130 – 2024 Hunter Hotel Investment Conference: Takeaways

by | March 27, 2024

Check out the top 5 takeaways from the 2024 Hunter Hotel Investment Conference and what they mean for hoteliers. Host Ryan Embree gives insight into key topics and conversations from the event for listeners so don’t worry if you weren’t able to attend or mis.

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Episode Transcript

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Ryan Embree:
Welcome to Suite Spot, where hoteliers check in and we check out what’s trending in hotel marketing. I’m your host, Ryan Embree. Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Suite Spot. This is your host, as always, Ryan Embree. We are back here in our content creation studio in our Travel Media headquarters in Maitland, Florida after a busy week at the Hunter Hotel Investment Conference in Atlanta. If you’re watching us on our YouTube page, you could see I don’t have my normal attire because that is how quickly I wasn’t even able to do laundry before I got back to the office to record this episode as this was just such an insightful, jam packed event. I wanted to make sure to get these key takeaways to you as quickly as possible. What such a great event. We’re gonna talk about that later in this episode, but wanted to spend some time just giving some key takeaways from the event, what we were hearing from our panelists, some of the interviews that we’re gonna be putting out there on our social content over the next couple weeks. So make sure if you’re not following Travel Media Group to do so, to get some exclusive insights and interviews and everyone we talk to at the Hunter Hotel Investment Conference. But let’s jump right into it because we’ve got five key takeaways to review. The first one is obviously the name of this is the Hunter Hotel Investment Conference, right? So everyone wants to kind of know what is the state of investment right now. There was a lot of cautious optimism, I would say, from this event and some of the panelists that were speaking so much so that, you know, when asked straight out, you know, whether they would invest right now, a lot of the panelists, majority of them would say yes and answer different types of markets. But it is interesting to see with all these kind of looming factors, whether it’s geopolitical inflation, interest rates, this is an election year, still this type of optimism. And I think what this comes from and stems from is right now to invest in hotels or in properties. If you wait until interest rates are going to fall, everyone’s gonna kind of jump into the ring. So people are trying to be the first one to jump into the pool, get an advantage right now, because again, if interest rates do fall in the second half of 2024, like their expected do, and our panelists are expert panelists had said, you might be late to the party or in a very crowded party and might not have the leverage right now. So I was really surprised with all the optimism, but great to see in a conference like that, the energy strategic partnerships announced, Hotel Equities with trust hospitality have made a big announcement. We actually have an interview with a key stakeholder from Hotel Equities kind of talking about that strategic partnership. So keep an eye out on that. But it was fascinating to hear the opinions on which markets to get into. And I do think that is an interesting trend that we’re seeing right now because some markets, like, Miami and Nashville, we actually spoke to an asset management company that has a couple assets in Nashville saying that they were running so hot that the growth is just not there like it used to be. And it’s interesting because everyone at you know, since the pandemic has been on this steady rate of recovery, but markets like Miami, Nashville, maybe they didn’t dip as low as some of these other populous cities, New York City, San Francisco, dc they are seeing large gains. So it’s interesting to see that kind of normalization come out between markets. It’ll be interesting to see where the investments go. We got to hear from the new AHLA and interim president/CEO, Kevin Carey, who gave us a great update on wins and the advocacy that AHLA continues to do. All the great work that the AHLA foundation is doing to try to get to combat the staffing shortages. Right now, we’re gonna talk about, that was certainly a topic that was talked about at the Hunter Hotel Investment Conference and just felt and resonated. And there’s a couple, we’ve been going through this staffing shortage for so long. There’s, there’s actually some things in our designs with new prototypes and announcements at Hunter that correlate with the staffing shortages and trying to find key efficiencies. A lot of talk about conversions and renovations versus new builds. Panelists from Blackstone was up on stage talking about really how they haven’t invested in any new builds, but rather focused on their assets because it’s just cheaper to renovate a current asset than go out and buy a new one. So really interesting there. One of the panelists had a great line, I’m not sure if I’m gonna get it correct, but saying that we essentially have too much supply and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with these old assets if there’s conversions or if it’s better to just knock them down and start a new, especially with all these new brands that are being announced, which we had the opportunity and privilege to speak to one of those at the Hunter Hotel Conference. But the state of the industry, again, a