It's been a hot time in the hotel and lodging industry, which is one reason why the 20th Annual International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference will play to a standing-room-only audience.

The longest running hospitality/investment conference, presented by the New York University School of Continuing Education, will take place May 31 through June 2 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Some 1,500 to 1,600 senior executives from the hotel industry, Wall Street and management and consultant firms will gather to hear industry movers and shakers talk about a wide range of topics, from investment and consolidation to technology and design to franchising and the law.

"Whereas in the past, the conference focused 100% on investment criteria and opportunities, this year we tried to layer in operational and marketing issues," says Jonathan M. Tisch, president and chief executive officer ofLoews Hotels and this year's conference chairman.

As in most years, the tenor of the conference will be set by the opening question-and-answer panel discussion, this year entitled, "The CEOs 'Check In'." Since mergers and consolidations have racked the industry over the past two years, the big names of the M&A playing field will be "checking in" for that panel. Standing under the spotlight will be: Terence C. Golden, president and chief executive officer of Host Marriott Corp.; Richard M. Kelleher, president and chief operating officer of Promus Hotel Corp.; J.T. Kuhlman, chief operating officer of Inter-Continental Hotels and Resorts; Paul Nussbaum, chairman and chief executive officer of Patriot American Hospitality Inc.; Thomas R. Oliver, chairman and chief executive officer of Holiday Hospitality; and Barry Sternlicht, chairman and chief executive officer of Starwood Hotels & Resorts.

"The CEO panel is designed to feature each year the critical leadership of the industry," notes Lalia Rach, the moderator of the panel and associate dean and director of the The Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Travel Admin-istration at NYU.

"The thrust of the conference is, what does all this information mean for the next year, the next five years or the next 10 years? We put everything in a current context, but people want to know what the experts think the landscape will look like in the future," Rach says. "I call this the most exciting time to be in the hotel industry because literally you can go to sleep and wake up and the landscape is entirely different."

The industry is on a roll, adds Dorothy Jennings, conference coordinator and executive vice president with HVS International, and "people like to know the trends, the hot markets and the answer to the question, when is the industry going to peak?"

Since mergers and acquisitions have been such a big part of the industry, this year, as it was in 1997, the "Deal of the Year" presentation is expected to be quite popular. It is not just a presentation, but the winner (determined one month prior to the conference by a nomination committee) talks about the deal in depth. This session features the key players of the "deal" who share their experience in conceiving, formulating and executing the transaction which established a new benchmark, direction or trend in the industry. "We want to know all the intricacies of the deal, we want to know the major players and why it was considered a good deal," says Jennings. "We want to feel as though we are insiders."

Although there are no themes to the annual conference, key issues in the industry are often reflected in the choice of panels and presenters. For example, the internationalization of the lodging industry has been a long-term trend line, which is why Ambassador Bill Richardson, U.S. Representative to the United Nations, will make a keynote luncheon speech. "One of the things we felt strongly about was presenting a more global approach to the industry," says Rach. "Hotels and tourism can be used as economic development throughout the world."

For levity, or perhaps, distraction, another of the luncheon speakers will by Larry King, the talk show host and columnist.

The mainstays of the conference are the meetings that address financing issues, but in an unusual instance of reality reflecting seminar topics, financing the next deal will also be the mainstay of many of the polite conversations that will drift through the hall. "Clearly, people are coming here to network. Not only are they coming to hear the experts in the industry but they are coming to talk to each other. They are all deal junkies and they walk up to their banker or favorite person involved in M&A and say, 'I have two deals for you, do you want to finance?' So, there is an undercurrent of 1,600 deal junkies converging in one space," says Jennings.

The seeds of so many deals are planted at this conference, Jennings observes. "It is not just the presentations that are important to people who are attending, it is also the networking. Every table is full of attendees and people making deals. Within a few months you will read in the trades [publications] the deals that initially came into play at the conference."

It should be noted, however, it is not just deals and financing that will be of interest to guests. The program has, indeed, become well rounded. Some of the meetings include: Design Trends: The Mousetrap and Beyond; Adaptive Reuse: Poof, it's a Hotel!, Human Resources: Not all Assets are Financial; Theme Hotels: If it's Tuesday, it Must Be ...; and Legal Issues: The Inn-Laws.

"What we try to do is provide enough topics to be of interest to a wide spectrum of the attendees," says Jennings. Among the ancillary topics that are expected to attract a big audience are technology and meetings. "Everyone is concerned about teleconferencing and the effect it will have on the industry, and meetings are a big part of hotel occupancy," Jennings notes. "The major chains want to attract meeting planners so we have incorporated that as a session."

"The hotel landscape changes overnight," Rach reiterates. "People want to know what is the meaning of the changes, how will it impact the investor, the stockholder, the employee and the customer? Also, where is the next boom or bust? Where is the next great product or hotel type and how will new hotel products and brands maintain pace? These are the types of issues the conference does a great job of addressing."