Collective Approach: Gilda Perez-Alvarado on Turning Challenges Into Opportunities for Growth

Gilda Perez-AlvaradoNearly a year after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic, Gilda Perez-Alvarado took on a new role at JLL as global CEO of the firm’s Hotels & Hospitality Group—a promotion from her previous position as CEO of JLL’s Hotels group for the Americas. Months later, as the summer travel season comes to an end, Perez-Alvarado shared with LODGING that her biggest priority remains leading her team through one of the most challenging times that the industry has faced in modern-day history.

“There has been a tremendous amount of change and challenges that require a different approach to problem solving,” Perez-Alvarado says. In this environment, where every region, market, and hotel transaction face a different reality, Perez-Alvarado recognizes the value of encouraging everyone on her team to have a voice, ensuring that clients receive comprehensive advice from an experienced, knowledgeable, and diverse team rather than an individual or small group. “It’s all about the collective—having the best minds in the field, the best team, and very different perspectives across diverse backgrounds—whether it’s people with experience in different marketplaces, different age groups, different genders, etc.,” she explains. “At the end of the day, it’s making sure that everyone has a strong sense of purpose and that we’re all rolling in the same direction regardless of the noise in the background and the challenges we’re facing—personal or professional.”

Perez-Alvarado, who leads the firm’s environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives in hospitality, says that it’s important to ask questions and help people identify what they need to thrive in various work environments. For instance, many caretakers have struggled during the pandemic to meet both their personal and work obligations. “The workplace needs to be redefined if we’re truly going to be diverse and inclusive,” she says, and that goes for each stage of life employees are in—whether just starting out in their career, taking on the responsibility of caring for a child or loved one, or looking to further develop their skills and expertise. Ultimately, Perez-Alvarado says, happy and productive employees in “an environment where they feel protected and encouraged to be themselves” drive value for clients.

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The pandemic and resulting lockdowns around the world started the conversation of redefining the workplace to the forefront while also raising concerns about the short- and long-term impact of remote work on an industry that relies on in-person gatherings and business travel. Perez-Alvarado, who calls herself “the biggest fan of hybrid work,” sees an opportunity to balance in-person gatherings and remote work in a way that benefits employees, employers, and the hospitality industry. Hybrid work maintains the perks of being able to work remotely while also giving teams the ability to use an office as a community space—a place to exchange ideas and connect on a personal level, she explains. “People are very much enjoying that flexibility of being able to go into the office while being trusted to work remotely at home or anywhere, and I do think that that works incredibly well for the tourism industry. If you’re not tied to a physical place, you have more flexibility to travel.”

Perez-Alvarado notes that as part of JLL’s ESG efforts, the team is actively asking questions about the firm’s impact and direction, including: “How do we design efficient buildings? How do we create flexibility in the workforce? How do we make sure that we’re not taking anything away from the client experience? How do we make sure that we are prepared to answer to another surge in the pandemic? Each region of the world is going through its own journey with ESG, but holistically at JLL, we’re focused on every single component.”

Perez-Alvarado notes that while the U.S. market is headed in a positive direction and investor sentiment is strong among both existing and new players, “we’re not out of the out of the woods yet.” Whether it’s through recapitalization or selling different parts of the capital stack, “we have to get very creative with how we’re approaching transactions; it’s not as simple as just selling a hotel anymore.” In each case, Perez-Alvarado emphasizes the importance of focusing on the individual asset. Is the asset in a market that’s performing well or poorly? Does the hotel rely on corporate travel or transient? Is the owner well-capitalized or looking to exit? “There’s a danger in over-generalizing or oversimplifying things just for the sake of being efficient,” she explains. “Whether an owner wants to sell, refinance, or is seeking advice on how to improve operational margins, it has to be done on a case-by-case basis. Every situation is different, and just as there are investors for every flavor, shape, and size of an asset, any execution, solution, and recommendation require a very specific look and approach based on that asset and that owner’s objectives.”

For investors, Perez-Alvarado says the devil is in the details. “Even two hotels five blocks apart could have very different realities. Not paying attention to those details could jeopardize the investment,” she explains, adding that there are plenty of opportunities for investors who spend time studying those assets and their specific markets. “I’m not discarding any market or any asset right now,” Perez-Alvarado notes. “There’s value to be found in every single asset and every single market—it just needs to be priced correctly.”

Going forward, Perez-Alvarado says that JLL has transitioned out of “emergency response mode” and is actively in “growth mode,” preparing for the short-, medium-, and long-term of what clients need, what makes sense for their business, and what the evolving market is expected to look like. “We are very much focused on growing our business through our bread and butter, which is transactions, but also looking at diversifying our income stream and making sure that we are able to provide the most value to our clients.”

And while the industry recovers, Perez-Alvarado says she looks forward to seeing what fresh, new ideas investors, brands, and leaders bring to the marketplace to add value for every stakeholder.

“What excites me the most right now is seeing innovation from people who are looking at these challenges that we’re facing as major opportunities to redefine our industry.”

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Christine Killion is the editor of LODGING.