In this article we take a look at the shifting landscape of hospitality industry transactions as post-pandemic travel trends begin to reveal themselves and operators grapple with the ramifications of more than two years of RevPAR setbacks.
A POST-PANDEMIC COMEBACK... OF SORTS
Prospects for the hotel industry going into 2023 fall somewhere between somewhat rosy and risky. The hospitality industry gathered in mid-August at the 14th Annual Hotel Data Conference in Nashville, Tennessee to discuss the near-term outlook, and as the editors of Hotel News Now (HNN) shared, “Speakers…acknowledged that the industry still isn't fully back to 2019 levels across the board, particularly when adjusting for inflation, but it is well ahead of earlier projections.” That’s the somewhat rosy part, which includes healthy average daily rate (ADR) data that is trending up, as well as strong revenue per available room (RevPAR) numbers this year and in the 2023-25 forecast.
On the riskier side of the equation, persistent inflation, rising interest rates and recession speculation counterbalance some of the positive in the prognosis. While performance against most, if not all, standard hotel indicators improved in 2022, the economy, travel and the world are just not the same since the pandemic. There is enough uncertainty in the mix to make industry watchers tentative about cheering for a full-scale recovery too soon.
All of these factors make it difficult to predict what the next year or so may bring in terms of investment activity in the hospitality arena, but it seems likely that the savviest players in the sector will be working simultaneously on capital improvements to existing properties, acquisitions of new properties, and sales of existing properties. There is likely to be ample opportunity in all three categories of transactions. Deciding how and where to invest will require a great deal of market specific data, as well as a clear understanding of the ability to adapt to the travel landscape of the future.
As the HNN editors noted at the Conference, “There's been a lot of talk about when things return to normal, but hoteliers are also taking into account that may not happen because of guests and the changes to the way they travel. They're still traveling, but for different reasons and for different lengths of time with different budgets.” The owners and operators who adapt the fastest will be the best positioned to capitalize on these new trends in travel.
WORKPLACE DYNAMICS & TRAVEL
2022 ushered in a new era for travel. Even with erratic economic news and inflation at its highest in 40 years, US travelers were on the move. Thus far, the economy has weathered the inflationary pressures and been pretty resilient, but consumer confidence dipped in the first half of 2022. Unemployment has remained low and there has been some wage appreciation to temper the persistent inflation, so most people went ahead with travel plans after staying home and saving up in 2021.
TSA checkpoint numbers in August 2022 are almost as robust as 2019, and since May 2022, daily checkpoint numbers have been consistently over 2 million, a milestone reached only sporadically in 2021, mostly around holiday travel times. Business travel is part of the uptick, but not the bulk of it from what the data shows. According to Morning Consult data, the percentage of frequent business travelers who say they’ll never return to the road ticked up from 39% in October 2021 to 42% in February 2022. As HNN senior editor Robert McCune said, “One factor — whether it’s positive or negative remains to be seen — is that the definition of business travel and the distinction between business and leisure travelers is shifting.” (14th Annual Hotel Data Conference Editors’ Comments).
A number of companies with historically large travel budgets have indicated they plan to make permanent cuts, at least to some degree. When the dust settles, most estimates are falling in the 15-30% range for long-term cuts to business travel budgets. Business travel is certainly evolving into something different than before the pandemic. In March 2022, Forbes published a lengthy article titled, “How Covid Changed Business Travel Forever,” written by Suzanne Rowan Kelleher. She interviewed numerous industry executives like Marriott CEO Tony Capuano who said, “Leisure demand has led the recovery, and we are well-positioned to continue growing our lead in resort destinations, including in the high growth all-inclusive space.” Note his pivot from business to leisure without losing a beat.
