Phoenix – When hoteliers and suppliers come together, great things happen. This was evident at the 3rd Annual InnDependent Lodging Executive Summit (ILES) and BITAC Independent events last week held at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Co-produced by IBC Hospitality, the Independent Lodging Industry Assn. (ILIA) and Hotel Interactive, leaders from the industry’s top management companies, brands, soft brands and financial institutions met for two days with hotel owners and suppliers to discuss operating trends, purchasing options, and the overall future of the independent lodging segment.
“ILES is the first hospitality event dedicated to independent hoteliers,” said Pamela Barnhill, founder of ILES and president and chief operating officer of IBC Hospitality. “This is a networking conference that enables independent hotel owners to rub shoulders with prominent hotel executives whom they could not otherwise meet. For example, Steve Belmonte of Vimana Franchise Systems, Roger Bloss of Red Lion Hotels Corp., Jenna Hackett of Curio Hotels by Hilton, and Shane Platt of SureStay Hotel Group / Best Western were in attendance to discuss pros and cons of soft brands and help owners determine if remaining independent or migrating to a soft brand is right for them. The nice thing was, the conversations didn’t stop there. Owners had ample opportunities to strike up new dialogues during lunch and dinner in the exhibit hall. At ILES, everyone is approachable and eager to connect.”
In the session, “Technology to Boost Your Bottom Line,” Professor Robert Rippee, Director of the Hospitality Lab & eSports Lab at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) Harrah Hotel College, asked a panel of technologists and consultants if they felt today’s hospitality technologies are “cutting edge.” The consensus among John Celona of Caesar’s Entertainment Co., Eric Gravelle of Diamond Resorts International, Mark Molinari of Las Vegas Sands Corp., Allison Morris of ForEm Consultants LLC, and ILES’ Barnhill, was “no.” While other industries continue to out-pace hospitality, hoteliers aren’t letting the lag-time hold them back. Instead, they are using the advanced business intelligence tools they do have to improve the guest experience, understand guests needs, and manage customer interactions. The beauty of being an independent hotel or soft brand, panelists said, is that these property types are not bound by brand mandates. Independents have more freedom to do more things their way; things that will improve the hotel-to-guest relationship and vice versa. All agree that technology is leveling the playing field for independents.
That sentiment was shared by the industry’s top management company executives as well. In a session titled “Managing to Increase Asset Value,” Hotel Interactive Editor Dennis Nessler conferred with Mary Beth Cutshall of HVMG, Chris Green of Chesapeake Hospitality LLC, Justin Jabara of Meyer Jabara Hotels, Jayson Seidman of Sandstone Hospitality Developments, and Harper Stephens of Charlestowne Hotels about the value proposition of independents relative to branded hotels. In addition to deliberating over financing options, operational challenges, market dynamics and profitability for non-branded properties, the overall takeaway was that the Internet has generally leveled the playing field. How independents will perform if, and when, the economy turns remains an unknown.
Women are also rising in the ranks among independent hotels. In a session titled: “Independence Day for Women Executives,” UNLV, Harrah Hotel College Assistant Professor Toni Repetti held court with Jody Harwood of Grace Hospitality, Radhika Papandreou of Ferguson Partners LTD., Tina Patel of ALKO Hospitality and Bobbie Singh-Allen of ILIA to scrutinize the role of today’s female hoteliers. As women continue to rise in the ranks to fill property- and corporate-level positions, the panelists said women need to be more supportive of each other and become mentors to the younger generation. Talent among women in hospitality is growing, and as seats open on various boards, the positions are no longer going to just men. Rather than competing, women need to be empowering and act as role models to the Millennial generation. Although this group thinks they have hospitality “figured out,” their digital dependence may remove too much of the human element needed in our industry. Today’s female leaders need to ensure that the value of the handshake and making personal connections is not lost.
In addition to the ILES educational sessions, the second annual BITAC Independent was deemed a huge success. Seventy-five exhibitors participated in private, one-on-one meetings with top level corporate decision makers at the independent hotels they wish to reach most.
“We were very pleased with BITAC Independent in its second year,” said Rich Viola, president and CEO of Hotel Interactive and BITAC®. “The constituents that I spoke to were extremely pleased and are even more excited about where BITAC Independent is going in 2018.”