ALIS Recap: Hospitality Executives Grapple With Short-Term Challenges and Long-Term Solutions

Jeff Higley, president of The BHN Group, addresses attendees at the 20th ALIS on July 27, 2021.
Jeff Higley, president of The BHN Group, addresses attendees at the 20th ALIS on July 27, 2021. (Photo by Greg Andersen)

Hundreds of hospitality industry professionals convened during the 20th Americas Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS) at the JW Marriott Los Angeles L.A. LIVE from July 26-28, 2021. Concerns around COVID-19, particularly the emergence of the Delta variant, somewhat tempered the sense of optimism that came with the long-awaited return of industry events like ALIS. Throughout the conference floor, attendees buoyantly reconnected with each other in person—all while wearing masks in accordance with Los Angeles County’s recently reinstated indoor mask mandate.

“Uncertainty is certainly the word of the day today and every day for the foreseeable future,” said Jeff Higley, president of The BHN Group, the event’s organizer, during ALIS’s opening general session on Monday, July 26, adding that even the conference could result in new deals as people reconnect, network, and forge new partnerships. “From COVID flare-ups and labor challenges to group business returning massively (we hope), and escalating costs, which all of you owners/operators know all about—there’s still a steep road ahead for the investment community to recover.”

Higley noted the sense of optimism among attendees and their focus on looking forward. “Sure we have concerns, but everyone is looking ahead. Everyone is looking at what we can accomplish over the next six, 12, 18, 24 months, and beyond.”

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Top-of-mind at ALIS this year was the immediate property-level struggle to ramp up hotel staffing levels and fill open positions as demand returns, as well as the wider challenge of retaining talented hospitality employees, promoting diversity and inclusion, and positioning the hospitality industry as one that offers attractive career paths with opportunities for growth.

During the opening general session at ALIS, Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), shared AHLA’s three-pronged approach to address the industry’s labor challenges. First, they conducted focus groups among those actively looking for work across the country, asking whether they would work in hospitality, and if not, what would change their mind, which included better wages, benefits, on-the-job training, and flexibility. The second phase of the plan is launching AHLA’s “Hotels Are Hiring” ad campaign, including a commercial focused in five U.S. markets. The third phase of the plan is creating hiring fairs.

“What we’re trying to do is assemble enough information on what is the best way to attract and hire and retain people in our industry so that we can share that with everybody in our industry,” Rogers said.

Addressing the ongoing climate crisis was another top-of-mind issue for hospitality leaders at ALIS this year. During a media Q&A at ALIS, Leeny Oberg, CFO and EVP, Marriott International, said that while the pandemic has slowed some sustainability efforts from an investment standpoint, at the property level, hotels are continuing to implement measures that reduce waste and improve the efficiency of their operations. When it comes to addressing climate change, Oberg said, “It matters to everybody now. We hear it on the sales side, we hear it from the owners, we hear it from our associates, and we believe it, too,” she said. “We’re all going to have to step it up, and we will.”

Read more of LODGING‘s ALIS 2021 conference coverage here.

 


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Christine Killion is the editor of LODGING.