The Americas Lodging Investment Summit, a major hotel conference held each January in Los Angeles, is an industry star-studded, three-day affair that usually points to where the hotel sector is heading for the rest of the year.
The CEOs of major companies like Marriott, Hyatt and Wyndham all convene here as well as their leadership teams and company analysts. ALIS is a great chance at the start of the new year for nosy reporters like yours truly to see what’s happening in the industry and who’s willing to chat.
There are plenty of reasons for travelers to be excited after this year’s ALIS: new brands, new booking platforms in the works and far more amenities at the hotel level are just a few things discussed by major hotel leaders. But there are also reasons to be concerned: Tensions between brands and hotel owners seemed to be at an all-time high this year — and they weren’t exactly rosy to begin with.
Here are our takeaways from ALIS and how your next trip could be impacted by the vibes from last month’s conference.
Hotel owners don’t want to upgrade
On a good day, hotel companies and the hotel property owners who pay for the rights to use their associated brands on a building don’t always see eye to eye. In case you were wondering: Marriott and Hilton don’t own much real estate. Instead, individual hotel owners or real estate conglomerates own the property and pay Marriott and Hilton licensing and management fees to use the branding and oversee operations.
Hotel companies dictate the look of a brand and the overall amenities and offerings. Marriott decides on things that go into a hotel, like breakfast items served at a Residence Inn or the Westin Heavenly bed, and the owner of the hotel is in charge of keeping up with whatever tweaks and changes come along the way. If you don’t keep up with those brand standards, you run the risk of losing the right to franchise out the branding.
There’s always been tension there since hotel owners feel like brands are constantly trying to offer more to woo guests, but that ultimately costs owners money to keep up with the new vibe. Coming out of the pandemic, the brands relaxed these standards to enable owners to hold onto cash at a time when nobody was traveling. But travel is back with a roar, and brand standards are in full swing.
The simmering tension felt at ALIS stemmed from a variety of real estate folks TPG talked to who said they were on the cusp of calling the brands’ bluff: Brands need to show Wall Street they’re constantly adding rooms to their networks in order to boost their share price. Are they really going to nix a contract if a hotel owner of a property with decent guest feedback simply doesn’t want to undergo a costly renovation?
What’s causing this tension to brew more than usual? Look at how hotel companies are doing compared to hotel ownership groups. In the last five years, the stock market share price of Hilton is up a whopping 163% while Marriott is up 112%, Hyatt is up 84% and IHG Hotels & Resorts is up 66% as of mid-afternoon Tuesday.
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But for the lodging ownership groups, it’s a different story. Pebblebrook Hotel Trust (owner of the 1 Hotel San Francisco and the Mondrian Los Angeles) is down nearly 52% in the same timeframe. Park Hotels & Resorts, which spun out of Hilton in 2017, is down nearly 50%, and Service Properties Trust, a major stakeholder in the rapidly growing Sonesta brand, is down almost 72%.
The discord, coupled with an extremely tough financing market, means hotel owners are likely to push back on any extra costs coming their way over the next few years. It’s hard not to sympathize when you see the disparity of lodging ownership stocks plunging while hotel brand stocks soar. A few ALIS attendees said they anticipate the hotel brands will have to step in and offer some kind of assistance if they want renovations at key properties — think: the trophy hotels in prime locations with a lot of visitors.
If not, travelers are going to continue to have to put up with hotels that are charging high rates but are showing plenty of wear and tear. That ultimately eats away at customer satisfaction scores and starts to diminish the reputation of those brands with sky-high stock prices.
Wyndham and Choice Hotels battle…on lifestyle hotels
While Wyndham Hotels & Resorts and Choice Hotels duke it out of their maybe/maybe-not merger prospects, the two brands duked it out at ALIS in terms of lifestyle hotel offerings.
We’re going to hand this round to Wyndham, as the company came out of left field with its Project HQ offering with nightlife legend Sam Nazarian. Nobody saw it coming, the announcement was arguably the biggest news to break from the conference, and there will be plenty of salivating over whether this finally cracks the code of bringing genuinely trendy lifestyle hotels to the broader traveling public. Edition and Thompson Hotels won’t work in just every city. Project HQ, however, can go in a lot more places given its affordable price point and lower cost to renovate.
That said, Choice Hotels, which now owns the Americas division of Radisson, garnered some attention by focusing on the Radisson Blu brand as its top-tier brand going forward now that Radisson has been integrated into the Choice portfolio. A $15 million renovation at the Radisson Blu Mall of America is meant to signal the next chapter for the brand in the Americas.
“We only have 10 [Radisson Blu hotels] in the Americas, so it’s a great opportunity to leverage a great platform,” said Raul Ramirez, the chief segment and international operations officer at Choice Hotels.
