If there’s one message that came out of this week’s Americas Lodging Investment Summit, it’s this: Deals will happen as long as a hotel has a positive cash flow and there’s an experienced buyer in place.
The fundamentals of the hotel industry are such that, even as simple as the message sounds, positive net operating income for the past 12 months and a savvy operation are not easy things to deliver. But the good thing is that for the first time since 2008, there’s hope. There’s optimism. It’s more than just smoke and mirrors happening in the hotel industry.
Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels said earlier this week that hotel transactions will increase another 25% this year. There have been commercial mortgage-backed securities deals closed—just 18 months after the CMBS model was given up for dead among hoteliers. And, I’d be surprised if even one person in the crowd of 2,200 attendees didn’t mutter something about average daily rates turning positive during 2011.
There’s certainly a foundation for the industry to build upon—namely room-night demand. Putting heads in beds is what it all boils down to. Jan Freitag of STR said United States hotel-room demand during 2010 surpassed the 1 billion room-night mark. In July alone, more than 100 million room nights were sold, making it the best month ever for room demand. Occupancy remains below 60%, which means the old adage that ADR can’t be aggressively raised unless occupancy is above 60% remains true.
So, there was plenty of hope that 2011 is going to bring back the good times for the hotel industry. I’m hoping there’s not a false sense of security. There was an air of confidence and relief at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront and at all of the venues where the many events surrounding the conference took place.
Certainly everyone knows in the back of their minds that the environment is really nothing more than just above bearable at this point. They know the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation isn’t done taking over banks. They know that while the number of hotel workouts has dropped, there are plenty of them still out there. They know the big deals that are taking place are being done by real-estate investment trusts that are required to spend the money. They know the online travel agents are creating too much debate in the industry, regardless of whether they view those entities as friends or foes. They know the performances of hotels in the nation’s tertiary markets are by and large unimpressive. And they know many prime properties that should be on the selling block are bogged down on the balance sheets of banks handcuffed by government regulators who seem intent on not allowing any action to take place.
But even with all of the downsides, the industry is upbeat. After more than two years of nesting and being low-key, it’s time to bust out the happy juice. Let’s just make sure we drink it responsibly—and I know that’s easier said than done.