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Ace Hotel's Brad Wilson Talks Trends In Hospitality

ACE Hotel Group president Brad Wilson says focusing on connecting with customers is a primary goal of his hotels. Brad was one of the keynote speakers at the Bisnow Lodging and Innovation Series recently held at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown LA.


Ace Hotel Group generally aims to open two hotels a year, which Brad described as “kind of exhausting."

These days, he said customers want to feel they are "where they are." He cited an Ace Hotel in Panama City as an example, saying, "You walk in, and it feels like you are in Panama."

Brad said it’s how one connects with the customer that helps establish "that word-of-mouth that really creates a valid living, real brand."


Placing an emphasis on community partnerships is another focus of Ace Hotels, according to Brad.

A new Ace Hotel in New Orleans has a partnership with the city's Preservation Hall and hosts music performances at the hotel.

He said it's about making an "emotional connection" with the customer.

It is also important to remember "you can’t ever stop evolving" for customers, because they are learning things so quickly since "the information is at their fingertips," Brad said.

Brad was interviewed during the keynote by Turner & Townsend principal Peter Ferzan.


A panel on "Building a Better Brand" followed Brad's keynote and echoed much of his sentiment.

Streetsense director of bartending Adam Williamosky moderated the panel, which included Commune Hotels & Resorts CEO Niki Leondakis, Virgin Hotels CEO Raul Leal and Trust Hospitality chairman and CEO Richard Millard.

Niki said it is important to connect with customers on an emotional level, "then serve their needs." It also is important to model behavior for hotel employees and treat them the way you want them to treat your guests, she said.


"The Future of Resorts" was another panel topic at the event.

Lowe Hospitality Group co-CEO Rob Lowe, Auberge Resorts' Mark Harmon, Destination Hotels & Resorts' Dani Stern and moderator HVS senior managing director Suzanne Mellen discussed that future.

Some spoke of how the recovery came late to the luxury market, which has since seen vibrant growth.

People are moving away from wanting to spend a lot of money on "material goods and now want to spend more money on experiences and memories," which is helping the resort industry, according to Rob.


A panel on "Tips and Tricks For Building Your Hotel Empire" included KHP Capital Partners managing partner Mike Depatie, R.D. Olson Development CEO Robert Olson, The Kor Group principal Brian de Lowe and Gatehouse Capital CEO Marty Collins. The panelists discussed how banks are growing more conservative and how much construction is going up in downtown LA. 

The panelists also debated the impact of Airbnb on the hotel industry, with some arguing it will have an effect on hotels but won't put them out of business.

The panel was moderated by Allen Matkins partner Mike Matkins.


The Athens Group COO Jay Newman, Sonnenblick Development chairman Bob Sonnenblick, CohnReznick partner Greg Remeikis and Homeier & Law founding shareholder Michael Homeier discussed "Everything You Need to Know About Hotel Financing" on a panel moderated by Arent Fox partner Rich Brand.

Some of the panelists agreed hotel financing is becoming increasingly challenging, and this may be especially true for EB-5 in the future.


Sage Hospitality CEO Walter Isenberg, SB Architects VP and principal Bruce Wright, TOTO USA president of operations and e-commerce Bill Strang and Swinerton Builders division manager Andrew Pearl talked about hotel construction and design trends on a panel moderated by Paladino & Co director Dina Belon.


Those on the panel agreed Millennials are influencing design, including forcing designers to be innovative where technology is concerned.

However, Walter warned they should be mindful that Millennials will age and said they need to look at how to be able to span generations and appeal to both Millennials and Baby Boomers.


The last panel of the daylong event looked toward the future. Google's Michelle Vincent, Expedia SVP of the global partner group Melissa Maher and HotelTonight COO and co-founder Jared Simon were part of the panel, which was moderated by Garvey Schubert Barer owner Greg Duff.

Melissa said, where Expedia is concerned, hotels that give competitive rates and competitive inventory will be featured more than hotels that do not. "The end game is all about the consumer," she said.

Some of the panelists agreed that Airbnb may be a potential disruptor.

Jared pointed out how Airbnb has identified a "real need that no one knew was a need."