HDC: Overcoming the industry’s biggest obstacle
HDC: Overcoming the industry’s biggest obstacle
14 AUGUST 2020 8:17 AM

Editors recap the online Hotel Data Conference with takeaways, quotables and more highlights from the event.

REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the hotel industry in ways it has never seen before—including demand, rate, operations, staffing, forecasting and budgeting.

During the first-ever online Hotel Data Conference, presenters and panelists sought to contextualize COVID-19 in the hotel performance data and in the evolution of hotel operations.

Analysts presented some of the early trends and patterns in the data as executives discussed the challenges in resetting their strategies and forming a new set of best practices.

Here are some highlights from the conference.

HDC recap video

Quotes of the day
“This is not a cycle. This is truly a disruption. We’ve never seen anything like this.”
—Isaac Collazo, VP of competitive intelligence for InterContinental Hotels Group, speaking during the “Navigating this cycle (and what recovery may look like)” session.

“Fortunately, we’re owned and managed, we control a lot of the assets; everything we have is managed if we don’t own it. We were able to make really, really quick changes. We said the unthinkable things and then within three days you’d go, ‘OK yeah, we need to do that.’ I remember one meeting we said on a Friday maybe we need to close hotels, and everyone said, ‘Nah I don’t think we’re there yet.’ And by Monday we were closing 15 hotels. The speed of everything was just really, really amazing.”
—Andrew Rubinacci, EVP and chief commercial officer for Omni Hotels & Resorts, speaking during the “Revenue management best practices to get you through the downturn” session.

Photo of the day

Clockwise from top left: Host Hotels & Resorts’ Sourav Ghosh, STR’s Amanda Hite and Hotel News Now’s Stephanie Ricca participate during “The U.S. forecast: Pulling back the curtain” as part of the online Hotel Data Conference. (Screenshot: Rachel Daub)

Tweets of the day

Slide of the day

STR and Tourism Economics released an updated U.S. hotel forecast for 2020 and 2021 Thursday during the online Hotel Data Conference.

Editors’ takeaways

You were not expecting too much uplifting performance data from 2020’s Hotel Data Conference, were you? Over here in Europe, we’re seeing relatively low levels of new COVID-19 cases but still a good degree of government intervention and regulations affecting hotel re-openings and higher occupancies, along with a small handful of markets newly locked down again. But the picture in the U.S. is different, mostly due to the virus still being a force and due to the federal nature of that huge nation.

It is immediately evident that the U.S. as never before is a collection of separate markets, even though they, too, mirror Europe in that it is leisure destinations, not urban ones, that are seeing the highest pickup. Drive-to markets in the U.S. are doing well, too, but Adam Sacks, president, Tourism Economics, in the conference’s opening keynote said, “The difference is that performance has never been more disparate in all the years I have been studying this. Look at state by state by travel spending. It is least bad in states that are more rural; the worst are those that are anchored by urban centers or for Hawaii where you can only get there by flying. The difference between markets are stark.”

“Least worst,” “best worst-performing,” “smallest record decline”—these were some of the obscure, arcane phrases being used, even as the industry by nature smiles, rolls up its sleeves and looks for the silver linings and runway potential.

Vail Ross, SVP, global business development and marketing, STR, in her keynote drilling down further into market performance, at one point said "in June, luxury (revenue per available room) was down 70.8%, but midscale was down only—did I just say ‘only’!?—44%. (STR is the parent company of Hotel News Now.)

Minus 44% is good, right? Let us soon hope that the minus becomes a positive.

Sacks said his prediction is that “in 2021, we will see 81% of the demand levels seen in 2019, but revenue will take nearly 15 quarters to return to the peak, with 2021 seeing a recovery to 68% of 2019 levels.”

The road is long, but common sense, positivity and excellent management will see the U.S. through, and that will help bring up to speed the rest of the world.

--Terence Baker, Senior Reporter, Europe

The industry may be going through possibly the toughest challenge it's ever seen, but hotel revenue managers are pushing through and staying positive.

During the "Revenue management: Best practices to get you through a downturn" session, panelists with luxury properties said they are holding rate because so far the pandemic hasn't created a situation where price is a motivator for travel.

Carolee Moore, VP of revenue management and e-commerce at Crestline Hotels & Resorts, said her company's strategy is "less about discounting (price) than narrowing in on demand and what (guests') rate tolerance is."

Staying close to customers has also helped keep business going, said Karen McWilliams, VP of revenue strategy at Concord Hospitality.

Hotels must get back to business and customers have to get back to business, too, she said.

--Danielle Hess, Senior Reporter

This year’s Hotel Data Conference took place in a time unlike any other. Hoteliers are looking for the silver linings that the COVID-19 disruption might soon end, and recovery will begin again. But for some segments and markets, that recovery is already happening.

During “Navigating this cycle (and what recovery may look like),” IHG’s Isaac Collazo confirmed how well economy, midscale, upper-midscale and upscale hotels are performing during the pandemic. Between 20 April and 20 June, those segments have grown their share of U.S. hotel demand, while luxury and upper-upscale hotels have significantly less demand share now than even during the Great Recession.

Group business might not come back in 2020, and during his presentation and follow-up panel discussion, STR’s Carter Wilson asked several great questions about how hotels that rely on group bookings and events will respond. What I want to know is who has the leverage in these booking negotiations? Could hotels offer higher-tier cleanliness and safety packages to get groups to book at a premium, or are meeting planners negotiating from a position of power while shopping around for the best rate?

Just as Collazo said he’s looking at the key performance metrics differently, our understanding of “recovery” keeps evolving, too.

--Dan Kubacki, Production Editor

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