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07/19/2022 | by Diane Rusignola

Rob Hays, president and CEO of Ashford Hospitality Trust (NYSE: AHT), participated in a video interview in conjunction with Nareit’s REITweek: 2022 Investor Conference in New York on June 7-9.

Hays said that the first half of the year was difficult for Ashford, with occupancy levels 25% to 35% down from 2019 levels, but that occupancy rates are “coming back very, very quickly on the heels of omicron.”

“The last two months have been really strong, where occupancy is almost all the way back to where it was in 2019, and rates are…maybe 5% up for the year,” he said.

Turning to acquisitions, Hays said Ashford is looking at a variety of opportunities, primarily in Northern markets, business travel, and the group sector.

“Everyone’s been really focused on the recovery in leisure—it seems like that’s where most of the acquisition activity is—where we see a lot more opportunity in the recovery of business travel,” he said, adding that business travel is back about 75% to where it was pre-COVID.

Hays also said that when it comes to promoting career growth, Ashford is more focused on employees’ talents than their specific roles. He added that Ashford has an array of businesses beyond the REIT, including managing and asset managing hotels, and an audio visual business, that allows it to “move people around” based on lifestyle or geography draws that might be favorable to its employees.