Numbers don’t lie. Currently, they’re saying hotels are on a major tear, hitting all-time highs in occupancy and RevPAR. As president and COO of research firm STR, Amanda Hite has a front row seat to the industry’s current record-setting performance. In the midst of so many interested parties turning to STR to gauge where things are and where they’re heading, the company recently hosted a sold-out crowd to its annual Hotel Data Conference in Nashville. “With 515 registered attendees, there were a lot of people I didn’t get to see this year, but I guess that’s the price of growth,” she says.
From what I heard at the Hotel Data Conference, the lodging industry is in the middle of a five-year long party. When will the music end? Fundamentally, there is nothing to show us today that we need to be worried for the next two to three years. The average occupancy level nationwide is 73.5 percent. That’s unbelievable. It’s hard to imagine these numbers continuing to grow every month and yet they do, and that’s because the fundamentals are so strong. Now, if there is an event, this could change on a dime. And if you start to see banks easing up and the money flowing a little easier so more development happens, then that could impact things too, but at the rate that the supply is coming in today, it doesn’t concern us.
How did you get your start at STR? Randy [Smith] and Mark [Lomanno] hired me in 2006 without having a position open. They said, “We’re going to figure it out.” We were in a period of extreme growth, similar to where we are today. I was the head of research at the Nashville Chamber of Commerce and didn’t have a hotel background, but I quickly learned the business. The first real project I worked on was launching STR Global. Since then, every time something came up where we couldn’t figure it out or we were having a problem or we needed somebody to spend time on something that was new, I was always the one raising my hand. I wasn’t afraid if I didn’t know the answer because I had a good team of people to help me figure it out. That approach put me in the position to become president of STR.
Do you think the lodging industry is playing catch up when it comes to tech innovations? I would say there are companies that are ahead of the curve and there are those that move slower. We see this at STR with the properties that write out their data on a piece of paper and fax it to us every week. This industry has a range of technology needs, and companies like ours have to work extra hard to find the right balance while evolving our business. It’s hard to move to an online platform when we’re still dealing with faxes and print outs.
Does it make sense to go straight to mobile then? The companies that use our data want to be able to slice and dice it, comparing everything with everything else. And they want to do it online on a web platform. But we have to make sure that anyone using this data can’t run a report that isolates a single property. That’s because the confidentiality of our clients’ data is of the utmost importance to us and that is the foundation of our business. Sometimes this makes it a little harder to deliver technology, in that we have to do a lot of checks to make sure that people are not trying to game the system.
Where does STR’s future growth lie? When we think about our growth for the future, we have three buckets we talk about. The first is having the best data for our clients so they can make effective business solutions. Then, we have the analysis products like our advisory services that are powered by the data. Finally, we have our new sector analysis product that leverages our benchmarking program for other industries around the world.
When it comes to new products, our latest offering is Food and Beverage STAR. And we don’t have the product to market yet, but we are working on a Casino STAR Report that offers data analysis and benchmarking of casino operations for the hotel rooms revenue side of the casino.
In so many sectors of the economy, it’s amazing how much data is available once you dig in. That’s the age in which we live in today. All you hear about is big data. No matter the industry or where you work, there’s so much data in today’s world that you can analyze. It’s getting to the point where you have to identify what makes the most sense and make data-driven decisions that can affect the business in a positive way. There are always going to be millions of data points in any industry to look at, but the key is finding where you can effectively make better business decisions on data points.