Clockwise: David Rupert, Rohan Gopaldas, Warren Fields

The 4th installment of CREC’s Distinguished Speaker Series was a lively, information-rich hour covering the hotel industry in the U.S., U.K. and Asia. Hotel school graduates and hospitality industry leaders Warren Fields (SHA ’85, President & CEO of Pyramid Hotel Group) and Rohan Gopaldas (SHA ’02, Asset Manager for Prospect Hotel Advisors) shared their hands-on experience and “front row” perspective gleaned from overseeing global businesses operating hundreds of hotel properties at all price points during the unprecedented challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic. Participation of the speakers was coordinated with the help of Jenny Wang, ’12, of Blackstone, and Nala Holmes, ’12, of Pyramid Hotel Group. Led by moderator David Rupert, ’79, President of Griffin Capital, the conversation explored the human, physical and financial aspects of the most significant challenge to the hotel sector in most attendees’ lifetimes. A recording of the webinar is available here: Hotel Industry in U.S., U.K. and Asia: Time to Invest?.

A few webinar highlights:

  • Gopaldas joined from Singapore and provided insight into the wide range of challenges and opportunities in the hospitality business in the Asian region. It is clear that certain countries, those with internal domestic demand, lower rates of COVID spread and financial support from the government, are doing much better than others. As relates to investment opportunities, Gopaldas shared the “pajama test” as one indicator of whether it is time to begin pursuit of new hotel acquisitions in earnest: If you are spending a majority of your typical week in pajamas, i.e. working from home with little human interaction and travel, it is too early to invest!
  • Fields, who joined from Boston, and whose business covers nearly 150 hotels in the U.S. and U.K., shared that the travel industry in these geographic areas have been hit hard by the pandemic and economic fallout related thereto, presenting significant financial hardship that forced some very difficult ‘right sizing’ decisions at both the property and home office levels. But he also shared optimistic comments about the resilience, creativity and hard work of motivated and well-trained hospitality teams, and the improved outcomes that likely will flow from these efforts, e.g. an acceleration of change in operating procedures and property management that can lead to greater efficiency and profitability when markets return to equilibrium. The “art” is making these changes while still maintaining the hospitality touches that are the hallmark of successful hotel companies.
  • Both Fields and Gopaldas encouraged students to look beyond the immediate challenges in the learning and job markets, to recognize that many new businesses were birthed as a result of prior recessions. They encouraged perseverance, and leveraging the power of the Cornell network. The Big Red nation is especially strong in the hospitality sector and connecting with alumni is something that should be done early and often.
  • The webinar wrapped up with a discussion of the “people side” of the hotel business, and some self-reflective comments on the meaningful change that they are observing and personally instigating to create more and better leadership and growth opportunities for women and people of color.

CREC’s Distinguished Speaker Series will resume after the 38th Annual Cornell Real Estate Conference takes place. At last count, almost 2,000 alumni had registered for the conference – please join us! Register or become a Sponsor HERE. If you haven’t already done so, we also encourage you to join CREC so you can stay informed about all future activities.

Note: Article written by David Rupert. The embedded link is the recording of a live webinar and has been posted with the permission of the participants.