NYU Hotel Conference Turns 30

The hotel field, so flush for most of this decade, is always the focus of the New York University International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference. But this year, the bubbly economy of the recent past seems gone, so the hotel executives, policy makers and property operators attending the 30th NYU hotel conference will be looking for answers, suggests Stephen Rushmore, president and founder of HVS International.

“Where are we going to go in this very uncertain economy? Are we in decline? Is the hotel industry going into a depression or recession? Will any new hotels get built? Where is the financing going to come from?” are questions the conference veteran wants answered.

“I don't think we're going to go into a huge decline, but certainly values are somewhat lower than they were a year ago, and nobody anticipated values would drop this year because we didn't anticipate a credit crunch. And nothing gets done in the hotel industry without some form of financing, which is not available at this point,” says Rushmore, noting his biggest client in 2007 was troubled investment firm Bear Stearns.

The conference will take place Sunday through Tuesday, June 1-3 at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel in New York City.

“We're seeing some structural change in the economy,” says Lalia Rach, divisional dean and HVS International Chair of NYU's Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. She will moderate the “One on One With the CEOs” session at 8:25 a.m. Monday, June 2. It will star Jonathan D. Gray, senior managing director and co-head of The Blackstone Group's Real Estate Group; J. Willard Marriott Jr., chairman and CEO of Marriott International; and Barry S. Sternlicht, chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group.

In addition to that panel, the conference will feature the annual Silver Plate ceremony that day, when Lodging Hospitality publisher Gary Dietz presents the award to Bjorn Hanson, global industry leader — hospitality and leisure, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. The widely quoted, ever-fashionable Hanson founded that PWC division in 1989 and regularly surfaces on lists of lodging's most influential people.

Hanson will be a hard act to follow, but the luncheon speaker should be up to the job: Donald J. Trump, chairman and president of The Trump Organization. Introducing him will be Jonathan B. Tisch, chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels and NYU conference chairman since 1995. On the final morning, Tisch will interview Frits van Paasschen, CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, on branding.


Expect the presentations to be both showy and illuminating. The current production is certainly a far cry from the original, presented by legendary hotel broker Stephen Brener in conjunction with the NYU Real Estate Institute.

“My early memories are of a very unelaborate event where there would be a folding table on a stage and people would be asked to bring up a name card so guests would know who they are,” says Tisch. “Steve Brener would introduce many of the sessions himself from words he'd scratched on a piece of paper and the initial focus was truly on investing in hotels.”

Actually, recalls conference coordinator Dorothy Jennings, the prototype was a motel-based program held at the Jacob B. Javits Center in conjunction with the International Hotel/Motel & Restaurant Show. In the first official hotel-oriented conference at the Roosevelt Hotel, Rushmore spoke — and the conference gave away copies of a Rushmore book to drum up attendance, she says.

Rushmore has spoken at every conference because he worked for Brener, she says. “We all started together.”

Brener's death in 1994 created intense jockeying for his successor. “It was a great honor, and by this time it was an established conference,” Jennings says. “So to assume the chair's role would have been quite a coup for anyone, but ironically, Jonathan didn't participate in this quest.”

Nevertheless, he seemed the natural choice; Tisch and Brener lunched together every year to discuss the conference, Brener favored Tisch with New York memorabilia, and Tisch returned the favor by lining up notable speakers like Charles Kuralt, Katie Couric, U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Larry King. Last year, Martha Stewart delivered what some consider a sub-par presentation before a record audience of 2,300.

In addition, the deans of NYU had a good relationship with the Tisch family; when Jonathan Tisch assumed the chairmanship in 1995, he put together an executive committee and expanded the scope of the gathering to include attorneys, architects, designers and chain representatives.

Brener's vision was less formal than his, suggests Tisch, elaborating on those early days. “Steve was a broker, and these were people that he knew. You'd have a dark meeting room, and many of the breakout sessions were just some chairs around a table.”


When Tisch took over, the event moved to the Waldorf (it now switches between the Waldorf and the Marriott Marquis every two years) and shifted affiliation to the Tisch Center. That's when Lalia Rach came on board, expanding on her role as the founding dean of the NYU Tisch Center. She has moderated the conference's prestigious CEO panel since she joined the effort.

Wall Street has come to dominate the hospitality industry, Rach says, and revenue management, seldom discussed 12 years ago, is a constant topic. “The change is in the idea that it has become the business of hotels as opposed to the hotel business, and the leadership reflects that,” she says.

“These are individuals who are finance-oriented — and if they're not finance-oriented, they're definitely brand-oriented,” Rach says. “You can look at Mr. Marriott as representative of someone who has transcended from the hotel business to the business of hotels.”

And there will be show business, too, suggests Rushmore. There are “huge audiovisuals and use of movies, quite often with entertainment at lunch time. We've had all different kinds of celebrities and politicians, and it's completely different. I'm not saying this is bad, but it's certainly not how we started at the Roosevelt.”

“So many seeds are planted, so many joint ventures are done at this conference,” says coordinator Jennings. “It would be great to get a percentage of every deal ever started.”