lot of optimism Right now we’re running really, really hot. And I think that kind of in the back of everyone’s mind with these looming factors, people are weary, but there’s still positive overall consumer sentiment is positive out there. There’s still room for growth in things like groups and meeting business, which a lot of experts are bullish on and think that that’s gonna really, we’re gonna start to see that catch up to the leisure traveler, which has really been carrying the weight of occupancy and demand right now. So, cautious optimism, love the energy though out there. Transactions deals are trying to be had, even with all these kind of storm clouds maybe up ahead, just because there’s those storm clouds doesn’t mean it’s necessarily gonna rain. Key takeaway number two goes to efficiency, the high cost of FF&E staffing shortages. Wages rising in our industry, the focus is now on efficiency for hotels. Owners are looking, brands are designing for owners more efficient designs and prototypes. There were a couple announcements. We had the privilege of being able to head over in Atlanta to the IHG Design Center where they showed us some of their newer brands, Atwell, Garner. And it was interesting to see how efficiencies were built into their concepts. One of the ones that I found absolutely fascinating, such a smart move is connecting their front desk to their F&B outlet. So they would have a single employee or two employees be able to man both the front desk as well as the bar with some F&B, some small F&B options as an added additional revenue source for the hotel. But it really cut down on the number of staff that might be able to, that you would have to essentially hire or put full-time at a position, you know, smaller designs in the room, less square footage to make it more efficient for housekeeping to be able to fit more rooms into a specific property if you have obviously a smaller room there, figuring out ways to become more efficient. We’ve talked about that a lot on this podcast of are your employees, are your associates spending the time that is most useful to them to help improve the guest experience? So brands have have to balance that, right? They have to balance the guest experience. I don’t wanna make the room too small where it, where it’s actually gonna impact the guest experience, but I don’t wanna make it so large that the owners aren’t going to be happy or franchise ultimately that brand. So it was a, it was an interesting balance to hear, but I think that’s really in response to how long this staffing shortage has been going on. This is not something that was a six months, this is a trend now that’s happened two years, and it’s impacting the way that brands are designing new prototypes for their lobbies, for their rooms. IHG also has a really cool engineering lab where they look at FF&E they break down furniture to see how they can get the most out of their furniture to standardize across their brand. Which is really interesting concept because again, you know, with the high cost of FF&E right now, if you can tell an owner that we’ve done our research and data and actually have a lab in order to create this, the most efficiency you can sleep well at night, knowing that investment is taken care of. So I thought that was absolutely brilliant by IHG hats off to them. We actually have a interview at the IHG Design center that we’ll be releasing, so keep an eye out for that was such a pleasure to be able to meet their team and all the new and exciting things happening over there. Key takeaway number three, I feel like I’ve, I’ve talked about this at almost every conference. It’s a hot topic technology Hunter hosted a fantastic session called Beyond the Hype, demystifying AI and its impact on our future. This was presented by a former Google employee, their first Chief Decision Scientist who was brilliantly kind of broken down into AI and, and where we are in that spectrum of helping our organizations. We hear a lot of these panelists talk about, you know, we need to implement technology, but it’s really just broad views and there’s some things right off the bat where AI and technology are gonna be able to help us. And we’ve seen efficiencies like we talked about in that already. We had, we also were able to visit the Reverb by Hard Rock downtown Atlanta and actually did a spotlight series on the property and they shared some ways that they implemented technology into the guest experience, right? But some of these panelists talked about how this is gonna help on the staffing side, but I really think this session brought to light how far away we still are from completely replacing our associates because of how subjective our industry and the situations that we come across with guests are from day to day, somebody comes in to our front lobby checks in and we see that they’ve had a bad day, their flight was delayed, they came in light, it’s raining outside, and that associate behind the front desk says, you know what? I’m just gonna make their day a little bit better. I’m gonna go ahead and give them an upgrade. We can feel that that’s genuine empathy that a human being has a machine or AI learning might not be able to see that, might not realize that would make a stay, right? And, and it’s those experiences that we see and hear about online in our guest reviews on social media, all of those places online. So with someone, when you replace that, that human touch behind the front desk in those subjective situations, you might not always come out with the right outcome. And