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NYU Hospitality Conference: Light at the end of the tunnel in 2003

NEW YORK — Executives at New York University’s annual hotel conference held June 2-4 were optimistic that revenues will begin to rebound in 2003. However, some analysts cautioned that particularly hard-hit markets such as Boston, San Francisco and New York will have to wait three or more years for profit levels to return to the levels of 2000.

The 24th Annual International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference was held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square and featured a series of specialty workshops and general sessions.

In one of the conference’s most eagerly anticipated events, the city of New York and NYC & Co. received the "Deal of the Year" award for the ambitious marketing efforts aimed at boosting tourism in the Big Apple in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Campaigns included TV spots by celebrities such as movie director Woody Allen and journalist Barbara Walters, and the "Paint the Town Red White & Blue" promotion, which offered savings on hotels, Broadway shows, restaurants and cultural attractions.

The award typically goes to developers and investors involved in huge deals, such as the 2001 award that was given to New York-based Millennium Partners for its massive Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons projects in New York, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C.

"Each month I get more confident that we will see a more complete recovery as we head into 2003," said Richard Helfer, CEO of Raffles International Hotels & Resorts, during "The CEOs Check In" panel discussion that traditionally kicks off the two days of programs. Helfer and FelCor Lodging Trust President and CEO Thomas Corcoran Jr. are hopeful because occupancies have been on the rise in recent months, and they believe hotels will soon be able to increase room rates if the increase in demand continues. In particular, luxury hotels have slashed rates due to the decrease in business travel following Sept. 11.

"This cycle is one of the most challenging the industry has ever had," Corcoran said.

In another session, Randall Smith, CEO of Smith Travel Research, provided statistics that echoed Corcoran’s observation. Smith noted that average occupancies nationwide dipped to 59% in 2001, which is the first time overall occupancies have ever dipped below 60%.

Stephen Rushmore, president and founder of HVS International predicted that hotel transaction volume will begin to escalate in the second half of this year, an improvement over a paltry number of hotel sales in recent months due to the weak hotel market.

In other NYU conference news:

• A study of the New York hotel market predicts that the city’s room rates won’t return to 2000 levels until 2005. The report —by the Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Travel Administration at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and HVS International — notes that the Sept. 11 attacks accelerated a decline that began earlier in 2001.

•Conference chairman and Loews Hotels Corp. chairman and CEO Jonathan Tisch urged the city of New York to expand the Javitz Convention Center, which he said ranks as the 18th largest in the U.S. and is too small to accommodate the country’s 64 largest conventions.

"That is just not appropriate for the city that calls itself ‘the gateway to the world,’" he said.

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