Major Hotel Executives Reflect on the Continued Growth of Tourism and Hotel Inventory in New York City

The Greater New York Construction User Council (“GNYCUC”) and the Hotel Engineers Association of New York Inc. (“HEANY”) were conference partners for the Second Annual New York City Hotel Forum, at the McGraw Hill Building in Manhattan on Friday, November 7, 2014.

The conference, which included two panels of industry executives, examined the future of the hotel industry in New York City and current development trends.

The first panel titled, “The Anatomy of Successful Hospitality Deals,” featured moderator Mark Lanspa, Executive Vice President, Hospitality Finance Group, Wells Fargo and panelists Stephen Brandman, Co-Founder, Sixty Hotels, Russ Flicker, Managing Partner, AWH Partners, Will Obeid, Principal, Gemini Real Estate Advisors and Daniel Lesser, President & CEO, LW Hospitality Advisors LLC.

The second panel titled, “Will Demand Stay Hot for Hotels? Hotel Development Trends,” was moderated by Steven Kamali, President, Steven Kamali Hospitality, and featured David Gutstadt, Managing Director of Hospitality, Related Companies, Tom Lucid, Vice President, Acquisitions and Development, Silverstein Properties and Richard Millard, Chief Executive Office, Trust Hospitality.

The program also featured two keynote addresses by Donna Keren, Senior Vice President , Research & Analysis, NYC & Company and Adele Gutman Milne, Vice President, Sales, Marketing & Revenue, Library Hotel Collection.

Key program Takeaways

New York City Continues to be “hot” destination for tourists

Donna Keren opened the program and shared current New York City tourism statistics. She noted that New York City tourism has been experiencing six years of solid growth and New York is currently the #1 international destination in the United States. The hotel industry has grown in response to the rising interest – hotel inventory jumped from 80,900 rooms in 2009 to 102,000 in 2014.

Airbnb: The New Accommodation

Airbnb, a service which connects travelers with “hosts” who are willing to rent out their apartments, is a hot topic in the hotel industry as Airbnb offers unique experiences a hotels cannot replicate. Stephen Brandman was confident that Airbnb will not have a significant impact on his hotels as he observed that AirBnB attracts travelers who would not usually stay at his hotel chain, Sixty Hotels. However, Will Obeid cautioned that Airbnb could, in fact, affect Stephen’s occupancy rate as a variety of people from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds are opening their homes, which makes Airbnb a possible competitor for any type of hotel business.

Creating an Appealing Guest Experience

Richard Millard reminded the audience that sometimes the simplest guest needs are the most important. He noted the two questions guests ask when they settle into their rooms: 1) Where is the outlet (for my cell phone)? and 2) Can the shower easily be turned on? He emphasized that providing easily usable necessities and comforts for guests is the key. He also reminded the audience that quality hotel staff is a critical ingredient for creating an excellent guest experience – in other words, a fun and friendly atmosphere greatly adds to any hotel stay.

Adele Gutman Milne explained that the guest experience is the Library Hotel Collection’s main marketing tool. They do not spend a great amount of money on sophisticated marketing reports but instead put all of their money and effort into providing the best stay possible and let “word of mouth” do their marketing. This alternative method works well – Library Hotel Collection’s properties are often at the top of Trip Advisor’s hotel rankings.

Brand Value in the Age of Google and Trip Advisor

The second panel explored the ways online hotel review websites have affected the strength of hotel brands.

The advent of websites such as Trip Advisor where visitors can rank, rate and discuss their own experiences has changed the way people research and book their hotel accommodations. These websites make it possible for independent hotels to get their name and reputation out to potential visitors. Richard Millard observed that the top two hotels in Miami are not brand hotels and said, “Today if you’re number one on Google, you’re a brand!”

Tom Lucid’s discussion about Silverstein’s work with the Four Seasons/Disney World project illustrated how brands continue to communicate a certain experience to travelers. Tom noted that when Disney wanted to create a high end, sophisticated community for guests, they turned to one of the most well known luxury hotel brands, the Four Seasons. Disney, a brand associated with childhood fantasy and whimsical hotels, is using the Four Seasons brand to create more accommodation options for their park visitors.

The panel was clear that whether a hotel is branded or independent, there is no room for monotony. David Gustadt concluded that each hotel must convey a unique experience, regardless of their brand status. He noted that no guest wants a “cookie cutter experience.”

Safety is of Paramount Importance

When the first panel was asked for their thoughts on the impact of recent elections on the hotel business, the panelists appeared to agree that, regardless of their political leanings, the hotel industry needs officials who will continue to keep New York City safe. Without a safe city, it does not matter how many amenities a hotel offers – tourists are ultimately visiting to see the Big Apple.

John E. Osborn P.C. is a 12 lawyer law firm based in New York City serving the hotel industry on construction, environmental and real estate development matters. John E. “Jack” Osborn, Esq. serves as General Counsel to the Greater New York Construction User Council and to the Hotel Engineers’ Association of New York. He also serves on the faculty of New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies.

Please provide your comments, stories and opinions on the growth of the New York City hotel market by e-mailing josborn@osbornlaw.com.