5 trends to watch from the Hotel Data Conference
5 trends to watch from the Hotel Data Conference
17 AUGUST 2017 8:14 AM

From eclipse rate hikes to a new big-hotels boom and everything in between, I share a few of the big trends that emerged from last week’s conference.

Last week was the Hotel Data Conference, the annual data-driven hotel industry conference sponsored by us here at Hotel News Now and our parent company, STR. Since it was our conference, I had a good vantage point in most of the sessions, and I jotted down some notes on topics that kept coming up in general sessions, breakout panels and even in data conversations. 

It’s not gossip, unfortunately—the truth is that nobody ever gives me good gossip–just a couple interesting takeaways on topics that resurfaced again and again last week:

Apparently, this eclipse is a bigger deal than I thought: If I had a dollar for every time someone said “eclipse” last week, I’d be able to buy at least a pair of fancy eclipse-viewing goggles. Yes, I know the eclipse is a big deal, but I don’t think I realized how big a deal it may be for hoteliers. STR’s Carter Wilson shared an interesting statistic in his opening presentation, showing that there are just under 1,400 hotel rooms in what’s called the “band of totality,” or the swath of the country that will be able to see 100% of the eclipse this Monday. And a whopping 89% of the rooms in that band are in non-urban locations, meaning that “there’s a lot of rural hotels … that stand for some huge upside,” as Wilson put it.

Silly me, I thought that since the thing’s gonna happen in the middle of the afternoon that everyone would just walk outside and take a look, but now it seems I need to host a party or pay $1,076 at the 1st Interstate Motel in Fort Caspar, Wyoming, to experience it fully. Stay tuned—we’ll be sure to share hotel results after the big event, provided we can all still see.

But cancellation policy rumblings are set to be an even bigger deal: 48-hour cancellation policies are becoming the new norm for Marriott International and Hilton hotels, and this trend will only snowball, mark my words. 

Owners are leading the charge here. Mit Shah, senior managing principal and CEO of Noble Investment Group, sat on the “Beers with the bosses” panel and was adamant that the industry needed to initiate a sea change on this front and follow the example of the airline industry by requiring guests to pay for rooms at the time of booking and impose cancellation fees like airlines do. 

“Absolutely it is coming,” he said. “It needs one major brand, and all the others will follow. … It will be transformational.”

Are big, full-service hotels making a comeback? I don’t know if you’d call it a comeback, but STR President and CEO Amanda Hite shared data showing the next year will be a big one for big hotels. The 1,048-room Fairmont Austin and the 1,205-room Marriott Marquis Chicago will both open this fall, and Hite said in 2018, eight hotels are scheduled to open that each have at least 50,000 square-feet of meeting space.

“To add eight of those in one year will add a lot of new supply,” she said.

The “Trump effect” still lingers …: Speakers throughout the conference talked about how policies and regulations set by the current U.S. administration under President Trump have had varying impacts on the hotel industry. At the beginning of the year, the chatter was about the proposed travel ban and what might happen there. At this point in the year, speakers said many are happy that the stock market is growing and corporate confidence seems high, but uncertainty lingers around lack of policy in other arenas.

“The Trump effect comes into the conversation for sure,” Hite said. “At the end of 2016, there was a lot of optimism in our industry for what could happen on the policy side to spur growth, but there’s no confidence that’s going to be able to happen. You have to see some movement, and we haven’t seen movement.”

She did add that she and others noticed international inbound travel to the U.S. seems to still be strong, and the country didn’t see visitor numbers drop as might have been earlier anticipated.

… but barring anything major, a recession isn’t in sight: Adam Sacks, president of Tourism Economics, gave attendees a pretty good assurance that the U.S. hotel industry is pacing well against gross domestic product growth, which is set to notch about 2.2% growth this year. In turn, consumer spending (and confidence) and business investment is picking up.

“Both the U.S. consumer market and corporate market are both on pretty solid footing,” he said. “We don’t see anything in leading indicators or in fundamental issues with the U.S. economy or interest rates that would cause us to be concerned about a recession in the near-term horizon.”

But don’t get too cocky. Back to that Trump effect—Sacks said that while we’re on good footing now, “the greatest uncertainty indeed is on the policy front.”

Keep your eye on Hotel News Now’s Daily Update for continued coverage of the Hotel Data Conference and click here to see all our coverage from the event.

As usual, I’d love to hear your feedback. Leave a comment below. Or you can email me at sricca@hotelnewsnow.com or find me on Twitter @HNN_Steph.

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