I Just returned from the 33rd Annual NYU International Hospitality Investment Conference, and this year there were a number of issues on the table. Before I get into those, let me tell you, that the mood of the more than 1,800 hoteliers, developers, and other assorted attendees this year came across as much more relaxed than at this show last year. That’s to be expected as the industry as whole has started to see the light at the end of tunnel of the recession beginning to emerge slowly, but steadily.
It’s hard to pick out one theme from this year’s event. Whereas in years past a definite buzz would center around one specific topic, such as lending did last year, this year’s event provided a number of topics on the minds of hoteliers. I would look to two, in particular, that maybe stood out a little more than the rest—international development and infrastructure.
At the CEO Check-In during the first day of the conference, brand leaders spent a great deal of time discussing the global nature of their companies and the industry as a whole these days. Insisting they are not simply U.S. companies but global companies much of the discussion focused on opportunities in places such as China, India, and Brazil. The talk extended into the lobbies of the Marriott Marquis where attendees brought up the same theme in my discussions with them.
One of the more interesting aspects of this trend that I heard from hoteliers, developers, and financial analysts alike was their take on Europe. Many suggested that Europe could still be considered an emerging market mainly because we’re seeing what was termed a re-invention of the market as brands are beginning to infuse the continent by converting many of the independents that had made up the basis of the market for so long.
Meanwhile, Loews Hotels’ CEO Jonathan Tisch gave attendees some food for thought during his conference opening speech. Tisch discussed what he believes to be the next great challenge facing the travel industry—the need to update America’s aging transportation infrastructure. As the U.S. travel sector continues to work to promote itself as a destination for the increasing number of international travelers, Tisch said the U.S. also must makes its transportation infrastructure better suited to accommodate those travelers.
As Tisch put it, “As economies around the world mature and prosper, millions of additional people now have the means to travel—either for business or leisure... At this moment of incredible opportunity, the process of traveling is becoming more stressful, less convenient, and more nerve-racking...When you take a step back and look at the big picture, you quickly realize the entire U.S. hospitality and travel industry faces a serious problem: Our aging infrastructure simply cannot handle today's demand for travel.”
While this is not only a hotel industry problem, Tisch said it was still incumbent upon hoteliers to participate in working to get upgrades done, as an improved system will only serve to benefit all participants in the travel industry.
Were you at the NYU International Hospitality Investment Conference this week? If so, what’s your take on these issues? Or, did you come across any other issues or themes that you feel should be discussed? I’d like to hear your thoughts.