ALIS Preview: Caution or Exuberance?

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From despair to hope to exuberance. That's the way to describe the last two Americas Lodging Investment Summits and the one that starts next week in San Diego. ALIS is the lodging industry's first major event of the year and is typically a bellwether to the hopes and concerns of many owners, operators and other movers and shakers.

Two years ago, the mood at ALIS was glum, bordering on panic. Last year, many attendees and panelists spoke of hope that the worst of the industry depression was over. While I expect a lot more smiling faces among the 1,000-plus attendees next week, my guess is many of the smart players will still be cautious. Sure, while industry performance has turned around in a big way and financing and dealmaking are beginning to flow, albeit slowly, there's still a gnawing worry that recovery is perilous. Thus, I look forward to talking with as many people as possible next week to gauge the real mood of the industry.

Beyond the always-engaging formal and informal one-on-one meetings I'll have, some of the general sessions and panel discussions should be interesting and illuminating. There are a number of sessions I don't want to miss:

• A keynote address by Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group should be entertaining and may yield additional details about the recently launched Virgin Hotels brand.

• IREFAC, the clique of top industry real estate moguls, will close the conference next Wednesday with two panels: a gabfest among nine current hotel business leaders and a smaller panel of industry legends—Steve Bollenbach, Mike Rose, Woody Weiser and Gary Wilson—who will presumably reminisce about the old days and provide some sage advice on the current and future state of the industry.

• John Portman, the groundbreaking hotel architect and visionary behind the original Hyatt Regency look, will receive a lifetime achievement award. I look forward to hearing his viewpoints on the future of hotel design.

I'll see some of you in sunny Southern California. If you won't be there, you can follow our coverage of the conference online and in print.

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