The Future of Travel: “Hospitality is now inherently a driver for all real estate — and no longer isolated to just hotels. This is a fundamental shift.” With David Berg of Infinity Real Estate

Mar 27th, 2019

Real estate is no longer just about ‘location, location, location’. It’s about ‘experience, experience, experience’, and you’re seeing this across all property types and sectors. Hospitality does not just mean hotel anymore: the hospitality industry is impacting the office property sector, the residential property sector, and the retail property sector. Every retail location and retail […]

March 25, 2019 – – I had the pleasure of interviewing David Berg, partner, joined Infinity Real Estate in 2011. David oversees the firm’s investment ventures and the implementation of its strategy in New York City, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Miami. He is also responsible for maintaining and servicing the firm’s lender and investor relationships within these markets. He is an active member of the Miami Beach development community serving as the vice president of the Espanola Way Association, a board member of the Ocean Drive Association, and an advisory member of the Washington Avenue BID.

Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path? How did you get your start?

I graduated from the Goizueta Business School at Emory University and wanted to work at a large institution, so I started my career at JP Morgan in commercial mortgage backed securities before the market crash. That’s what exposed me to real estate. I realized then that I wanted to be involved in both real estate finance and the bricks and sticks. So I moved out of the capital markets side of the business into more of an acquisitions and investment management role.

How did that actually transgress into hospitality and hotels and specifically to the Clay on Espanola Way and Miami?

My focus is on investing in top-tier urban markets in the US, mainly on the East Coast. As a result, that has brought us to New York, D.C., Philadelphia, Boston, and Miami, all of which are transient-oriented cities that capture a lot of tourism. When you’re in Miami you are inherently in the hospitality industry, since the major focus is on driving and servicing tourism.

Can you share a story from early in your career that drove you towards Miami in particular?

Christmas week of 2014, I was in Miami on vacation when my partner Steve got a call that there was an opportunity to purchase on Ocean Drive if we moved quickly. The property was 728 Ocean Drive, which formerly housed a Johnny Rockets, which we redeveloped into a CVS. We closed that first Miami deal in about a week, and the relationships we formed in that transaction are what eventually brought us to Espanola Way.

Have you made any funny mistakes since first delving into the real estate world and can you tell us if there’s any lesson that you learned from that?

When weacquired the Ocean Drive property, we did not foresee the political backlash which ensued from the perceived disruption that bringing a national retailer store — CVS — to Ocean Drive would create. This lesson we learned was a blessing in disguise.

Although getting the deal approved and the CVS opened was a challenge, we now have a far better understanding of Miami Beach and developed strong relationships with the political and local community. Through those community-driven efforts and focus, I am now proud to serve and work with the community as Vice President of the Espanola Way Association, Co-Chair of the South Beach Bid, and director of the Ocean Drive Association.

What innovations are you bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

Real estate is no longer just about ‘location, location, location’. It’s about ‘experience, experience, experience’, and you’re seeing this across all property types and sectors. Hospitality does not just mean hotel anymore: the hospitality industry is impacting the office property sector, the residential property sector, and the retail property sector. Every retail location and retail operator is now focused on an experience-driven store. They hope to bring a new experience, a lively experience, to their location to attract people inside to compete with online shopping.

For the office sector, firms like Knotel and WeWork have brought hospitality to the office world. You don’t just check-in at the security desk and take the elevator up to your office. You now have open floor spaces with ping-pong and pool tables, open kitchens, and social gathering spaces.

In the residential sector, sought-after amenities include concierge services, dry cleaning services, different food and beverage outlets, and common areas inside residential lobbies.

Hospitality is now inherently a driver for all real estate — and no longer isolated to just hotels. This is a fundamental shift.

How are you taking the hospitality industry to the next level?

