The return of the Americas Lodging Investment Summit to Los Angeles and the new J.W. Marriott at LA Live brought out big numbers and even bigger names. The third largest crowd ever — approximately 2,400 — sat comfortably in the 7,000-seat Nokia Theatre for the opening of the event titled “Rebound!” Industry leaders, the chief economist for Wells Fargo Securities and legends Sam Zell and Bill Marriott took to the stage that has also hosted the Emmy Awards, the ESPYs and American Idol.

The mood of the event was positive, buoyed by numbers like conference chairman Jim Burba’s delegate survey showing 92% of respondents believed revenue per available room would increase this year. Suzanne Mellen of HVS said major transactions would again increase this year after a 40% increase last year. Ed Walter, head of Host Hotels & Resorts, said acquisition prospects were good for REITs this year, but not “frothy” like the first half of 2011.

Jan Freitag of STR noted 194 out of 212 markets in the Americas saw positive RevPAR growth and the data firm called for a 4.3% boost to RevPAR this year (0.5% occupancy and 4.3% average daily rate gains) and 4.9% in 2013 (0.5% occupancy, 4.4% ADR), as pricing power returns after the largely occupancy driven gains the past two years.

John Silvia, of Wells Fargo, painted a similar picture of the broader economy. “We have sustained growth in the U.S., but it’s not even,” he said. “There is growth, but it’s not a boom.”

The stars of the first day were clearly legends Zell and Marriott, who sat with Dale Anne Reiss of DLA Piper for a 45-minute Q&A session on the Nokia Stage. She said they not need introduction, and didn’t offer one. Just in case, Zell is the real estate mogul and chairman of Equity Group Investments, and Marriott is the chairman and CEO of Marriott International.

The duo was a study in contrast by looks, but not in sound. Zell, casually sporting a gray coat, white shirt and blue jeans, offered up biting criticism of President Obama, including calling his reelection the single biggest threat to the country and its recovery.

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