Health check: the state of hospitality and hotel CRE

An economy reconfigured

It’s been a rollercoaster 18 months for everyone including market analysts who have had to provide insight and predictions on an unprecedented event, as the world bounded through recession, recovery, and reconfiguration. As it stands now, the US recovery has been swift, if uneven.

GlobeSt’s latest piece on this makes the argument for understanding this recession in different terms from so-called traditional ones, writing: “The COVID-19 recession was not caused by monetary factors, rather it has been a disruption akin to an unanticipated natural disaster which typically temporarily interrupts economic activity while leaving intact the underlying demand and supply of goods and services.”

Outlook

The above forms part of their outlook reporting for hotel sales, and as has been well-established hotels, tourism, and hospitality were dramatically affected during the peak of the pandemic travel-bans and “shelter at home” orders.

GlobeSt points to some encouraging signs, including the volume of startup businesses launching, low levels of household debt-service burdens (in relation to net income), rising house prices, increases in personal savings, and the Dow Jones Industrial Averaging gaining some 18% compared to Feb 2020 (a pre-pandemic peak for the index). Altogether, these are positive signs that the American consumer may well have additional discretionary spending in the coming months, and the tourism space could be on the receiving end.

Corporate travel is expected to increase in the second half of the year, on top of the increases already evidenced in daytrippers and weekend travel. As schools reopen, they are anticipating patterns to shift from leisure to work trips.

Early 2021 winners

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that real estate investment trusts (REITs) and companies with holdings in retail and hotels “mounted a first-quarter comeback”.

“Real-estate investment trusts overall rose 9% during the three months, beating the S&P 500’s 6% gain,” according to data-analytics firm Green Street. Fueling the REIT rally was an 18% rise in the shares of lodging owners and a 32% gain by mall owners.

Creative strategies
Additionally, according to CNBC, distressed hotels were in demand from buyers looking for possible redevelopment and conversion projects, and other creative solutions to the low supply of affordable housing. “So-called Class C housing stock is now 96% occupied nationally and 99% occupied in the Midwest, according to RealPage, a property management software company,” CNBC writes.

And for hotels with no intentions of conversion – the vast majority – the pandemic also provided a kind of reset that allows for model innovation. “Similar to the airline’s ala carte approach, the hotel industry is attempting to move guests toward an opt-in choice for various services, such as daily room cleaning,” reports GlobeSt.

Counting the deals
This article provides a deep dive into specific deals and statistics from hotel sales and performance in 2021 so far and is a recommended read for those CRE professionals servicing the submarket.

It will also make for interesting reading from a capital markets perspective as it details funding activity: “As the U.S. hotel industry continues to emerge from the carnage induced by the global pandemic, an abundance of capital is beginning to fuel increasing activity with lodging sector mergers, acquisitions, and spinoffs,” they wrote.

CRE outlook stronger despite supply chain challenges

Since April 2020, the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP) has been keeping track of the pandemic’s impact on CRE with their regular COVID Impact surveys. NAIOP’s June 2021 survey collected data from 239 US-based members, including brokers, building managers and owners, and real estate developers. A recurring theme in this latest survey was the increasing challenges commercial real estate (CRE) is navigating associated with supply chain disruptions and materials costs.

Supply and delay
With more than 86% of developers reporting delays or materials shortages, it seems the impact of COVID on supply chains is set to become one of the longest-lasting effects of the pandemic. Adding to difficulties, 66% of those surveyed reported delays in permitting and entitlements, a figure that hasn’t changed since June 2020.

Fixtures and equipment for stores are also in short supply, with order backlogs stretching into months for some retail sectors. While this isn’t necessarily surprising, given setbacks in manufacturing in key suppliers such as China, the CRE market shows promising signs of being on-track for continued recovery nonetheless.

Development despite setbacks
Despite the issues highlighted in the report, the survey still showed an increase in retail prospects. New acquisition of existing retail buildings was indicated by 39.1% of respondents, while 31.3% mentioned new development going ahead. Both of these figures represent a strong improvement from a previous survey in January. Deal activity was also noted to be on the up, with figures doubling for office and retail properties over the course of a year, and industrial deal activity increasing over 20% since June 2020.

“Bricks and clicks”
International industry players have also noted that, though larger spaces are still facing delayed rental uptake, 20,000-30,000 square-foot sites are garnering increasing interest. The potential for these spaces is as part of a multichannel retail/warehouse approach – the “bricks and clicks” strategy. As the demand for online retail increases, logistic assets, and storage spaces become more valuable, contributing to an overall uptick in both virtual and brick-and-mortar marketplaces. 

A promising prognosis
Even with the supply chain challenges facing the industry, the Federal Reserve agrees with the trend data gathered from NAIOP participants. In their June 2021 Beige Book, the Fed noted upward movement in industrial output and consumer demand. Though economic gains were noted to be slow, the outlook remains steady and positive.

President and CEO of NAIOP, Thomas J. Bisacquino, puts it like this: “The materials and supply chain issues are lagging effects of the pandemic, and they are affecting every industry. While the pandemic’s impact was deep, there’s a sense of optimism among NAIOP members, with deal activity rising and an increase in people returning to offices, restaurants and retailers.”

At your service: the role of CRE retail management services

We all know the old real estate adage – “location, location, location” – but economies in the 21st century are tending towards “as a service” thinking, a trend characterized by a handful of big-name disruptors like Uber (transport-as-a-service) and Airbnb (accommodation-as-a-service).

In this model, the hassle and upkeep, the peripheral add-ons, are all rolled into the cost for clients and can make a compelling ‘sales pitch’ for would-be buyers.

“The other downstream effect of this is the emphasis on service itself – the quality thereof, more than its existence,” says Cliff Moskowitz, EVP, NAI Global. “Commercial real estate (CRE) professionals and firms that offer competitive, value-adding services can set themselves, and their listings, apart.”

A partner in time

For the owner and occupants of a retail property, having access to smart, speedy services as part of your property contract is a game-changer.

Services for occupiers include the obvious (like group marketing, facilities management, and lease administration), and then superior service offerings (such as omnichannel real estate solutions and supply chain advisory).

With services for investors, this category might include property marketing, valuation, and advisory services, and project management, which all exceed the traditional-but-still-essential landlord representation and leasing, and property management.

Next generation services

Retail properties can now include considerable benefits to occupants and tenants on the “as-a-service” model, including technological infrastructure, security, renewable energy generation and management, event management, and even click-to-collect services.

The increasing availability of these kinds of options means that retail property managers can offer far more for their clients without intense capital expenditure on their part or the client’s part, as these are now shifting to the operational expenses column in the books.

X marks the spot

When we pivot to thinking of ourselves as CRE service providers, we shift from a “sales first” approach to one of “service first”, and we also see the corresponding language shift from “renter” to “customer”.

This encapsulates the contemporary approach to business which centers the customer experience (CX) above everything.

With CX as a guiding principle, CRE professionals can position themselves for longer-term partnerships with their retail clients, and as premium providers, achieving both better numbers for themselves, and a higher return on investment for their clients – and that is the definition of a win-win deal.