Hoteliers have resolved to live with the virus

LOS ANGELES — As the Covid-19 pandemic enters its third year, the Americas Lodging Investment Summit opening sessions on Monday indicated the hotel industry is done waiting for a return to pre-pandemic conditions. 

Hoteliers are now fully embracing the need to be more adaptable as the changes to travel continue to unfold. 

The theme for the 2022 edition of the conference, “Turning the Page,” emphasized the change in tone, as did several of the afternoon’s speakers and the opening musical act, California Dueling Pianos, who played tunes like “On The Road Again” and “Celebration.” 

“It’s now an endemic, it’s not a pandemic,” said Burba Hotel Network president Jeff Higley in his opening remarks, referring to the notion that the pandemic would be temporary when it first arrived. “It’s now a permanent fixture on our radar. That’s why we decided to go forward with [ALIS]. Moving ahead, leading by example, trying to get the industry back on its feet. With everyone’s help we can certainly do that and move on with life as safely as possible.” 

(Burba Hotel Network, the ALIS conference organizer, is owned by Northstar Travel Group, which also is Travel Weekly’s parent company.)

Conference attendees were far more resigned to accepting the current state of the industry and less inclined to lament what has been lost. At the previous ALIS, as the delta variant disrupted reopening efforts, there was a greater sense of frustration and worry.

“Today, it’s the delta variant. Tomorrow, what’s it going to be? This thing is like a bottomless pit; we don’t know when it’s going to end,” Homi Vazifdar, managing director of the hospitality investment firm Canyon Equity, said in the very same ballroom in July 2021. 

Now, with omicron the current variant of concern, the prevailing attitude is that this is the new landscape that hoteliers must navigate and waiting for a return to 2019 numbers or conditions is misguided. 

It has been well documented that leisure demand has driven the return of travel, while business travel remains well below pre-pandemic figures. Michael Grove, chief operating officer of HotStats, said he expects the hotel guest mix has permanently changed and will not be what it was in 2019.  

“New revenue opportunities are rearing their heads as things stand,” Grove said. “Looking back at 2019 is not the way forward. Keeping an eye on how things progress and utilizing the fantastic tools we have available in the market to be able to monitor how thigs are changing on a monthly basis is vital. Otherwise, you’re driving in the dark. We really need to keep focus on the current situation and stop looking backwards.”

In the conference’s first of a series of one-on-one interviews with hotel executives, IHG Hotels & Resorts CEO of the Americas Elie Maalouf brought a sunny, optimistic view to the stage, saying he is “confident” the industry is moving past the pandemic.

“What are we seeing? We’re getting through. People want to get together. Demand is coming back, rates are at record highs, capital is going back to the industry. Yes, Covid may have ended the golden age of travel, but the diamond age is just beginning,” he said.  

Michael Deitemeyer, president and CEO of hotel management firm Aimbridge Hospitality, said he was encouraged by the demand for travel and how recent new developments with the pandemic appear to be less disruptive than previously. While the company saw a number of group cancellations in January due to the effects of the omicron variant, 87% of those reservations rebooked for either February or March.

“There’s resiliency in that approach of thinking of [Covid] as endemic, and what that means, and how we’re going to live with it, and how we’re going to work going forward,” Deitemeyer said. “We feel very good about the year, and we’re bullish on things coming back more quickly in the fall.” 

Reflecting the push to establish business as normal, ALIS is bringing back its Summer Update events for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. The four conferences will be held in July in New York, Nashville, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

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