Who Will Win When the Hospitality Industry Improves?

By William A. Brewer III Managing Partner, Bickel & Brewer | July 30, 2010

Monitoring the Forecast: the Economic Recession and its Effects on the Hospitality Industry

The economic recession has had a tremendous effect on every aspect of the hospitality industry. Hotel owners, operators, and investors alike are experiencing the negative effects of reduced consumer and business spending on the industry. Leisure travel has suffered as consumers cut spending in response to lost jobs and the 2008 credit crisis. Corporations have cut spending wherever they can, resulting in less business travel and less convention and conference business for hotels. Although the luxury and upper-scale segments have been most impacted, due to their higher rates and higher cost structures, the entire industry is experiencing occupancy rates that are hovering near 30-year lows.

Faced with declining occupancy and reduced cash flows, many hotel owners are struggling to meet debt service. Owners have responded to the crisis in various ways. Some have put up additional equity capital to pay down debt. Many owners, however, do not have additional equity capital and are forced into survival mode. In the most severe cases, owners have lost their investments altogether.

While owners are concerned with protecting their investment, operators confront declining revenue streams due to lower management fees resulting from lower occupancy and room rates. In many cases, owners demand cost cuts and service standards that are less expensive to maintain. Faced with these demands from their business partners, operators are attempting to manage their risks, which include damaged reputations, costly litigation, or contract termination.

One would think this distressed environment would be ideally suited for hotel investors. However, buyers are sitting on the sidelines as industry fundamentals, a lack of realistic valuations, and scarcity of debt capital are conspiring to choke off any appetite for risk.

According to Jones Lang LaSalle, Commercial Mortgage Backed Security ("CMBS") issuance, once the primary source of hotel debt financing, dropped to $10 billion in year-to-date 2010 from the high of $315 billion, set in 2007. This precipitous drop in the availability of debt capital has had the predictable impact on transaction volumes. In fact, the same LaSalle report shows that global hospitality transaction volumes are expected to be $13 billion for 2010, an alarming decline from the $120 billion peak set in 2007.

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Coming up in March 2019...

Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.