you know, the next person in line that comes in, there might not be an upgrade available for them. So at the end of the day, the really key takeaway from that session was talking about is your outcome is only gonna be as good as the data that you put in. I thought it was a great lesson learned, but it also shed a light, I think, on how far we are from completely turning over the keys and service to AI right now. And it’s gonna continue to be the hotels that focus on service that are going to see real dividends online because being able to provide exceptional service will raise your hotel above the competition. You know, there are many aspects of service right now in other industries, restaurant FMB, right now that are falling. So it’s going to be the businesses that focus on service and provide excellent customer service that are going to beat out competitors, you know, as simple as it is. Key takeaway number four, extended stay. So we’ve heard in the news a lot of new brands and extended stay, this has been the darling, they had a whole panel on it about extended stay. We had the opportunity to talk to Isaac Lake from Hilton, the brand leader at LivSmart Studios. Isaac had talked about all of the data and research that Hilton had done before releasing this new extended stay product out there and believed that demand is out there and even though it is a crowded space, we had a panel full of extended stay brands across the industry, but yet every single one of those panelists agreed there’s still tons of demand and the demand is gonna come from non extended stay hotels. First it was traveling nurses. Now that we see the infrastructure bill, you know, start to come to fruition, we’re gonna see more construction crews. So the opportunity is there. Hilton is obviously taking a huge jump among other brands that are now releasing some new brands. It’ll be interesting to see if this segment, this extended stay segment continues to be kind of like I said, the darling of the ball here. It certainly was a big conversation. We’ll see how many deals get done out of Hunter that are extended stay versus non extended stay. But you think about the extended stay guest experience, and I think it’s really important. You know, you think about having kitchenettes or, or full kitchens inside of your hotel if you’re an extended stay hotel. It’s a really unique experience than it is to non extended stay. And that extended stay traveler might be looking for something different in that experience. So when they go online, they visit your social media, they see your online review sites, make sure you’re painting a really good picture of what an extended stay looks like at that property. Maybe pictures of guest cooking directions and locations to nearest grocery stores. Right? One of the things we love to do as hoteliers is put of all the great restaurants around our location, you know, it’s one of the most frequently asked questions from our guests extended stay. They’re gonna be there for a while. They might want to know that restaurant information, but they also know that they’re gonna have to be cooking a couple times, if not, you know, multiple times during their stay. So providing them with that information, giving an idea of the type of common space, that was a big point in the design conversation that we had. Having a area where you don’t feel like you’re just kind of sitting in your room all day is a common area that you can work, you can connect, you can relax with other guests that are also in that situation. Another a great post that to put, looking for opportunities to network with the guest next to you that’s also there for an extended period of time. So very interesting Paint that extended stay picture if you are an extended stay hotel, because it, it certainly has some different aspects to it and like I said, really interested to see if it continues to be just red hot as we move into Q2 in the second half of 2024. Fifth and final key takeaway from the Hunter Hotel Investment Conference is this just the place to be? I don’t know if it was just celebrating the 35th Annual Hunter Hotel conference. We had Sarah Moss on the podcast that talked about that. This was a conference that started with just a couple hundred people. Now it’s grown to literally thousands. The energy was unmatched. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen at an event. The sessions that they had from experts, the entertainment that they had Oz Pearlman, the renowned mentalist was so much fun to watch. They had puppies and brews, the receptions done by Wyndham and Hilton. The Marriot Marquiswas a fantastic venue to host the event. I know that, that they’ve done that for years. But honestly, if you are a hotelier operator, this isnt a great event and I would encourage you to certainly research it, can find information on their website. Hope we have the pleasure of attending again in 2025, but want to thank the Hunter team and their entire staff for welcoming the Suite Spot. Like I said, we are gonna have exclusive interviews for you from brand leaders, industry experts, and all types of insights from the Suite Spot. So hope you’ll join us, follow us subscribe. As always, my name is Ryan Embree. Thank you for listening and we will talk to you next time on The Suite Spot to join our loyalty program. Be sure to subscribe and give us a five-star rating on iTunes. Suite Spot is produced by Travel Media Group. Our editor is Brandon Bell with Cover Art by Bary Gordon. I’m your host Ryan Embree, and we hope you enjoyed your stay.