Things are finally looking up for the battered hospitality industry. New data, released by hotel-analytics provider STR at NYU's 43rd Annual International Hospitality Investment Conference this week, showed that daily demand for U.S. hotels is nearly back to prepandemic levels. Group demand also is rising, and hotel CEOs expect occupancy rates and revenue per available room to continue to increase in the coming year.
In fact, Keith Barr, CEO of IHG Hotels & Resorts, noted that the company's revPAR surpassed 2019 levels in July. Barr predicted the hospitality company will report record-breaking revenue in the U.S. during the second and third quarters of 2022.
Hilton CEO Christopher Nassetta also said he expects his hotel company will "eclipse the peak of 2019" in Q3 of 2022. Meanwhile, Remington Hotels, which manages 76 properties across 26 states, is already breaking records. According to president and CEO Sloan Dean, the company ran the highest ADR in its 53-year history on Saturday, Oct. 23.
Confidence in the travel industry's recovery was a common theme at NYU's conference, held Nov. 7-9 at the New York Marriott Marquis. Nearly 1,100 people gathered for the event, which returned to its in-person format for the first time since the pandemic began. All attendees were required to be vaccinated and had to complete daily health assessments.
Optimism for the industry's future was enhanced by the fact that U.S. borders reopened to fully vaccinated international travelers on Nov. 8, while the event was underway. Panelists predicted that international visitors will boost both business and leisure travel, and could lead to longer hotel stays.
"I still think we're underestimating what's going to happen next year," said Nassetta, who predicted that leisure travel will remain strong and meetings business will return better than ever in 2022, supported by pent-up demand. "Group meetings have sort of been pushed back because of the Delta variant… but the demand and the inquiry is off the charts."
Marriott International president Stephanie Linnartz echoed these sentiments in a later panel, noting that the hotel company has been pleasantly surprised by how fast group bookings have come back, and that new group bookings for 2022 are actually better than 2019.
According to BWH Hotel Group president and CEO David Kong, "the meetings segment has come back with a roar." As an example of the strong demand for in-person meetings, Kong shared that BWH recently struggled to find venue space for a 2,000-person convention that was being booked last-minute. In the end, they were able to accommodate the group in Las Vegas.
The panelists, however, noted that staffing is a major issue that will need to be addressed in order to meet rising demand. For those considering a career in hospitality, the speakers offered a message of hope on the industry's resilience.
"My big takeaway from this whole pandemic is that travel is a part of the human condition and it's just such a resilient segment," said Linnartz. "If this isn't going to keep us down as an industry and as a sector, what could? I'm super bullish that this segment is only going to grow and prosper for years to come."
To the current students and recent alumni in the audience, Elie Maalouf, CEO of the Americas for IHG, stressed that the past 18 months do not represent the future of travel and that those who choose to enter the industry can have a long and prosperous career. "The pandemic might have ended the golden age of travel, but the diamond age of travel is just beginning. Come join us," he said.