While the sessions at HD’s NextGen Forum two weeks ago in Chicago were inspiring, it was the Owners’ Roundtable, sponsored by RH Contract, that was truly enlightening. We at HD constantly cover trends and postulate about the future of the industry, but it’s another thing altogether to have leading hoteliers, owners, managers, and more, talking about these topics (and others) with candor.
I am naturally curious so I found a seat at the table in the W Chicago City Center ballroom and hoped to blend in—learning through observation. Yet, the journalist got the better of me, so of course I found time to ask some of questions, too. In fact, here are some key points I overheard at NextGen’s Owners’ Roundtable:
- Sam Suleman, vice president of development and operations at Equinox Hospitality, asked a startling question when he first sat down at our table: Are online travel agencies (OTAs) signaling the end of the brand? That may have seemed like hyperbole but perhaps had some measure of truth to it as well. That, mixed with a growing amenity creep—5-Star amenities making their way into midscale properties—are putting a lot of pressure on hoteliers to survive.
- There’s a growing concern within the industry about Airbnb’s rising popularity. The company “reinvented the hotel,” Suleman said, and is giving away occupancy. As it continues to grow, the hospitality industry will have to take notice. “It’s a turning point for the whole sector,” Suleman said, adding it will be interesting to see how Airbnb will abide by hotel rules as it grows.
- The fervor for Millennial travelers is not going away. These travelers, Suleman said, “want an authentic experience.” Big brands see the writing on the wall. To attract Gen Y travelers, “brands have to stay relevant.”
- Jay Pecotte, senior director of hotel development at Hard Rock International, told our table how his boutique brand grew to a lifestyle brand. Part of it is the aesthetic, bringing in art and sculptures. While the other part is being “comfortable and eclectic to the region.” The goal, he said, is to give guests a “behind-the-velvet-rope experience.”
- Chris Lanzisera, director of design for the Americas at Hyatt Hotels Corporation, focused on the success of the company’s Andaz brand, mimicking what others said about giving guests what they want. Andaz “is a clear brand with a brand story people can understand,” he explained. Travelers respond to that authenticity.
- The working relationships between vendors and designers “is the most important thing,” Katie Stamaris, director of brand standards and product development at Denihan Hospitality Group, told us. The growing company known for the James hotels is continuing to expand with a new build of the luxury brand in West Hollywood and plans to add three or four more on the West Coast in upcoming years. Because it’s a city brand, Stamaris hopes to see hotels popping up in San Francisco; Los Angeles; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Houston; Dallas; Boston; and Washington, DC.