After an earnings period when many shareholders saw e-commerce giant Amazon (AMZN) decimate most retailers (except for bargain and dollar stores), the lodging sector is now experiencing a similar digital disruption.
Wells Fargo Securities analysts on Tuesday reduced earnings estimates for the 17 members of the sector and downgraded two other companies, citing a cloudy economic outlook as a shaky foundation for any recovery, and rated the whole sector as Underweight. "Well Fargo's Economics Group sees only a tepid rise in profits in 2017, room demand lags the business sector and new supply is expected to be a continued headwind," the note read.
That "headwind" is online room-sharing service Airbnb.
At The Deal's Corporate Governance conference last week, former Starwood (HOT) CEO Frits Van Paasschen said the lodging industry is not immune to digital disruption, adding that Airbnb now has more listings than the three largest hotel companies have rooms.
"If you look at the online travel agencies, a company like Priceline (PCLN) that has Booking.com, it has a market cap equal to the combination of the major hotel companies," said Paasschen, noting that "digital disruption is a reality in any business."
But this disruption is critical to comprehend when evaluating a lodging company's board and management. Paasschen said the question is: "Can you find people to put on a board who understand both what's happening in the new world -- the digital world -- but also have a perspective of what the challenges are to make a transformation in a large organization with all the legacy systems that you have, all the different changes and behavior and process that need to be undertaken?"
While the former CEO said it is important for companies to find this balance, he believes many boards and companies will struggle because "frankly there aren't that many people who understand both sides of that mix."
Despite this lack of understanding, digital disruption is something he sees expanding into other business areas.
"When you think about it, the hotel business is about as old and as established as any industry, so if the hotel business can be disrupted digitally, it can happen anywhere," said Paasschen.