In reality, the two are getting blurred. A newly coined term —“bleisure”— is being used to describe the mix of business and leisure travel. And according to industry analyst, Lindsey Roeschke in her piece, “When it Comes to Travel, Blended is the New Business,” “[There may be] preconceived notions about blended trips — that they’re long or perhaps even multi-destination affairs, or that such travelers flock to vacation rental sites like Airbnb and Vrbo instead of hotels. In reality, the majority of these trips will be less than a week in length, and traditional hotels tend to be the preferred accommodation, which opens the door for hotels to provide the amenities these travelers seek.” She points out that professional flexibility is changing travel behaviors. To the extent that more nuanced work schedules and diverse work venues are here to stay, travel habits are likely to evolve in sync. Roeschke points out that hotels have a lot of opportunity to capture these blended stays. She discounts the vacation rental sites, but there is no denying the increased role those sites are playing in the travel accommodations space since COVID. In the aforementioned Forbes piece, the CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, is quoted from their Q4 2021 earnings call saying, “Nearly two years into the pandemic, it’s clear that we are undergoing the biggest change to travel since the advent of commercial flying.” That is just one of the ways he talks about how the pandemic has impacted Airbnb’s bottom line.
If business travel will never be the same, hotel owners and operators have some work to do to accommodate travelers’ evolving needs. They need to compete effectively with Airbnb, Vrbo, and others that are offering more attractive and amenity rich experiences. Mass layoffs in the hospitality sector during the pandemic have come back to haunt the industry in the form of critical staffing shortages. Staff levels in turn have an impact on the guest experience. Guests’ expectations are on the rise and competing with the likes of vacation rental sites with their long list of amenities is paramount to the hotel industry’s ability to capture a good portion of the post-pandemic travel pie. No doubt travelers plan to keep rentals in the mix, and ongoing interest in alternative accommodations will likely continue to push hospitality providers to be creative. Hotels that elevate homelike amenities, such as kitchens, adjoining rooms, and workspaces stand a better chance to capture some of these trips.
ECONOMICS, CAPITAL MARKETS & THE HOSPITALITY SPACE
Buying, selling and repositioning of hotel properties is on the uptick in 2022. Rising interest rates have served to put the brakes on some transactions, but there was a lot of buying and selling activity in the first half of 2022. According to the LW Hospitality Advisors Q2 2022 Major US Hotel Sales Survey, there was a nearly threefold increase in the number of sale transactions in the first half of 2022 versus 2021 (Hotel Online). In the second half of 2022, there are numerous opportunities to get involved in deals, the challenge being finding the financing source that best suits the opportunity. More expensive capital is impacting the number of transactions and prices of transactions getting closed; however, the spigot has not been shut off for appropriately structured transactions, given the continued interest of industry savvy buyers and select financing sources. While financing might be more scarce because of the associated risk right now, there are well-financed investors looking for deals.
Some serious challenges lay ahead for the numerous owners and operators with less attractive balance sheets, many of whom will be looking for buyers too. These types of transactions are facing tougher headwinds with the interest rate increases, inflationary pressures and jitters about a potential recession. And, for any hospitality borrowers who are in trouble, refinancing will be expensive at best and unattainable at worst. This may give some buyers more leverage, particularly if they are nimble and have funds readily available.
More broadly across the larger economy, merger and acquisition activity has slowed compared to 2021, which may impact the hospitality sector in the second half of 2022 and going into 2023. Since 2021 was a record-breaking year, it is hard to keep pace, but the consensus is that the pull back is likely due to the changing economic conditions investors are facing. The volatility is likely to continue, but companies with strong balance sheets and cash reserves can continue to use mergers and acquisitions to their competitive advantage.
OUTLOOK FOR THE NEXT 18 MONTHS
The buyer pool for hospitality deals may be shrinking, but equity funds, family offices and institutional investors are all in a good position to take advantage of the situation. In addition to companies like Hyatt looking to reposition their portfolios, there will be turnaround opportunities in a number of hospitality markets, particularly ones that can be positioned as attractive places to both work and vacation, for example those with a good airport and proximity to outdoor recreation.
