This Morning at the NYU Hotel Conference
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As expected, a highlight was WSJ reporter Craig Karmin interviewing Blackstone head of real estate Jonathan Gray and Starwood legend Barry Sternlicht. Jon said the next two years look strong for hotels, although there are signs of oversupply in NYC, Miami and Texas. He said Blackstone just bought the Cosmopolitan in Vegas because even though it was a rich multiple of earnings, it was at a steep discount to replacement value, and they are looking to do more there. Barry said limited service hotels are the big trend these days, partly due to Millennials wanting to get quickly to their rooms for WiFi, then going out to find a good bar. Both suggested the industry is ripe for consolidation.
American Hotel and Lodging Association Katherine Lugar drew out personal factoids from these industry titans: Wyndham CEO Geoff Ballotti's first hotel job was as a dishwasher; Accor CEO Sebastien Bazin spontaneously jumped into a pool fully clothed to celebrate the fact they had filled it in time for an opening, but forgot to remove his wallet; and Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian started out working graveyard shift and Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta doing toilet plunging. In substantive comments, Geoff and Katherine decried Airbnb on matters of public safety, equal taxation and impact on affordable housing, but Mark defended his firm's recent investment in shared high-end vacation housing as an experiment where they intend to learn by engagement.
Loews CEO and longtime conference chair Jonathan Tisch opened the event by praising the current boom but pointing out the huge challenge, yet upside opportunity, of increasing foreign visits to the US—75 million tourists a year currently spend $222B. He called for higher passenger facility charges to improve airport infrastructure and passenger experience; more modern aviation technology; and faster visa processing. He's clearly optimistic: Loews is methodically expanding beyond its 23 hotels.