging from the conversation (maybe it’s supply, maybe it’s new brands), this conference showed that there’s plenty of room for experience and innovation across the spectrum of the industry.

In particular, I noticed many speakers talking about technology innovations popping up in guest-facing scenarios and behind the scenes. Sure, we’ve all seen the robot butler who delivers drinks and contemplated what self-driving cars might mean for the hotel industry, but this year more than ever before, I heard top-level executives really engaging around the technology conversation, not just leaving it to the tech nerds at the HITEC conference. People talked about fingerprint technology replacing keys and payment systems, guest-direct, real-time communications options, customized hotel art that could display a child’s artwork¬ or special photo and robotic dishwashers that really streamline kitchen operations. All in all, it’s refreshing to hear people finding ways to innovate in any climate.
—Stephanie Ricca, Editor in Chief

The second day of NYU couldn’t match the first in terms of breaking news, but the overall tone of the conference continued to be that now is the time to make some moves. One group of panelists noted that there are reasons to believe now is the time to buy due to the abundant access to inexpensive capital.

Accessibility of debt should provide a tailwind for the private equity players primarily, but panelists agreed that REITs also have grown significantly more active in its search for new assets after sitting out part of 2015 and all of 2016, with many opting to buy its own stock instead of new hotels.

The one problem, though, Hersha president and COO Neil Shah pointed out, is that there may not be many high-quality assets trading at attractive pricing from a REIT perspective, and REIT executives will instead have to find hotels with potential that can still be unlocked.
—Sean McCracken, News Editor

Guests overall are looking to have their technology needs met during their stays, but the CEOs during the “Leaders forum” had somewhat differing views on how to best approach implementing the latest and greatest tech.

My guess is, at minimum, every guest wants a decent Wi-Fi signal and a flat screen, one offering slightly better than a basic cable package. Beyond that, hoteliers who offer leading-/bleeding-edge technology, from experimenting with in-room smart speakers to even just keyless entry of guest rooms, are catering to smaller subsets of guests.

At the same time, however, hoteliers are now learning how to use these pieces of technology, when it isn’t in as high demand, so that they will hopefully have perfected their uses when the devices might become more commonly used and expected.

Throughout the CEOs’ discussion, the theme kept returning to the core concept of making sure technology is aimed at the guest and delivers as promised.

On top of that, hoteliers shouldn’t lose sight of their need to deliver on their mission of hospitality by being too focused on implementing new devices. Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger shared an important thought: “If it isn’t about great people doing great, dependable, reliable hospitality service, it doesn’t matter. I really tend to focus more on whatever we create, it needs to be executed flawlessly.”
—Bryan Wroten, Senior Reporter

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