Insights from Hunter

By: Anne Gompel, MAI, CHIA

The Atlanta Marriott Marquis hosted another successful Hunter Hotel Investment Conference, gathering over 2,100 attendees from 950 companies cross 48 states. There was a level of cautious optimism from the 35th Hunter conference.

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IHG Design Center prototype of connected front desk and F&B outlet

One of the big topics this year was related to combating the staffing shortages that have plagued the industry over past several years. To combat this trend, brands are designing new prototypes for their lobbies and rooms. There were some announcements of designs and new prototypes that correlate with the staffing shortages, high FF&E costs, and trying to find key efficiencies in our industry. I had the opportunity to visit the IHG Design Center where they showed us some of their newer brands (Atwell, Garner) and it was interesting to see how efficiencies were built into their concepts. Among them was the trend of connecting the front desk to the F&B outlet so fewer employees are needed to man both the front desk as well as the bar with some small F&B options (all can be made in five steps or less).


There is also a trend towards smaller designs in the room, with less square footage to make it more efficient for housekeeping and to be able to fit more rooms into a property. Designers look for the right balance where smaller rooms are not actually going to impact the guest experience negatively, and owners can increase their room count (the Holiday Inn Express 22.0 adds 11 more keys to the standard 94-room count), ultimately improving the brand franchise desirability. To cope with the high cost of FF&E right now, IHG also has an engineering lab where they look at FF&E by breaking it down into modular furniture to see how they can get the most out of their furniture to standardize across their brand.


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Johnny at Hilton Garden Inn delivering to a room

Hunter also hosted a session called Beyond the Hype, Demystifying AI and Its Impact on Our Future. A former Google employee, their first Chief Decision Scientist, presented the benefits of implementing AI technology to enhance the guest experience and help on the staffing side. This session also highlighted how far away we still are from completely turning over service to AI and how genuine empathy ultimately prevails due to the service nature of the industry. To punctuate this point, at a recent hotel stay at Hilton Garden Inn, I asked the receptionist if I could get an additional capsule of decaf. I had barely walked into my room when I was notified that my items were being delivered. Two minutes later, Johnny was bringing me additional capsules!

As some panelists emphasized during Hunter, hotels that focus on service will continue to see real dividends online because being able to provide exceptional service will raise their property above the competition.