By Shawn Bolivar, Jennifer Chesek

Is the hospitality industry still breathing after Covid? Definitely. It has now been three weeks since the 32nd Hunter Hotel Investment Conference in Atlanta, and good vibes remain from this first major hospitality industry event held since the onset of the pandemic.

We could see the momentum building in the final weeks before the event as the number of registered attendees more than doubled. From our perspective, we were eager to meet our industry peers in person, as vaccines became more widely distributed and people began to cautiously ease back into the “old way” of living.

The Hunter family’s confidence that the industry was ready to go was confirmed by the strong attendance. A crowd that was initially estimated to be 400 people tripled in size as the event grew closer.

We participated in a group dinner with clients and colleagues the night before the conference started. The zoom in the room was not a computer screen but the energy that came from everyone being together in person. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, as we felt social comfort grow as the meeting progressed. Elbow bumps magically morphed into hugs by meeting’s end.

Reality check.

The Hunter needs to be recognized for having confidence in the hospitality industry, helping set the stage for what should be an accelerated pace of deal making in the months ahead. Regardless, we must acknowledge that while occupancies are bouncing back, driven in large part by leisure travel in drive-to markets, the industry as a whole continues to face challenges.

We still must adjust to post-Covid conditions, which include a mixed bag of local conditions, the need to maintain individual property liquidity, grow rates and solve the labor issue. Also, the elephant in the room remains corporate travel and group business. We anticipate improved performance in the coming year, but it is clear that a strong and profitable industry requires a robust rebound for group and convention business and the related cost centers they support.

Which brings us back to the Hunter Conference. If our industry expects guests to return in large numbers to conventions and conferences, and provide those important higher margin room nights, we must have equal confidence in attending industry events like this.

As of the Hunter Conference, we have passed with flying colors. See you at ALIS, HD Expo, the Lodging Conference or BDNY.