HB ON THE SCENE: Dealmakers Still Optimistic at Meet the Money Conference

LOS ANGELES—Naysayers looking to dampen the industry’s continuing enthusiasm for doing deals at this point in the lodging cycle were out of luck at the 27th annual Meet the Money National Hotel Finance & Investment Conference being held here.

In casual conversations and organized sessions, some 400 owners, operators, developers, lenders and analysts who are gathered at the Hyatt Regency LAX, remained more positive than not about the near- to mid-term outlook for lodging, pointing to its still-percolating prosperity and continuing, albeit slowing, RevPAR growth. Even the harbinger of a downward shift—oversupply—failed to elicit the type of dread seen among industry players in years past.

“It’s a very energetic vibe. There’s continued optimism. It isn’t frothy,” conference organizer Jim Butler, chairman/Global Hospitality Group of Jeffers Mangels Butler & Mitchell, LLP, told Hotel Business, describing the overall attitude at the two-day event.

That said, he added, “It seems sort of resigned that things will continue to get better, but will do so in a more cautious way and that one has to be careful in looking at opportunities and analyze things. I think that’s very healthy for the industry.”

The call for caution could be seen in the conference’s theme: “Opportunity or Peril? Finding the Right Key to the Right Door,” although executives on many of the general session and specialized panels were bullish in their approaches to finding solutions to industry challenges.

Eric Danziger, CEO of Trump Hotels, was in the spotlight at the conference describing some of the challenges that can occur when your boss becomes president of the United States.

“We sure get a lot more publicity,” quipped the executive, noting he has a different set of challenges than most hotel CEOs since Donald J. Trump landed in the White House.

Danziger said the process of the founder of the company running for president, “of course, had some impact on the business,” in terms of the people in the company and in the marketplace. “When he won the election, it changed the dynamics of the company,” said the CEO, citing EVP Ivanka Trump’s move to Washington, DC, and the close scrutiny the organization has come under “from just about everybody.”

Trump’s presidency has significantly affected the organization’s ability to grow its brands—Trump Hotels and the recently launched Scion—internationally.

Danziger acknowledged deals in the pipeline for locations in China, Israel, London and other locations needed to be exited. “We had to withdraw from all of those,” he said.

Still, since he joined the organization in 2015, Danziger said, overall, “It has been an incredible life experience for the last couple of years that I’ll always remember…I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Butler noted he was happy with the diversity of opinion and approaches that is permeating the conference, such as on an owner panel regarding acquisition and disposition, moderated by Herb Warmbrodt of HREC Investment Advisors, which brought together Ed Ansbro, Fairwood Capital; Chuck Pomerantz, Garrison Investment Group; Richard Russo, Highgate Hotels; Brett Stewart, Interstate Hotels and Resorts; and Stuart Turner, Barings.

“These are very successful owners and investors. One point of view was focusing on the urban markets, like Highgate Hotels building a dominant position in New York or Los Angeles. Other strategies are exactly the opposite: to go for the secondary and tertiary markets, but perhaps to stay in urban areas in those markets. So, I’m seeing a divergence of approach and energy and creativity, that is very exciting,” said Butler, who noted numerous deals get done each year as a result of the deliberately small-scale event and its networking opportunities.

“That’s something that really makes me happy,” said Butler.

Stefani C. O’Connor

(For more on the Meet the Money conference, check out the May 21 issue of Hotel Business.)