Positive Outlooks Abound at ALIS 2018

Last week at the Americas Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS), nearly 3,000 hospitality professionals converged at the J.W. Marriott at Microsoft Live! in downtown Los Angeles to wheel, deal, and connect with their friends and colleagues in the hotel industry. The mood was light and people were optimistic about continued growth in the years ahead.

But that’s not to say that the industry was not prepared to tackle issues facing hospitality head-on. The Summit’s theme was “Dealing with the New Normal,” which not only encompassed the industry’s growth, but also the challenges it is facing in 2018.

The Summit kicked off with a panel moderated by journalist Kathleen Matthews featuring the insights of three leaders in the travel and tourism industries: Katherine Lugar, president and CEO of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), Thomas Kemp, chairman of the World Travel and Tourism Council, and Susie Grynol, president of the Hotel Association of Canada. Throughout the panel, there was ongoing discussion regarding the shrinking number of tourists visiting the United States and what could be done to attract more travelers. Lugar said, “We’ve got to issue a message that America is open for business. That we want international travelers to come here to our country to fall in love and experience all that we have to offer.”

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The opening session continued with a panel entitled, “The Numbers—What Are We Dealing With & Where Are We Headed?” Experts discussed everything from how changes in tax law would impact the industry, to the cost of customer acquisition and the results of the industry’s push for direct booking. “Brand.com is now way outpacing OTA business, and has been,” said Cindy Estis Green, CEO and co-founder of Kalibri Labs. “The book direct campaign that happened in the last year and a half has been really effective, and the loyalty programs absolutely make a difference. Regardless of whether it’s formal loyalty programs like a point-based one, or the smaller chain ones, it still makes a difference.”

The opening general session included a presentation by Lorraine Sileo, SVP of research and business opportunities at Phocuswright, about how consumers choose where they will stay, as well as insights from journalist Simon Hobbs regarding the new tax bill passed by Republicans in December. It also spotlighted Thomas J. Pritzker, executive chairman, Hyatt Hotels Corporation and chairman and CEO of The Pritzker Organization, who was honored with the ALIS Lifetime Achievement Award.

There was a very strong focus among ALIS attendees on making deals while the deal-making was good. “I think everyone’s schedules have been packed,” Alexander Tisch, EVP of Loews Hotels, told LODGING. “The cycle has lasted a lot longer than people expected, and everyone’s enjoying it. We think we’re seeing the start of a longer cycle, and frankly, that the tax cuts are going to be pretty significant for the industry and may extend the cycle even further.”

Pat Pacious, CEO of Choice Hotels, was similarly optimistic. “From a developer perspective, people are out looking to do deals. Lending is also in a good place—not too restrictive or too out of control. Interest rates continue to be at historic lows from the standpoint of having a favorable environment,” he noted. “I look at all those things as real positives.”

ALIS 2018 was also a year of firsts for the conference. It was the first time the Summit was produced by Northstar Travel Group, which acquired the hotel investment event portfolio from Burba Hotel Network in May of last year. This year also marked the first time that ALIS hosted a Women’s Networking Breakfast. The breakfast, which took place early Tuesday morning, was well attended and featured a panel of female hospitality leaders speaking about the role of women in the hotel industry. It also gave women an opportunity to speak about how to further diversity and open doors for female hotel professionals going forward. “We need to elevate the conversation,” Krissy Gathright, EVP and COO of Apple Hospitality REIT, said. “Look at all the passionate women out here. Think of how empowering and how much more powerful we would be if we could take all of these voices and continue that conversation.”