ILC speakers discuss brand partnerships, local culture

Andrew Benioff, founder and chairman of the Independent Lodging Congress, addresses a crowd of more than 275 attendees.

BROOKLYN, NY—The Independent Lodging Congress (ILC) continues to gain momentum. This year, the conference welcomed more attendees and speakers, and rolled out additional topics relevant to independent properties—and next year will have more.

“We have changed from being simply a conference that celebrates independent hotels to one where we explore issues that affect everyone in our society and culture, and then link those discussions back to indie lodging and how we might use this newfound knowledge to better serve our customers or design our businesses,” said Andrew Benioff, founder and chairman of the Independent Lodging Congress. “We’ve expanded from simply focusing on hotels to restaurants, bars, clubs, coworking, co-living, tech and start-ups, media, entertainment, wellness, etc.”

Last month, more than 275 independent hoteliers gathered at The William Vale hotel for ILC, a three-day conference jam-packed with information panels, discussions and events aimed to inspire and disrupt the independent lodging space. “Every year, we grow attendance, but, honestly, our goal is not to be the largest conference—just the most meaningful,” he said. “Many attendees say that the reason they come is because we are intimate; because of that, they are able to make meaningful connections.”

ILC’s attendance continues to grow by about 10% per year.

Speakers included Amar Lalvani, CEO and managing partner of Standard International; Brad Wilson, president and co-partner of Ace Hotel Group and Atelier Ace; Ben Pundole, VP of brand experience for Edition Hotels; Katherine Lo, founder and president of Eaton Workshop; Michael Montero, founder and CTO of Resy; Ryan Simonetti, co-founder and CEO of Convene; Erik Oberholtzer, chef, co-founder and executive chairman of Tender Greens; Kara Mann, founder and creative director of Kara Mann; and artist Shantell Martin, among others.

A variety of trending topics were discussed—including building buzz for the long haul in F&B; developing a mission-driven hotel; and blurring the lines between food, real estate and hospitality.

Marketing has always been a challenge for independents so, of course, this topic was discussed at length. “With all the tech platforms out there now, the playing field has been leveled considerably,” Benioff said. “Indies need to embrace their differences and use them as their advantage, which, honestly, I believe they are already doing.”

Independent properties have been jumping marketing hurdles by also leveraging social causes for their brands. “We had a focus on social causes and those that champion them this year,” he said. “They were some of our most powerful discussions, and Kat Lo of Eaton not only received our Start Something Award this year, but also showed that you can fashion an entire brand around the idea of social justice.”

One of ILC’s top initiatives has been giving back to the community. “We believe strongly that you can do well, as well as doing good, so we always try to give back to causes we believe in,” he said. “Our specific charity of choice is Big Brothers Big Sisters. Big Brothers Big Sisters is focused on mentoring; by pulling up those behind us we make certain that the next generation of leaders is ready to take the reins.”

Each year, ILC hosts a charity auction to raise money for Big Brothers Big Sisters. To date, ILC has donated more than $50,000.

ILC event sponsors this year included Llenrock Realty Partners, Linden Lane Capital Partners, Eagle Point Hotel Partners, Filament, Expedia Group, KKAD, Beachwood Custom, Passionality Group, HHM Hospitality, WSA Hospitality and others.

“We want to continue pushing boundaries about what we discuss and want to keep our gathering broad enough so that all parts of the industry feel welcome, including dealmakers and investors, designers and architects, artists, managers, bankers, etc.,” he said.

Next year, ILC is expanding yet again. There will be three ILC events in 2019: one in Miami in February; another in Manhattan in June; and a third in Los Angeles in October.

“The sixth edition of the Independent Lodging Congress was our most successful yet as it inspired new thoughts and reactive energy among our speakers and participants that we hope will ultimately transform the hospitality industry for the better,” Benioff said. HB

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