March 21, 2024 •

5 min reading

Finance & real estate research: Dr. Mori discusses his latest work

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Welcome to the regular Q&A feature where we shine the spotlight on our EHL research faculty and their current work. With a view to going behind the scenes to better understand the fascinating, impactful world of research, the EHL Institutional Visibility team will be regularly catching up with an EHL researcher whose work is making a difference in both classroom and industry.

We’re talking today with Dr. Masaki Mori, Associate Professor of Real Estate Finance at EHL Hospitality Business School. We discuss his professional background, current research activities, the conference he is organizing this summer in Tokyo, and his commitment to disseminating his research know-how to future generations.


How did you land at EHL Hospitality Business School?

I was on my honeymoon in 1998! At the time people only visited Switzerland for a very special occasion. We’re both from Japan and didn’t have much knowledge of Switzerland but we really liked it and kept the idea of moving here in the back of our minds. Fast-forward two decades - after getting my PhD from Georgia State University in Atlanta, I taught at the International University of Japan, the National University of Singapore, the University of Reading (30 minutes west of London), and now EHL where I’ve been for the past three years. The other universities were more research oriented whereas EHL is more focused on education, which is why I like it. Teaching is why I originally chose this profession. EHL has a nice balance between education and research.


What courses are you teaching this year?

I teach Real Estate Finance in BOSC5 [the penultimate semester of EHL’s bachelor program] and courses in our three master’s programs. The courses are focused on finance and property valuation, including how to determine the theoretical sales price of a hotel. In one year’s time, I’ll be teaching as part of EHL’s advanced certificate in Hospitality Finance Leadership, which is a new initiative.


You’re also part of a new adult education program

Yes, I facilitate a live session and coaching sessions for EHL’s Graduate Institute for Teacher and Executive Development (GIFTED), which was founded by Dr. Demian Hodari, an EHL Associate Professor of Strategic Management. We cater to business leaders and professionals who are asked to lead seminars, conferences, guest lectures, etc. but might struggle with the pedagogical aspects of teaching a class or facilitating a workshop. We help them develop effective teaching methods, define course objectives and adapt to different learning styles. We bridge that gap.


How do you come up with research ideas?

My approach is to read a lot of papers in other areas, such as luxury, finance, etc., and try to connect their findings with my research domains, which are primarily Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) and housing markets. For instance, through my research I found that in certain markets demand for upscale property increases when prices rise, in a perfect illustration of a Veblen good. This is somewhat counterintuitive and a rare phenomenon in real estate. In a 2016 paper, I found evidence that people’s appetite for luxury consumption affects luxury property prices — even during a crisis. More specifically, we observed a positive correlation between Google searches for luxury goods and property prices. I like connecting different areas and finding similarities.

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You’ve also studied the correlation between women board members and risk

In a recent paper, I found that women tend to be more conservative and risk-averse in the decisions they make as board members of REITs. We studied property markets across the entire United States and discovered that women tend to shun investments in property markets they are less familiar with. This makes sense: if they’re based in Atlanta they won’t invest in property in Los Angeles. Yet, the lack of geographical diversification concentrates risk in a relatively small market. Paradoxically, this conservative approach increases risk. However, this conservative strategy minimizes risk and tends, ultimately, to generate higher returns.


Interesting but, yes, counterintuitive! I see you’ve also been looking at hotel pricing strategy and inflation

In the past 20-30 years, inflation has been low. But now, everyone is studying it again. And we struck the motherlode! STR, our primary data partner, provided us with hotel-level performance statistics, including ADR, RevPar, etc., from the past 35 years. We’re finding some stories. While they’ve mostly been consistent with our perceptions, we’ve started to see some deeper insights, thanks to the granularity of the data.


Inflation, women on REIT boards, the housing market… that’s a wide variety of topics!

Absolutely! Before coming to EHL, I was supervising several doctoral theses with different topics. So I’ve continued to work with my former students as they finish up their PhDs.


How are preparations going for the big HFE event this summer?

EHL started the Hospitality Finance and Economics Conference eight years ago and it’s always taken place here in Lausanne. Last year, we decided to have it at EHL’s new Singapore campus. And this year, we're excited to expand the reach of the event by holding it in Asia. In fact, a former colleague who teaches at Hitotsubashi University in Japan volunteered to put it on. So EHL is co-hosting the event alongside Hitotsubashi University and the NUS Institute of Real Estate & Urban Studies on 4-5 July 2024.

Our two keynote speakers will be Prof. Takatoshi Ito of Columbia University and Prof. Kwan Ok Lee who teaches at the National University of Singapore. To foster meaningful discussions on these topics, we will also organize panel sessions that serve as platforms for the exchange of ideas between academics and practitioners.


What will be the main theme of the conference?

There will be about 15 papers that will be presented on a variety of topics with a heavy focus on real estate and market effects in Asia, particularly Japan and China. We strive to tackle critical social issues in Japan, such as demographic changes and property bubbles. One roundtable will be led by Prof. Joseph Ooi, professor in the Department of Real Estate and Co-director of the Institute of Real Estate and Urban Studies (IREUS) at the National University of Singapore.

It’s a really unique forum for researchers to present their unpublished papers. After a 20-minute presentation, a discussant facilitates a 15-minute analysis of the paper, kind of like a reviewer would. Then we have 10 minutes for a Q&A with the whole room. The researcher gets a ton of feedback. We didn’t want to just fly researchers in to give a quick presentation and then leave. We take a more in-depth approach. 


So what’s in your pipeline?

I have a paper that I will present at the conference about how hotels adapt their rate strategies during periods of high inflation. I have other working papers on a variety of topics including the impacts of board gender diversity on property acquisitions, and the risks associated with a stock price crash risk, and lastly, the impacts of smart city initiatives on corporate innovations.


You seem really committed to sharing your research know-how?

I’ve always been keen to share my knowledge. In fact, as part of the International Real Estate Society, I mentor online 30-40 Ph.D. students from all over the world, primarily in Africa. They sometimes need guidance in research methodology, writing and the publishing process. Many of the students come from universities that don’t necessarily have the resources we have in more developed countries. It has been an interesting and rewarding experience.



Dr. Masaki Mori is an Associate Professor of Real Estate Finance at EHL Hospitality Business School. From the start of his career some 20 years ago as a Fulbright scholar, he has garnered an international reputation for excellence in research. His main areas of focus include real estate valuation, Real Estate Investment Trusts and the property markets.

About the 7th HFE Conference