Last week, hotel owners, financiers, developers, and all other manner of hospitality professionals congregated at the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, Ga., for the 29th Annual Hunter Hotel Conference. The atmosphere at the event, which took place from March 22 to March 24, was noticeably more upbeat than it was just two months prior at ALIS. Shaking off the “hurry up and wait” feeling that investors were grappling with in January, attendees at Hunter were wheeling and dealing long into the night as they connected with friends and colleagues to make many, many deals.
More than 100—121 to be exact—industry experts spoke at the event, covering topics from active lending to new development to PIPs. High profile speakers, such as Rob Torres, industry director of Travel Google Inc., and Keynote Speaker and chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group Barry Sternlicht, talked to attendees about the future of hospitality. On “Finance Friday,” Mit Shah, CEO and senior managing principal of Noble Investment Group, and Tom Baltimore, president and CEO of Park Hotels & Resorts spoke during the Bharat Shah Leadership Speaker Series.
Among attendees, 40 states and five foreign countries were represented. About 43 percent of attendees carried the title of chairman, CEO, president, partner, or some other version of top executive.
The event started on Wednesday with an event geared toward young hoteliers before seguing into the Opening General Session. There, Bob Hunter, CEO of Hunter Hotel Advisors and founder and co-chair of the Hunter Hotel Investment Conference, greeted attendees. He immediately noted the positive buzz at the conference. “60 percent of owners here today plan to develop a hotel in 2017. That shows a high degree of confidence, by you in our industry. [On the finance side] 92 percent of you tell us you plan to finance something this year,” he said.
Hunter noted that from Hunter Hotel Advisors’ perspective, the lodging industry is in a very good place. “We think market fundamentals remain strong. There is an abundance of capital ready to invest,” he described. From there, he explained that the “pause” the industry had been experiencing regarding development has actually helped the industry kick back into gear. “Prices have reset. Due to the more realistic pricing, buyers are now coming back. The industry is performing very nicely. Your hotels are in excellent condition. The economy is growing,” he added.
Attendees shared Hunter’s enthusiasm. Michael Sonnabent, managing member at New York City-based PMS Realty Capital LLC, said that the conference gives industry professionals an opportunity to connect and make good deals that further everyone’s financial goals. “Most of the year, everyone is in their little silo, they only know what’s going on with their hotels. So when they come together in large groups like this, they find that people who have hotels different parts of country may be having a different experience. These connections help everyone our industry adjust their expectations and get a more realistic view of what’s happening around the country, which helps them make better financial decisions.”
Brand executives were also looking forward to a strong development environment in the years to come. Janis Cannon, senior vice president of upscale brands for Choice Hotels International, said that it’s a great time to be in the hospitality industry. “The forecast is exceptionally bright. Right now, we have a good environment for owners, a good environment for investors, a good environment for operators, and, above all else, a good environment for our guests, not just in terms of the service their receiving, but also in that there are more new hotels in more new locations for them to choose from. Overall, it’s a very positive period within our industry.”