Curation. Curated amenities, curated offerings, and curated products. Differentiation can no longer rely on design and service alone, but through every touch point and experience that someone has inside of your hotel. Among other things, we now offer our guests unique, fresh, and forward-thinking brands and products across all our hotels to leave a lasting impression and elevate their experience.

Which pain-point are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

Staleness: you can’t be “same-same.” Brand and your story are critical factors and must be impressionable. We focus on providing a nostalgic experience, for example — one that will give our customers who are from different countries, cultures, demographics — to distinguish our brand from others. You have to find the unique story in your product and capture that. It can’t be obvious. If Al Capone gambled at your property years before, finding a way to conjure his time there through design, product, and experience will leave a longer mark than a billboard.

We specialize in historic properties in major urban markets. We focus on reclaiming the legacy of those properties, bringing them back to life, rediscovering the charm of the architecture and history, and modernizing our properties to today’s world and technology — all to enrich the integrity and impression and deliver an authentic experience.

Can you share three examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

We are creating more common area spaces because people work more remotely than before. Second, we will deliver unique experiences. Third, hospitality will embrace new forms of booking and other technologies. More people are using the OTA’s, which are the Expedia’s and Kayaks in the world. A lot of people are using social media to determine where they want to travel. To be competitive in hospitality means having a very big social presence, a very big online presence, and strategic marketing.

How would you describe your perfect vacation experience?

My perfect vacation is one that is close to the action but offers unique, isolated, and private accommodation. You want to be able to access and enjoy all the location has to offer, but you don’t necessarily need to be or feel in the center of it.

Can you give me an example of a place you’ve traveled to recently that enhanced all your senses?

We went to The Sanara, in Tulum, Mexico. This is a boutique wellness-driven hotel with only seventeen rooms. It is in the center of Tulum, within walking distance to all of the restaurants, bars, shopping, and the bohemian culture that Tulum has to offer. What we loved about that experience was that every person working there knew who we were. We were on a first name basis with the staff, the owner of the hotel met us to extend his hospitality and made us feel welcome and at home — all with the benefit of being in the heart of Tulum with everything Tulum has to offer.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

Yes, my partner Steven Kassin, the founder of Infinity Real Estate. He is a mentor; encouraged my move from a pigeon-holed real estate position; and empowers all of us at the firm with autonomy, opportunity and as strong sense of partnership. Steve embraces entrepreneurialism, and his leadership style lets us focus on our strengths, add value in creative ways, and develop our capabilities to the fullest extent.

Is there a specific story showcasing how Steve empowered you?

I’m partly responsible for bringing us into the Miami and Philadelphia sub-markets because of my experience and relationships in those markets. When I joined Infinity Real Estate, we were only in New York and D.C. We could have continued focusing on those two markets alone. However, Steve trusted and empowered us to move ahead and tackle these markets, and this has resulted in some pretty favorable transactions for our team.

Thank you so much for joining us.

About Infinity Real Estate, LLC
Infinity Real Estate is a privately-owned developer, owner, and manager of high quality real estate in primary U.S. markets. The Company’s portfolio includes over 60 individual properties representing approximately 2.5 million square feet of retail, office and hospitality space and over 1,200 urban luxury rental apartments. Through its affiliates and portfolio companies, Infinity has managed in excess of 115 properties representing over 20 million square feet. The Company’s principals have led or have directly transacted in over $5 billion of real estate related investments spanning the acquisition or development of individual properties and portfolios, as well as several private corporate deals. The Company has established a strict investment discipline centered on active management of all its projects. Infinity’s “Green Landmark Initiative” is aimed at modernizing the infrastructure and transforming spatial programming of historic properties so that they operate with the highest efficiency and smallest environmental footprint possible, while rehabilitating and preserving precious architectural elements of the historic structures. Infinity pledges 1% of its revenues to environmental preservation and social causes as a member of 1% FOR THE PLANET – the B-Corp’s only member real estate company. Infinity Real Estate was founded in 2005 by Steven J. Kassin and is headquartered in New York City.  


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