Growth opportunities, the corporate travel recovery, and the need for the hotel sector to more effectively influence policymaking are some topics we'll ask hotel sector leaders at the Skift Global Forum in September.
Skift Global Forum was held in New York City on September 26-28, 2023. Read coverage of the event at the link below.
Can hotels exert more influence in policy-making? Where will future development growth come from? Is generative AI relevant to the hotel sector? These and other subjects will be top of mind for us as we interview top bosses at Hilton, Hyatt, Accor, and other hotel leaders on-stage at the Skift Global Forum in New York on September 26-28.
1: Hotels Need a Louder Voice
The hotel industry is enormously important to global growth, and the sector’s leaders ought to start acting like it — as Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali has long argued. The hotel and motel sector will create 126 million jobs between now and 2032, according to The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). That’s one in five new jobs worldwide.
Yet the hotel sector’s voice isn’t heard as loudly on the public stage as it should be given its weight. Hotel leaders have worthwhile things to say about travel visas, infrastructure, legal immigration, climate change, data security, taxation, overtourism, community relations, geopolitics, and urban housing regulation. Will they speak up more?
We’ll ask Hilton CEO Chris Nassetta what he’s advocating as chairman of the U.S. Travel Association.
2: Where Will Growth Come From?
Hotel groups have many possible sources of growth, but which ones are they prioritizing? We’ll ask Hyatt CEO Mark Hoplamazian, Raffles CEO Omer Acar, and Salamander Resorts’ Sheila Johnson.
Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt doubled down on extended-stay as a category this year with new brands. How much more room does extended-stay have to run?
Nassetta said this month that Hilton would focus on the midmarket because “that’s where the most money will be made over the next 10 or 20 or 30 years,” though the company won’t neglect luxury. IHG just rolled out a new midmarket brand, Garner.
Yet lifestyle and boutique hotels get all the buzz on social media and mainstream media, with tens of thousands of rooms planned in the coming years. Meanwhile, investors seem to get most enthused about a few dozen ultra-luxury brands, with Bulgari growing and Aman tripling in valuation.
Geographically, where’s the growth? Marriott placed at least one bet on Latin America with its City Hotels acquisition. Hilton plans 730 hotels in China over a decade. Blackstone, KKR, and Goldman are investing in Japan. Saudia Arabia and the UAE have massive ambitions.
3: Reckoning With AI
Skift is leading the way in reporting the unfolding relationship between generative artificial intelligence (AI) and the travel industry. We’ll be asking what opportunities top execs see for the hotel industry.
Hotels have been using AI to inform how they set room rates for years. Yet the burst of interest in generative AI like ChatGPT has underscored other potential uses.
We’ll talk to hotel execs about where they see opportunities. Early possibilities include more effectively answering guest questions, more efficiently responding to online reviews, more successfully creating online marketing copy, and more quickly creating optimal employee schedules and restaurant menus.
4: Business Travel’s Comeback
When will the volume of business travel volumes recover to pre-pandemic levels? That’s of critical interest to hotel groups, especially ones with urban properties that depend on corporate road warriors to be profitable.
Business travel volumes are at least 30% below 2019 levels, said the Global Business Travel Association this month. Europe’s largest airline groups and U.S. airlines say the recovery in corporate travel has either fallen off or flatlined this year.
The long-promised recovery in corporate travel has been delayed mainly by inflationary costs for flights and hotels and, to a lesser extent, efforts to reduce potentially unnecessary business travel to save on costs and carbon emissions.
The hotel sector’s full recovery from the pandemic requires a rebound in corporate travel. When will that happen? Will more employers require workers to return full-time to offices in the remaining months of the year?
5: “Junk Fees”
Skift has been doing team coverage of the travel “junk fee” crackdown in the U.S., noting that the travel industry won’t win this “junk fee” fight.
The hotel sector is in the spotlight. Legislation in Congress with an (admittedly slim) chance to pass this coming year targets hotel resort fees, and the main travel-fee-based lawsuits from about 40 state attorneys general seem to be most focused on hotels.
The hotel industry is copying the airline playbook. Many carriers have taught the public to accept the true cost of different parts of their trip by adding fees for once-complimentary services, such as checking bags.
One problem, however, is that some hotel fees aren’t optional. A guest typically can’t avoid a resort fee, for example, whether or not they take advantage of the pool, fax machines, or whatever else the property considers its special “resort” amenities.
At the Skift Global Forum, we’re interested in whether elite-status members of hotel loyalty programs ought to get some of these fees waived. Many airlines, after all, typically include free checked bags and seat selection if you’re flying, say, first-class or belong to a high-status loyalty tier. Yet some hotels that charge fees for early check-ins or late check-outs do so regardless of the status of the guest.
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Photo credit: A guestroom at the Waldorf Astoria Cairo Heliopolis, which opened in 2023. Source: Hilton.