HB ON THE SCENE: Lodging Conference Celebrates 20 Years With Optimistic Outlook

PHOENIX—The celebratory mood at the Lodging Conference, which kicked off Tuesday, was the result of  the good times the industry is currently experiencing in terms of performance, as well as the 20th anniversary of the event.

Held at the Arizona Biltmore here, the conference attracted some 1,600 attendees and executives remained largely optimistic about the near future for the industry. The general session covered everything from competing with what executives described as “disruptors,” more commonly known as online travel companies, to Marriott’s new tipping program, “The Envelope Please.”

In A View From the Top (Part 1), the panelists talked about online travel companies such as Airbnb and the threat they pose to traditional hotel companies. Roger Bloss, president and CEO, Vantage Hospitality Group, noted in regards to paying taxes, “They’re not on a level playing field.” He added that, in order to be successful, “brands now have to teach people to channel manage.”

Katherine Lugar, president and CEO, American Hotel & Lodging Association, also addressed the tax issue. “Innovation is a hallmark of our industry, but it’s not an excuse to skirt the law,” she said.

Joel Eisemann, chief development officer, IHG, maintained disruptors represent a force the industry has to join forces against. “None of us can fight them ourselves,” he said.

Greg Marcus, president and CEO, The Marcus Corporation, underscored the point. “This is not going away. The best we can do as an industry is stay together,” he said.

In A View From the Top (Part II), Tom Corcoran, chairman, FelCor Lodging Trust, insisted that guests often don’t think to tip housekeepers and “the envelope makes it easier.” He noted he didn’t think it would ultimately turn into service fees, as some have suggested. He further added, “This is classic Bill Marriott. He is a strong employee-based person.”

Meanwhile, Pratik Patel, chairman, AAHOA, maintained the industry has to figure out how to keep non-hospitality companies from profiting at the expense of hoteliers. “How do we become less of a target? How do we keep others out? We’re always on the defensive,” he said.