When this year’s NYU International Hospitality Investment Conference kicked off with Loews Hotels & Co. chairman and ceo Jonathan Tisch calling on the hospitality industry to unite to protect Brand USA (an organization dedicated to promoting the U.S. as a travel destination whose funding would be eliminated under the budget proposed by President Trump), it was clear that this sector is ready to take a stand.
Eliminating Brand USA “makes no sense on a policy level,” Tisch said in the event’s opening keynote. “It’s completely at odds with the administration’s own economic goals. It will increase the federal deficit by $510 million over three years. And by reducing international travel to the U.S., it will also widen America’s trade deficit.”
The rest of the conference’s first day was less political, but no less focused on an industry ready to make a stand on issues ranging from the macros of promoting diverse paths to leadership to the micros of what guest-room tech actually drives revenue. Here are some highlights:
- There really aren’t too many brands, at least according to most speakers (or at least, according to a few, there aren’t too many distinctive brands). That’s good news for designers not wanting to repeat themselves! In his remarks at the conference, Marriott Intl. president and ceo Arne Sorenson made it clear he’s open to the idea of even more flags than the 30 his company currently operates. And several major players—Hard Rock Intl., InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) and the Trump Organization—unveiled plans at the conference for new brands, all playing in the midscale market. Red Lion Hotels Corporation relaunched its Signature Inn brand.
- Select-service models will evolve—but not necessarily in ways designers expect. Lower construction and operational costs make this sector red-hot, but, as speakers on the “Select Company: How the Select-Service Continues to Drive ROI and Lure Investment” panel agreed, those properties will have to find ways to cater to guests who might previously have stayed at full-service hotels. Dual-branded projects are one answer, and they won’t always be in separate towers. IHG, for example, is doing some conversions for dual-branded properties that include its Staybridge Suites brand.
- Lifestyle really is a mindset, not a room count or even a property type. That became clear in an interview Boutique Design had with the team behind Margaritaville’s hotels, vacation rental, vacation ownership, active living communities and restaurants. Pat McBride, The McBride Co. ceo and founder, and John Cohlan, Margaritaville Holdings ceo, shared their formula for modulating the brand’s Jimmy Buffett aura into something that’s not kitsch, but is fun. “You can go much more over the top for a restaurant where people spend an hour-and-a-half, than a hotel where they spend days,” says McBride. “But we keep some signature elements, such as vivid colors, in each property—so it’s about 65 percent brand standard and 35 percent unique to each location.” Cohlan added that re-creating the “paradise” suggested in Buffett’s signature song requires tapping into the local idea of an idyll, from clam fishing on the East Coast to mountain vistas in Tennessee.
- Tech is less about high design and more about user-friendliness. On the “Hospitality Technical Evolution: The Hotel of the Future” panel, executives from Best Western Hotels and Resorts, Hilton and Red Lion Hotels Corp. agreed that functional needs to come before fun. Think being able to book a room the same way you choose an airline seat. The game changers in the tech arena? Artificial intelligence that makes understanding guest preferences easier for staff, and the growing presence of the “internet of things.”