The COVID-19 pandemic was devastating for hotels, restaurants, and concert venues, and Ryman Hospitality Properties (RHP 1.96%) owns all three of those property types. However, in this Fool Live video clip, recorded on Aug. 17, Millionacres real estate analyst Matt Frankel, CFP, and editor Deidre Woollard discuss why Ryman could be a big winner as its core businesses build back to pre-pandemic levels.
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Deidre Woollard: Let's talk about one of your favorites, Ryman Hospitality. One of the things I think is, I was just talking with some Fools in a meet-up earlier, where we talked about going into shows and this is going to see music. Ryman, they've got the hotels of course, but their music venues are really, really doing well. Now there's a little bit of controversy back-and-forth about who is requiring vaccinations or who is requiring masks for their individual shows, there is a little bit of press around that. But their booked concerts for next year are already higher than 2018 and that's just one part of their business but it's one part that really shows that there's that appetite for people who want to get out there and see live music.
Matthew Frankel: Yeah. I'd say that their entertainment venues are probably the most well-known assets among the general public. Before it was called Ryman the company was called Gaylord Hotels. It wasn't a REIT yet. It was easier to figure out what they owned back then. But this is a company that owns the five Gaylord Hotels and the one by the Tanger Outlets is now reopened. They finally reopened on July 1 after a big renovation project. That one was really hard hit because it didn't get the leisure traffic that some of their other properties do. For example, the Gaylord Palms is right near Disney World. That was relatively easy to pivot to leisure travel during the pandemic. Group meetings weren't happening. There's still not that many conferences going on. But as soon as Disney World reopened, which I think was late May or June last year, it was relatively easy and natural to pivot that to leisure travel from group travel. That's actually been their best-performing hotel so far during the pandemic, the occupancy was over 50% in the second quarter which for a group-focused hotel chain is pretty impressive. But they've done a really good job of pivoting a little bit. The real bread and butter is not the entertainment venues, as you mentioned, it's group events. Group revenue was $13 million in June. That's a lot less than it was before the pandemic. Group events really aren't happening that much yet, but you're starting to see it trickle back. That $13 million is more than they made from group business in January through May combined that they made in June. Still there were no group events happening at the beginning of the year. We're starting to see it trickle back. I think the first group event I'm set to go to is in November. I don't know about you. It's becoming more socially acceptable to say I am going to a conference now than it was a few months ago. People used to gasp when I said that. But now I'm booked at a conference in November, not at a Gaylord Hotel, but it's just, things are coming back. As long as there are no big shutdowns and events getting canceled.
As we saw last March, when one gets canceled, it sets off a giant chain reaction and you see a lot of cancellations, We're not seeing that so far. The delta surge is pretty big. In a lot of places, including where I am, it's bigger than the peak was in January. But you're not seeing the cancellations, you're seeing people eager to go, they're taking more precautions, you're hearing a lot of talk about vaccination requirements. I won't be surprised if at that November conference I have to show my vaccine card, for example. That wouldn't surprise me in the least. But you're not hearing any talk of cancellations, which is why Ryman is still trading near its pandemic high and not the teens like it was last March when the shutdowns first happened. That was a real no-brainer, by the way. The CEO even was buying shares hand-over-fist at that point. But cash flow turned positive in June, first time since February. It's looking good and that's before group business is really picking up, so I don't know. Have you been in the Gaylord since it reopened up there?
Woollard: No, I need to go over there. But I have noticed that traffic in National Harbor in general that whole area where there's the Capital Wheel and things like that, it's gone crazy. You could walk over there during the pandemic and there was hardly anybody around. Now, parking lots are full, everyone is back there. I think the interesting thing with Ryman, and they talked about this not on this earnings call as much, but on the previous earnings call, was about that leisure travel thing about more and more people going there and also the idea that remote workers may become mini-conferences that a lot of companies that are spreading out having virtual remote-first locations are going to then bring everybody to a resort for a few days for that in-person connection that really is important and that ends up actually becoming a perk for workers that are remote.
Frankel: Yeah, I think this could be a long-term positive for the business, and you're seeing the company double down on the in-person thing. They acquired the remaining stake in their Denver property, Gaylord Rockies, which has a lot of developable land is the key takeaway from that acquisition. It gives them the power to do what they want with it now rather than having to go with partners and stuff like that. They expanded the Gaylord Palms, that's the one near Disney. That 50% occupancy includes the expanded rooms. That one has been doing really well once conferences and conventions come back and that hotel's already more than half full of leisure travelers now. They didn't use to have to compete with leisure travelers. It was group business with maybe a few people staying there for leisure purposes. The Gaylord National Harbor, everyone who's staying there is there for some event for the most part. The holiday event they have the big Christmas village downstairs, people stay there for that. People don't go there just because they're visiting family in Maryland, it's really they're going there to be with a group. Now that they've successfully pivoted a lot of their hotels with the exception of National Harbor because it wasn't open. Now that they've pivoted most of their hotels to leisure travel somewhat, now that's going to be competing with their existing group business, which bookings are just as strong as pretty much as they were before the pandemic. That's going to give them some serious pricing power.