Barry Sternlicht’s booming brands
Barry Sternlicht may be known best in the hotel orbit for being the former CEO of Starwood Hotels who spearheaded the creation of W Hotels and led it through its heyday. Today, he’s the chairman of SH Hotels & Resorts, the parent company of 1 Hotels, Baccarat Hotels and Treehouse Hotels.
While a lot of attention is paid to the giant ownership groups, SH Hotels & Resorts has a hefty expansion underway across each of its brands. 1 Hotels has 11 properties open, with additional hotels in the works in Austin, Cabo San Lucas, Copenhagen, Paris, Melbourne in Australia and the Greek island of Crete.
Baccarat Hotel New York is the ultra-luxury brand’s flagship location, but additional hotels are underway and slated to open over the next few years in Rome, Florence, Dubai and Riyadh, while a standalone residential project is expected to open in Miami in 2027.
Treehouse, the company’s eco-friendly brand, has upcoming openings in Silicon Valley, Miami, Riyadh, Manchester in the U.K. and Adelaide, Australia.
“The beauty of this platform is the three brands are really diverse,” said SH Hotels & Resorts CEO Raul Leal. “There’s totally something different offered to each consumer base.”
Ennismore has more in store for the U.S.
It’s always interesting to see how Paris-based Accor navigates the U.S. hotel conferences, as the company isn’t as popular here across all price points as its competitors. Instead, it tends to focus more on luxury brands like Raffles and Fairmont, as well as the lifestyle hotel company Ennismore, of which Accor has a majority stake.
Ennismore — which includes brands like The Hoxton, SLS and Mondrian — is supposed to be a growth driver for Accor in the U.S. Alas, the company’s recent release of upcoming openings largely left this part of the world out. Don’t take this as a slight, the company’s leaders say.
“2025 will be a fairly big year [in the U.S.],” said Ennismore co-CEO Gaurav Bhushan. “We’ve got some announcements to come.”
Making sense of Accor’s latest reorg
Speaking of Accor, we’re a little curious about what’s happening with Orient Express. The brand was previously clustered with Raffles in an Accor ultra-luxury headquarters based in New York City amid last year’s corporate reshuffling du jour at the French hotel giant (which gets a few eye rolls in the industry for its frequent reshuffling of the deck chairs at company HQ). Orient Express is going to offer everything from hotels to superyachts to ultra-luxury trains. Yes, there’s already an Orient Express train run for years by Belmond. Yes, the Accor team might bristle at the comparison, as they claim theirs will be far more luxurious and spacious.
Orient Express’s time in the Big Apple didn’t last long.
Late last year, it was announced Orient Express is now going to be based in Paris and overseen by Gilda Perez-Alvarado, a hotel industry powerhouse who previously served as CEO of real estate brokerage JLL’s hotels and hospitality group. Perez-Alvarado was tapped last year to be Accor’s new group strategy officer. Now, she’s also in charge of getting Orient Express off the ground, on the sea and rolling down the rails.
It’s kind of a no-brainer to the outside as to why Perez-Alvarado and her real estate and development experience would be a sell for overseeing a brand that involves, well, real estate and development. But it’s curious that Accor representatives — thrice — have downplayed that and instead say it’s more about having the team all together in Paris.
That’s a bit like inviting Beyoncé to sing in a Houston choir and trying to pass it off that it’s less about the singing capabilities and more about having a local native take part.
Things are still a little vague on the timing of everything debuting at Orient Express, and Accor has declined the opportunity for an interview.
We’ll be waiting with our eyes to the sea, tracks and Italy — the first two Orient Express hotels are slated for Rome and Venice — in the meantime.
Hotel brands want to be a one-stop travel shop
During the last season of “The White Lotus,” the Wall Street Journal ran a story chiding all those fictional one percenters filled with woe, drama and ennui and their penchant for largely eating at the hotel instead of getting out and enjoying Sicily.
But hotel companies increasingly want to be that one-stop shop for travel spend. OK, maybe don’t anticipate Marriott Airlines for the masses anytime soon, but think more along the lines of Marriott being the place where you can get a vacation rental, a hotel stay or even accommodations for a longer stay if you find yourself on the road for work. Want to hit the high seas? Hop aboard the Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection!
Further, hotel companies in their expansion to more affordable price points with brands like Hilton’s Spark and IHG’s Garner show the industry wants to meet travelers at all price points. The lifestyle hotel movement means building hotels with restaurants and bars that guests want to actually eat at instead of, say, exploring Sicily.
That’s not just about having cool factor bragging rights.
“When I had a more prominent role in development, often the question I would get most was some version of ‘describe to me your development strategy,'” said Marriott CEO Anthony Capuano, who previously served as the company’s chief development officer, during a press breakfast at ALIS. “That was often the easiest question to answer because I will say I want to capture from our guests as close to 100 cents on the dollar of their travel wallet as possible. The easiest way to do that is to make sure we have the right product everywhere our guests want to travel.”
Have a vacation type on your mind? If all goes according to plan, each of these companies should have something to offer you, no matter what you’re craving or willing to spend.