PHOENIX-“We have failed as an industry to recognize the demandand adjust rates,” said Wayne Goldberg, president and CEO, LQManagement LLC. He pointed to a possible historic peak for roomdemand, but noted some of the industry’s poor choices in handlingdemand in the past.

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David Kong, president and CEO, Best Western International, notedthat supply was a problem last year and that Internet transparencydrove a lot of room rates down, as some hotels panicked andaffected the rest of the industry. Goldberg politely disagreed thatthe Internet was to blame. “We have inflicted some pain onourselves as an industry.”

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The 16th annual Lodging Conference held at the Arizona BiltmoreSpa & Resort began its Wednesday general session with “A Viewfrom the Top – Part I,” gathering a prominent panel to discuss theproblems facing the industry, as well as some of its emergingtrends.

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Moderated by Don Landry, owner of Top Ten Marketing andHospitality Consulting, the panel was comprised of Goldberg; Kong;Monty Bennett, president and CEO, Ashford Hospitality Trust, Inc.;Stephen G. Haggerty, global head – real estate and development,Hyatt Hotels Corp.; Steve Joyce, president and CEO, Choice HotelsInternational; and Michael A. Leven, president and COO, Las VegasSands Corp.

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There was some concern expressed by Leven regarding adouble-dip, noting that there was nothing on the horizon whichwould indicate a change in unemployment rates. This factors heavilyon the lodging industry, which is often at the whim of disposableincome. Bennett summed up the panel’s feelings on government,saying, “You can’t have a hotel discussion without talking aboutgovernment regulation.”

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Joyce said that he feels the lodging industry needs to holdinfluential persons accountable for detrimental opinions on hotels.“Our industry has been poor about making our case to the public andgovernment,” he explained.

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Goldberg agreed, but placed the onus on getting word tobusinesses and travelers, as opposed to monitoring speeches. “Thereare things we can do to stop making people feel guilty fortraveling,” he said. “Get to companies and ask why they aren’tletting those employees travel,” and getting to employees toreassess how valuable they are to that company if the company isrefusing to send them out. Joyce noted this was an issue in theluxury sector, since a lot of business is done face-to-face atconferences and on golf courses.

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Leven noted, however, that the “AIG Effect” of the government’sreprimand of luxury getaways for bailed out companies during therecession, was not going to impact the luxury sector in the U.S. inthe long term.

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Joyce pointed again to jobs, “We need job creation and leisurewill come,” saying he felt there is a “bright future forleisure.”

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Haggerty said that leisure’s comeback would follow from jobs,but from an investment point of view, since there was a lag ofleisure resort on the supply side. He explained that this presentedan interesting opportunity from an investment point of view,although did not weigh in on when it would be good to invest intothat sector.

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Technology was also a strong issue during the panel. Somepanelists pointed to the internet causing rate issues, astransparency has grown rapidly in line with the recession, howeverthere was also the advent of boutique hotels offering moretechnological amenities.

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Leven joked, in reference to some hotels that were offeringsmaller rooms with numerous gadgets: “This was someone’s brightidea that will go nowhere."

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Joyce stressed simplicity, that the questions will always be,“’What value are you providing?’ and “How do you define that ineach segment?’” Goldberg agreed: “I don’t believe we are in aposition as hoteliers, yet, to provide technology, we just have togive customers the opportunity for them to use it.”

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Finally, the panel addressed foreign markets. Haggerty jokedthat in Europe, “all the good sites were taken 100 years ago.”

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And Leven sees opportunity in Asia, noting that if you are in acountry that doesn’t have protections against building new casinos,such as Singapore, casinos offer a good start. “Casinos give youleverage to support other sections,” such as conference or a hotel,while they build up. He still feels, however, that Asia will facesimilar issues that the US faces daily.

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Leven said that supply and demand issues will plague Asianmarkets, since the markets are immature and the infrastructure isnot up to demand levels for some regions.

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Haggerty agreed, saying the luxury hotels in Asia have not allbeen something they recommend for investors, since urbanization isnot catching up to demand in places like China and India.

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