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An Energizing Week in Hotel Business

The first full week of June was a busy one. It started on Sunday night, June 3, with the kickoff to The NYU International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference, organized by the NYU School of Professional Studies, at the Marriott Marquis in New York City, where for the next few days, industry executives and media professionals mingled to discuss lodging development, investment and finance, among other topics. This was followed by the Boutique & Lifestyle Leaders Association’s (BLLA) annual Boutique Hotel Investment Conference, also held in Manhattan, at The Times Center. But wait, there’s more, as they say in late-night infomercials: Hotel Business and The Wall Street Journal partnered to host the latest in the HB Roundtable Series, “Culture Shift: Working in 2018 and Beyond,” held on June 7, at WSJ’s headquarters in the Big Apple.

With all of the meetings and sessions and interviews and events, one would think I would be exhausted. And though physically I felt a little tired, I’ve never been more energized about what I do, the people I met and the industry I cover. And one of the reasons I feel so passionate about it all is because everyone involved with this industry, from brands to brokers and owners to operators, is so passionate about it as well. The feeling is palpable.

In this issue, we bring you highlights from the NYU Conference and report on some of the industry trends and topics, either presented in a session or overheard on the floors of the Midtown Marriott. Some of the ones that I particularly noticed are: the overall sentiment of those in attendance was generally positive—RevPAR and ADR gains, high consumer confidence, growing business travel and tax reform are just some of the factors bolstering morale; and Airbnb, while still a major topic and force to be reckoned with, has been bested by technology as the industry’s new disrupter. And more specifically, the tech giants—think Amazon, Google, Facebook—who have the know-how and the desire to access guests’ data. Hotel brands need to continue evolving to remain competitive with these nontraditional lodging entities.

And while the BLLA conference delivered the message of “stay boutique” to its attendees, another message was delivered clearly, underscored by a change in the association’s name: leadership. Formerly the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association, the word “lodging” was replaced with “leaders” to reflect the direction of the organization. Entrepreneurship, the next generation of boutique money and how the concept of boutique is shifting beyond hospitality were all themes of the conference, and underlying factors for the name change. Focusing not just on the hotel industry—though there were sessions with hoteliers like Arlo Hotels Managing Director Javier Egipciaco, who announced that a new Arlo Hotel will be developed at New York’s Hudson Yards; lifestyle hotel pioneer Jason Pomeranc, who co-founded Thompson Hotels and is the founder and owner of SIXTY Hotels; and Jared Galbut and Keith Menin of Miami-based Menin Hospitality—the conference tapped into the creative and business minds of fashion icon John Varvatos, upscale coffee roaster Todd Carmichael of La Colombe Coffee Roasters and Josh Hix of Plated (and Shark Tank fame) who all made the connection between fashion and retail, for instance, and hospitality. It also gave up-and-coming boutique hoteliers inspiring stories of entrepreneurial spirit. And there were aspiring hoteliers in the audience. Take Teki Mensah, CEO & founder of Authentique, who I had the pleasure of meeting at the event. She was there because it’s her dream to open a boutique hotel in Oakland, CA, focused on community, art and authenticity. She was there to not only make connections but to be inspired in her drive to achieve her vision.

OK, so that brings me to the third event I mentioned, and ties in nicely with the theme of tomorrow’s hoteliers: The Hotel Business Roundtable. I don’t want to steal any thunder from our July 15 cover story, but I will tease it with this: The 13 participants who comprised the roundtable were not only passionate about the changing dynamics of the workplace and what it means to lead as a company, an individual and an organization—tackling issues of racial and ethnic diversity, elevating women and the Gen Y and Z generations entering or molding the workplace—but are motivated to effect change. I think everyone left that room with a mission in mind and a desire to continue the dialogue.

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