When Deloitte surveyed travelers at the end of 2021, they discovered that “Working vacationers [aka] “laptop luggers” added three or more days to the duration of their longest leisure trip due to remote working.” (2022 Deloitte Travel Outlook – The Winding Path to Recovery). Properties that can quickly add or augment amenities that support the blurring of business and leisure travel are good acquisition targets. For sellers a good way to attract buyers will be to demonstrate how a property or portfolio of properties is approaching the blurring of business and leisure travel in order to capitalize on the extended stays travelers want to book.
Most industry watchers are somewhat optimistic about the next 18 months, yet they expect that we will see slower economic growth in 2023. Many likely agree with the STR and Tourism Economic forecast shared by Aran Ryan, director of lodging analytics at Tourism Economics, “the baseline Oxford Economics outlook anticipates slow economic growth in 2023 but not a recession, as a combination of cooling aggregate demand and easing supply constraints will help slow inflation. In this context, with leisure demand supported by solid household finances and an ongoing recovery of group and business travel, lodging performance gains are expected to continue, though at a much slower pace than experienced this year.” It is a generally positive outlook, but one tempered with some realism about both the pace of growth and the extent of the damage already inflicted by the absence of both business and leisure traveler volume during and beyond the pandemic.
Clearly, the recovery has not been even across all segments of the industry and we are now observing increased incidence of downward pricing pressure on various hospitality assets. Even as RevPAR improves, going into 2023 we are likely to see an increase in the number of distressed hotel and other deals, as many pandemic-impacted operators are faced with no real option other than to sell into a market flush with inventory. With financing complex and capital expensive right now based on associated risk, the number of transactions taking place and the prices being paid to get deals closed have been notably affected. Importantly, however, the spigot has not been shut off for appropriately structured transactions given the continued interest of industry-savvy buyers and financing sources.
Hilco works directly with buyers, sellers and operators to maximize their return on investment in the hospitality market. Regardless of whether you are looking to attract a buyer, find an acquisition opportunity, or reposition an existing property, we encourage you to reach out to our team for a conversation to discuss the specifics of your situation. From capital solutions to structuring a deal or providing valuation and monetization expertise, we are here to help.
Hilco Corporate Finance LLC (www. HilcoCF.com) is a registered broker/ dealer with the Securities and Exchange Commission and a member of FINRA and SIPC. HCF provides M&A advisory, private financing services, and special situation advisory to clients across a broad range of industries. HCF is an affiliate of Hilco Global, an independent and diversified financial services company with a strong track record of maximizing the value of assets for both healthy and distressed companies.
Hilco Real Estate provides access to the expertise and resources of the Hilco Global platform of companies. Hilco Real Estate is a trusted strategic advisor to Fortune 1000 corporations, the nation’s largest financial institutions, and some of the largest companies in North America. Specializing in advisory, valuation, and monetization of assets, Hilco Global’s extensive team of professionals has an incomparable understanding of the marketplace, enabling us to deliver the most holistic creative solutions (and we often can provide the capital to get the job done). Hilco’s invaluable combination of thoughtful strategy, consistent process, and crisp execution enables us to provide superior results for our clients on every assignment.
KEITH WORSHAM IS SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, HEAD OF NATIONAL HOTEL TEAM AT HILCO REAL ESTATE
A 30-year corporate real estate veteran, Keith joined Hilco Real Estate in 2021 to lead the national hotel team, bringing substantial expertise in investment sales, REO, note sales, auction services, hotel development, repositioning, franchise selection, site selection, brokerage, consulting and management. Prior to Hilco, Keith was with Marcus Millichap as Senior Vice President in the Atlanta office on the National Hotel Team. Contact Keith at 404.514.0242 or email@example.com
EVAN BLUM IS MANAGING DIRECTOR AT HILCO CORPORATE FINANCE
Evan is a nationally recognized Special Situation and Restructuring professional with deep experience in the middle market across a broad range of industries and transaction structures. Evan leverages his deep understanding of special situation corporate finance (distressed M&A advisory, private financings, and financial restructuring), financial restructuring, and operational turnaround to grow the HCF investment banking business. Based in New York, he anchors the development of the Hilco Global practice in the New York Market. Contact Evan at 973.432.0621 or firstname.lastname@example.org