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Focusing on Opportunity

At this week’s ALIS, hoteliers keenly understood the profit potential in 2014. Here’s what happening at this event.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
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We already know here at Hotel Interactive® industry fundamentals are hitting record levels and we’ve been shouting about hoteliers need to push their rates and make bold decisions for more than a year now. Fortunately it seems as if the rest of the hotel universe finally understands that 2014 will be an incredible year.

According to a poll taken before attendees arrived for this week’s Americas Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS) here in Los Angeles this week, 100 percent responded they expect to see industry benchmarks such as ADR rise in 2014.

That positive attitude has changed up the usual dynamics we traditionally see at typical industry financial conferences. No longer is everyone spending the entire event being vocally pessimistic while quietly making optimistic moves behind the scenes.

Rather, this year's ALIS seems to see attendees focused on smart forward thinking where people are discussing how to leverage opportunity, instead of pretending opportunity doesn't exist.

It’s a real nice change of pace to have folks looking to empower themselves for future success rather than think of things that they are unable to accomplish. And here at ALIS that state of mind is playing itself out with more people being proactive and looking to get deals done. Expect to see those results play themselves out this year with more hotel sales and new construction starts.

Even the hotel CEOs spent their time on stage discussing issues other than the state of the industry, which made for a nice change of pace. So instead of CEOs chatting about the strong fundamentals they're seeing now and not providing any deep substantive content, this year three major hotel company leaders discussed the one big issue that is each of their minds and how it’s changing the way they plan to do business.

First up was Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott International, who is thinking a lot more on just exactly who is the traveler of tomorrow, and what is it they desire from a hotel experience.

And according to Sorenson, the rising millennial traveler is going to force hotel companies to make major changes in how they relate to the guest. If not, that potential guest is going to stay with a hotel company that is more in tune to them.

The first problem hoteliers need to confront, said Sorenson, is that younger travelers are not brand loyal in the same way as older generations of travelers. He explained there is less permanence in their lifestyle choices and that philosophy follows this generation to the brands with which they interact.

This is making it so hoteliers need to more fully understand the wants and desires of this generation’s guest. Further, everything is exposed about the hotel experience as this generation is more seriously social than any other, giving hotels both the opportunity to succeed or fail depending on how they treat the individual customer by providing them with their wants and needs as each individual sees it.

“We must be their friends in conversation,” said Sorenson.

To get a glimpse of how these changes will play out in the hotel room, Marriott will be showcasing the future of its company’s designs initiatives at the upcoming HI Connect® Design this April 2-4 in Nashville, TN.

Meanwhile, Fritz Van Paasschen, President and CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, clearly understands this trend and is focusing on the importance of mobile as the provider of personalized travel experiences.

“We are living in times of unprecedented change, technology is changing everything from brand models, to social lives, to society,” said Van Paasschen. “We are connected all the time and soon it will be wearable and every object and appliance will be online.”

Van Paasschen said hoteliers must to transform the guest experience and that mobile will play a critical role in those changes. “We have to be high tech for a human touch. We have to give them the remote control to handle experiences through an app.”

To that end, Starwood is developing an app that has more universal touch points focusing on the guest experience before they arrive and places within the city they are visiting.

“We have scalability for revenue manage robust Big Data offer engines. We can tie into loyalty programs and hotels and [hotel] associates to deliver experiences. A guest should feel special and recognized even in a country they have never been to before. We are building a walled garden keeps disrupters out,” he said.

Finally, Hilton Worldwide’s President & CEO Chris Nassetta focused on how the hotel industry can encourage more visitors to the United States. He shared the critical nature of this export calling for the U.S. government to ease the difficulty for foreigners to obtain visas, modernize the process and create a more welcoming entry experience for those travelers coming to the United States.

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