Hotel Online  Special Report



Wrap-up: The 16th annual Hotel Investment Conference

Atlanta, Ga., March 18, 2004 — A record number of attendees at the 16th annual Hotel Investment Conference here “changed” the name of the conference from Happy Days Are Near Again to Happy Days Are Here Again, as speakers and attendees alike said they were buoyed by recent improvements in hotel operating results. 

The Hotel Investment Conference, designed for mid-market hotel owners and operators, is one of four annual nationwide events that attract the hotel industry’s top leaders.  Proceeds from the event benefit Georgia State University’s hotel school. 

More than 500 people from more than 35 states and three continents appeared to be unanimous in their positive outlook for 2004 and beyond.  From the opening panel to the concluding speaker, virtually all members of the dais discussed RevPAR improvements in the 3 to 5 percent range. Break out sessions featuring lenders were especially well attended, as was the main session on “Lending into the Recovery.”

“Everyone from speakers to attendees had a positive outlook,” said Bob Hunter, convention founder and president of Hunter Realty. “This is certainly the most positive attitude the conference has had since 2000.  Attendees also were equally as enthusiastic about the quality of speakers and relevance of the topics, which focused on how to benefit from the economic rebound.”

Hunter noted that with 500 participants, the Hotel Investment Conference was large enough to attract a broad cross-section of attendees but small enough for all participants to network comfortably.  “All the sessions were well attended and there was a lot of interaction taking place in the halls as the interest in doing deals noticeably picked up this year.” 

Speakers noted that the current early phase of the recovery has created a substantial pool of aggressive buyers and that now was an excellent time to sell real estate.  With interest rates at historic lows, panelists also pointed out that the current environment was a good time to buy.  Consensus seemed to be that capitalization rates were currently low, but would likely rise when the Fed increased interest rates…which was forecast not to happen until 2005.

Concerns were expressed about overbuilding, but most of the experts noted that historically, overbuilding was a cyclical phenomenon, like the changes of the seasons.   Several panelists expressed confidence that the industry expansion would be less excessive and would not duplicate the significant over-expansion of the late 1980s.

The most engaging session was a “Presidential Debate” featuring four hotel presidents: Tom Keltner, President, Brand Performance & Franchise Development Group, Hilton Hotels Corporation; Charles Ledsinger, president & CEO, Choice Hotels International, Inc.; Mitesh Shah, president and chief operating officer, Noble Investment Group, Atlanta, Ga.; and Howard Silver, president and CEO, Equity Inns, Inc., who pleaded their respective “platforms” election-style to be named “Hotel President of the Year.”  Moderator Kirk Kinsell, senior vice president Americas Franchise & Business Development, InterContinental Hotels Group, kept the discussion moving along with participants able to rebut comments made by other “candidates.”  Attendees voted Shah as the “winner” by applause.

Another popular issue was discussing how to regain the more than $1 billion in revenues “lost” to third-party Internet providers.  Every speaker on the subject decried the excessive fees paid to such providers, a possible indicator that fees, currently as much as 30 percent, will likely be under pressure as the economy continues to build steam.

Opening day keynote speaker Justin Knight, president, Apple Hospitality, outlined his company’s financing and acquisition strategy.  Over the past several years, the organization has acquired well in excess of $600 million of hotel assets. Plans are underway to fund as much as $900 million in additional acquisitions. 

Closing keynote speaker Paul Whetsell, chairman and CEO of MeriStar Hospitality, pointed out that the industry has undergone some fundamental changes in the past downturn, including growing use of the Internet.  He noted that technology has made some aspects of back-of-the-house operations more efficient, but has not really made the industry more productive yet. 

“This conference plays an important role in helping expand awareness of Georgia State’s hospitality school’s reputation, as well as provide a valuable source of scholarships for our students,” said Dr. Debra Cannon, PH.D., CHE, director, Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality at Georgia State University.

Hunter said that conference planners have already begun initial planning for the 2005 Conference.  “We welcome any feedback and suggestions for next year,” he said.  Interested parties may make recommendations at the Conference Web site: 


Bob Hunter, Conference Chair
One Northside 75, Suite 102
Atlanta, GA 30318
Phone (404)355-0880

Also See: Privately Held Crown Hotels, with 27 Hotels, Exploring an IPO / March 2004
Gómez Performance Index (GPI) for Hotels and Third Party Web Sites; Expedia, Choice Hotels, Marriott and Set Themselves Apart / December 2003
Hotelier’s 2004 Top Ten Internet Strategy Resolutions / Max Starkov & Jason Price / January 2004

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