Looking Back at 30 Years…


National Hospitality Industry Investment Conference debuts at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. Founding sponsors are Lodging Hospitality, the Real Estate Institute of New York University, Hospitality Division of Helmsley-Spear, Laventhol & Horwath and Pannell Kerr Forster.


J.W. Marriott Jr. and A.N. Pritzker are luncheon speakers at the third conference. Laurence Geller of Holiday Inns, Bob Hazard of Quality Inns, Joe McInerney of Sheraton and Richard Kessler of Days Inns are panelists discussing franchise company expansion.


Consultant Laurence Geller moderates a panel on developer attitudes.


New York City Mayor Ed Koch receives the Lodging Hospitality Silver Plate Award for helping enhance New York City as one of the top global tourist destinations. A panel of lodging developers includes Jonathan Tisch, then a Loews Hotels vice president.


More than 800 lodging leaders attend as Carlson Companies founder Curt Carlson receives the Silver Plate Award.


Hot topic of the conference is the effect of 1986 tax laws on hospitality financing. Tom and Nick Pritzker attend on behalf of the Pritzker family, which receives the Silver Plate Award.


Bill Marriott receives the Silver Plate Award. A panel on the growing all-suite market features representatives of Guest Quarters, Embassy Suites, Quality Suites, Hawthorn Suites and Sheraton Suites.


Asia rears its head as the conference features a panel on lodging opportunities in that region. Stewart Bainum, founder of Choice Hotels predecessor Manor Care, receives the Silver Plate Award.


Conference founder and chairman Stephen W. Brener receives the first annual C. Everett Johnson Award, named for the late chairman and partner of PKF and a conference co-founder.


Incurable optimist Bob Hazard predicts that Choice Hotels will have 10,000 properties and one million rooms by 2000. He made the forecast during what was then the biggest downturn in lodging history.


Darryl Hartley-Leonard, the flamboyant Hyatt Hotels CEO, encouraged the hotel industry to “stay alive to '95.” Hilton Hotels Vice Chairman Greg Dillon received the Silver Plate Award.


Conference pioneer Stephen Brener passes away days before the start of the conference. Renamed in his honor, the Silver Plate Award goes to Henry Silverman, founder of Hospitality Franchise Systems.


Loews Hotels chief Jonathan Tisch becomes conference chairman, Choice Hotels' Bob Hazard receives the Silver Plate Award and Cendant Corp. creates Wingate Inns.


Long-time conference stalwart Hospitality Valuation Services, Steve Rushmore's company, changes its name to HVS International. Hyatt Hotels Chairman Darryl Hartley-Leonard receives the Silver Plate Award.


The 20th anniversary of the conference marks its last year at the Waldorf=Astoria. Jonathan Tisch receives the Silver Plate Award. Starwood Hotels & Resorts forms with the acquisition of Sheraton Hotels and Westin Hotels and Resorts and Starwood launches W Hotels.


Conference moves to the Marriott Marquis on Times Square.


Strategic Hotel Capital CEO Laurence Geller receives the Silver Plate Award. The luncheon speaker is former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.


Choice Hotels launches a reimaging campaign for its Sleep Inn, Quality and Comfort Suites brands. Marilyn Carlson Nelson, Carlson Companies chairman, receives the Silver Plate Award. On Sept. 11, terrorists destroy the World Trade Center, crash a plane in Pennsylvania and damage the Pentagon.


The conference celebrates its 25th anniversary.


Best Western unveils a $7.9-million plan to install wired and wireless high-speed Internet access in all of its properties and Marriott breaks ground on a 204-room Courtyard, the first nationally branded hotel in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. The Blackstone Group buys Extended Stay America for just under $2 billion and David Kong succeeds Tom Higgins as Best Western leader. Meanwhile, condo-hotels generate buzz as Chicago developer Robert Falor allies with Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants for two Chicago projects.


Choice Hotels launches Cambria Suites, its all-new-build, all-suite product, The Blackstone Group forms LXR Luxury Resorts from a portfolio consisting largely of former Wyndham properties and on Aug. 29, Hurricane Katrina devastates New Orleans. In the fall, Starwood unveils aloft, its W-inspired select-service brand. Also introduced at that year's Lodging Conference in Phoenix: NYLO, and Hyatt Place, the updating/revamping of AmeriSuites.


Vantage Hospitality Group launches The Lexington Collection, an upscale complement to its limited-service Americas Best Value Inn brand. Blackstone solidifies its grip on lodging by buying La Quinta Corp. for $3.4 billion, and Hilton Corp. buys London-based Hilton Group, making for a truly global brand. Dubai-based Jumeirah enters the U.S. lodging market by assuming management of New York's Essex House hotel. Westin becomes the first brand to go smoke-free. In June, “The Sopranos” ends its eight-year-plus run. On Oct. 11, Kerzner International Holdings CEO Butch Kerzner dies in a helicopter crash in the Dominican Republic. He was 42.


Americas Best Value Inn adds its 700th property, marking what might be the fastest growth curve (seven years) in lodging history. The Light- stone Group buys Extended Stay Hotels from The Blackstone Group for $8 billion. A new non-profit, the Hispanic Hotel Owners Association (HHOA), is formed.

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