Hunter Day One: Don’t expect up cycle to end soon
Hunter Day One: Don’t expect up cycle to end soon
23 MARCH 2017 8:44 AM

Editors recap the opening day of the Hunter Hotel Investment Conference with takeaways, quotables and more highlights from the event.

ATLANTA—The game’s not over yet.

That was the consensus of speakers and attendees on the first day of the Hunter Hotel Investment Conference, during which panels focused on the state of and future of the hotel industry.

In his welcoming remarks, conference founder and Hunter Hotels CEO Bob Hunter recalled a baseball analogy he used at last year’s event to answer the question, “Where are we in the cycle?”

In 2016, he said, the industry was in the seventh inning of the first game of a doubleheader. Continuing that analogy, he said this year, the industry is in the first inning of the second game of the doubleheader.

“And we won the first game,” Hunter said.

Tyler Morse, CEO and managing partner at MCR Development, took it a step further. Next year, he said, the industry might find itself in the 10th inning—of an 18-inning game.

Translation: Don’t expect an end soon to the up cycle that the industry is in now. Polls of conference attendees show that most expect more of the same or better in terms of hotel performance in 2017.

Day 1 recap video

Photo of the day

Eric Lent, VP Americas, full-service hotels and F&B solutions at IHG, took hotel industry media on a tour of the newly renovated Crowne Plaza Atlanta Midtown during a break at the Hunter Hotel Investment Conference. The property is testing various new public space and guestroom elements to appeal to business and leisure travelers. Here Lent demonstrates the “beer button” in a shared workspace area where guests can place a quick call to the bar for a drink. (Photo: Stephanie Ricca)

Quotes of the day
“It’s a good business. We’re all participating in a great ecosystem that is going to last for a long time.”
—Tyler Morse, CEO and managing partner, MCR Development, speaking on the 2017 outlook for hotel transactions on the “State of the industry” panel.

“If I come back in another life, I want to be a public lodging REIT. It’s a pretty good gig.”
—Dave Johnson, president and CEO, Aimbridge Hospitality, during the “President’s panel.”

“Supply is always a concern, but what we like to say is, it’s not necessarily the supply by itself, it’s the pace at which supply comes into market at the same time. It’s the absorption. When the dam breaks and supply comes in at once, that’s always a concern.”
—James Merkel, president and CEO of Rockbridge Capital.

Tweet of the day

Data point of the day: 40%
Teague Hunter, president of Hunter Hotel Advisors, said the U.S. hotel industry was down 40% in transaction volume in 2016 compared to 2015. Speakers on the “State of the industry” panel all agreed that 2016 was a tough year for transactions, but 2017 is shaping up to be better.

Editors’ takeaways

The U.S. hotel industry has maintained an optimistic outlook on business for months, even years, now, and the mood at this conference is no exception. I asked an audience poll question during this morning’s “President’s panel,” and the vast majority of the audience—and the brand and ownership company presidents on stage—responded by saying “there are good days and bad days, you just have to stay on top of it.” Speakers on that panel talked about how the industry at large has carved out a comfortable niche—supply may be growing in some spots, but demand for hotel rooms is higher than ever. Construction costs may be rising, but the ROI of select-service hotels remains strong. In other words, the hotel industry is making the best of what it has right now.

On the topic of transactions, speakers on the “State of the industry” panel were quick to point out that transaction volume this year so far already is looking better than it did in 2016. Tyler Morse, CEO and managing partner of MCR Development, said the United States continues to be attractive to foreign investment dollars, calling it “a flood of capital across all asset classes.”

And of course, some of the day’s talk turned to U.S. President Donald Trump and whether his administration was having a positive or negative net impact so far on the hotel industry. The overall sentiment: positive, especially on the topic of corporate confidence.
—Stephanie Ricca, Editor in Chief

The confidence expressed on the stage during the first day of the conference seemed to be, at least in part, the product of setting aside the things that hoteliers can’t change (macroeconomics) and focusing on the things they can do better than anyone else.

One example of that can be seen in the battle for bookings with online travel agencies.

Hotel executives on the “President’s panel” posed the question: When guests book with OTAs, who owns the guest: the hotel or the OTA?

Keith Cline, president and CEO of La Quinta Holdings, answered for the panel: “Third-party distribution channels only own the customer if we let them.”

That’s because third-party distributors cannot provide experiences to guests, he said, and experiences are what drive loyalty.
—Robert McCune, Managing Editor

Rob Torres, managing director of travel at Google, had some interesting insights about how technology and travelers have changed and adapted to each other during his presentation, “Google’s Travel Vision.” He pointed out that it used to be if someone wanted to take a trip, he or she would call up the hotel, airline or travel agent to make their reservation, trusting the person and company on the other end would give them exactly what they needed at the price they needed. Now, with the Internet, direct-booking sites, online travel agencies and countless travel hacks, travelers have an overwhelming amount of information and options at their fingertips.

Torres spoke about how Google is working on advancing artificial intelligence to the point of teaching their computers to learn what guests want and like to do when they travel based on previous trips, stored information and information requests. Hoteliers will need to keep abreast of this and other advances in AI as they are incorporated into the travel experience to better attract guests and improve their experiences.

Even if it’s not something hoteliers view as something they need to be on the cutting edge of, it’s where travel technology and guests are headed, so they won’t want to be left behind.
—Bryan Wroten, Senior Reporter

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