By Jenni Lantz (LinkedIn)
On Wednesday, December 7, ULI Colorado hosted its annual holiday party at the EXDO Event Center in the RiNo (River North Art District) neighborhood of Denver. The party included an educational component presented by the Explorer Series Committee. This year, attendees looked into the hospitality industry with two panels: one on trends (national and local) and the other on local case studies.
After a welcome from Michael Leccese, Executive Director of ULI Colorado, and opening remarks by Robert Detrick, Partner at Husch Blackwell, Brian Corbett, Co-Founder and Chief Experience Officer at Inspirato, took the stage to moderate the two panels.
The first panel, comprising Larry Kaplan, Senior Vice President of Hotels for CBRE, and Stephen Hennis, Vice President of Consulting and Analytics for STR, looked at the hospitality industry nationally and locally, giving attendees a great snapshot of the current temperature of the industry and what is to come. Both discussed the current boom but noted that supply will soon outpace demand in some of our larger local markets, with thousands of new hotel rooms coming in the next two years.
Airbnb and the sharing economy came up in both presentations, as well as during the short Q&A afterwards. While Airbnb is growing exponentially, both men did not see it as a threat to Denver hotels. Business travelers do not tend to use Airbnb, and it does not add to the supply in the resort markets. Although Airbnb is growing, it is an alternative to hotels locally but not replacing them.
The second panel delved into some of the exciting upcoming Denver hotels. Kyle Zeppelin, President of Zeppelin Development, and Ryan Diggins, Partner at Gravitas Development Group, offered an independent voice, discussing two hotels in RiNo: The Source Hotel and The Ramble Hotel, a boutique 50-room hotel on a small 12,500-square-foot infill lot. Dave Johnstone, Chief Investment Officer of Hospitality at McWhinney, and Michael Everett, Chief Investment Officer at Sage Hospitality, spoke to the larger, sometimes chain hotels, including The Maven in the new Dairy Block (18th and Wazee) area of LoDo, The Crawford at Union Station, and the Halcyon in Cherry Creek.
The buzz words for a hotel’s success seemed to be “authentic” and “local”—whether a large hotel chain or independent one. Catering to a particular demographic clientele, such as millennials, is now less important than giving guests experiences they crave, such as access to local art, food, and outdoor recreation. Creating unique experiences, like a speakeasy in the basement of the hotel or an Airstream trailer in the lobby that serves chips and salsa and margaritas, was a new trend noted by the panelists. In addition, location in neighborhoods that people want to visit, such as RiNo or Union Station, was seen as key for a hotel’s success. Overall, the panelists saw that in the next few years, Denver’s exciting new hotels are providing many new reasons for consumers to stop and stay awhile.
The event wrapped up with drinks, appetizers, and live music, allowing 200 local ULI members to celebrate another great year.
ULI Colorado also thanked LaDonna Baertlein of Studio InSite for her two-year term as co-chair of the Explorer series, which included the first programs at the Crawford Hotel, Westin DIA, and Stanley Marketplace, as well as tour day for TOD Marketplace. ULI and co-chair John Binder of Kephart welcomed Brandi Sanger of OZ as the new committee co-chair.