As part of the Americas Lodging Investment Summit’s Patron sponsorship program, ALIS organizers asked AHT’s Rob Hays seven timely questions as we prepare for the 21st annual event on January 24-26, 2022, at the JW Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Los Angeles L.A. LIVE. Following are her responses.
You have been President and CEO of AHT since March 2020. What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned since taking the role and how do you apply that lesson to what’s happening in the current environment?
I have learned that you have to really trust the people you work with, particularly in times of crisis. We’re running every aspect of our business leaner than before, so this has been an opportunity for people to step into bigger roles and take on more responsibility. It has been a privilege to watch people rise up to the challenge and work together as a team to conquer obstacles. I believe a lot of good can come from going through a trial like this. Adversity can bring people together in a way that nothing else can.
What parallels can you draw between the hotel industry of today and your previous experience in the oil industry? What principals did you learn earlier in your career that have carried over to your current position?
My father lost his oil and gas company in the 80’s, so I remember the impact it had him and how he handled it. When I spoke to him last year about what our industry was going through, he told me to embrace the crisis, meaning try to appreciate what it is teaching you along the way. In real estate, just like energy, you’ll probably have a moment once in your career where you may lose everything – but sometimes you have to stare into the abyss to find out what you’re really made of. So, I am striving to appreciate what the crisis is teaching me by rolling with the inevitable punches and celebrating the small victories along the way.
During an interview with Hotel News Now during ALIS in July you said AHT would try to reduce its leverage from the 60-percent range to the 40s. How are you going about that process as the industry continues to grapple with the recovery?
It is difficult to know exactly how to manage that process given the uncertainty of the current recovery, but we are slowly chipping away at it. We have de-levered by over $800 million during the past year through a combination of paying off debt, giving uneconomic assets back to lenders, converting preferred securities to common equity, and strategically raising cash. We will continue to look at these options, as well as others, such as selling assets or buying new assets with lower leverage over the next few years.