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HB ON THE SCENE: Positive Outlook Buoys 36th NYU Hospitality Investment Conference

NEW YORK—The prospect of continued low supply, strong demand and capital chasing deals has bolstered the  positive attitude being exuded by the lodging industry’s movers and shakers here at the 36th Annual New York University Hospitality Investment Conference being held at the Marriott Marquis.

The event’s traditional pulse-taking session, “The CEOs Check In: A View From The Top,” found its panelists in agreement that the industry outlook has a distinctly positive cast heading into second half.

Moderated by Robert Boland, academic chair and clinical professor, Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, New York University, the panel consisted of J. Allen Smith, president/CEO, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts; Richard Solomons, CEO, IHG; Arne Sorenson, president/CEO, Marriott International, Inc.; and Frits van Paasschen, president/CEO, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.

“The performance of our business, and I think the industry overall, is very positive,” said van Paasschen. “It’s being fueled by trends of rising wealth around the world, great demand for travel and also the influence of technology and how that’s changing the way people think about how they want to interact with brands they care about and what their expectations are for service.”

Sorenson noted the positive feelings have been steadily building. “If you go back 36 months one of the things that we can feel best about is the positive momentum the industry has in political circles and being viewed as a force of good economic growth, job creation and a good industry,” he said. “We had a Republican Whip from the House show up at a USTA event not too long ago and he said: ‘One thing about lodging is that it’s now kind of cool,’ and nobody would have said that five years ago.”

With 60% of its business stemming from the United States, U.K.-based IHG’s CEO Solomons echoed Sorensen, noting even in 2009 leisure travel demand increased. “And now in the U.S. we have 37 months of record demand. People want to travel, and we’re seeing it in the results: we’ve had RevPAR growth in our first quarter all around the world. It’s a great place to be as we look to make the changes to push the reputation of this industry forward.”

Allen, who took the reins at Four Seasons last September, offered that among consumer groups, “both the high end and the low end seem to be behaving very positively right now. Certainly, our business, which is exclusively positioned at the very high end of the market, has been performing exceptionally well—with the exception of locations that are really impacted by political strife or disruption. We’ve seen really remarkable RevPAR gains around the world. The outlook for the business is extremely positive.”

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