Christian Walter is one of PKF hospitality group’s CEOs & Partners. He oversees all operator search assignments and is also developing the group’s concepts + brands department, creating new hospitality products for hotel groups as well as individuals. He shares his optimism about the potential for innovation and transformation in hospitality, ahead of his participation to the International Hospitality Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin in September.
Hospitality Insights: What do you expect to be the lasting effect of the pandemic on the hospitality sector, in particular in terms of the relations between stakeholders?
Christian Walter: I sincerely hope that this pandemic has a lasting effect on our industry. We should not just return to the good old normal. This is a time for change, to challenge ourselves, to rethink hospitality. Our industry has been hit severely, however, the future for hospitality looks bright. As for the relations between stakeholders, I expect that the younger generations will act as disruptors and shake up some of the traditional patterns. And that’s good, as it means innovation and progress!
Hospitality Insights: What innovations have come out of the crisis that should inspire the industry?
Walter: I don’t think this is innovation per se, but the digital transformation has reached the last bastions of the analogue world during the pandemic. At the same time, I believe that our world is actually not digital in the literal sense of the word: It is not black or white, yes or no, zero or one. The really exciting things seem to happen in the convergence zone. For us at PKF, the biggest potential for our industry lies in the vast space between the traditional hotel on the one hand and the traditional residential apartment on the other hand. Or look at the way we live and work – the borders are becoming blurry. Or take urban living versus rural living – these should no longer be antonyms but complement each other.
Hospitality Insights: What hospitality segments do you expect will have the best growth opportunities in the coming years?
Walter: I see tremendous growth opportunities in urban environments – but not so much for run-of-the-mill hotel products, more so for what we call the serviced living sector, i.e. anything combining residential and hospitality elements (e.g. co-living concepts for all phases of the human life span). Of course, fuelled by the pandemic, resort developments in traditional holiday destination but also increasingly in off-the-beaten-track natural environments experience extraordinary growth.
Even though we are a real estate industry, I believe that we need to venture more into the mobility sector to improve the seamlessness between moveable and immoveable infrastructure.
Hospitality Insights: The leisure segment is hailed to be driving hospitality recovery. What are the keys to succeed in this market?
Walter: Briefly speaking: Curating and programming spaces to reduce exposure to seasonality; creative, interesting, fresh concepts with some urban elements; good value for money and accessible by public transport. I believe that the younger generation is willing to spend their holidays closer to home, thus reducing CO2 emission. However, this only works if the product is exciting, and the pricing adequate.
Hospitality Insights: The corporate segment is expected to come back later than leisure. How are you managing the recovery of your brands that were targeting this segment?
Walter: I can only give one piece of advice to our friends at the various hotel groups: Anticipate how we will work, meet and travel in the future. Be brave enough to follow new paths and develop exciting concepts that will attract the corporate traveler of tomorrow.
Hospitality Insights: PKF has a strong presence in Germany: what is the prospect for this key market?
Walter: Germany is one of our strongest markets, and as one of the largest economies of the world with strong domestic demand, it will continue to be so. There are numerous third-tier cities that still offer interesting opportunities. Being German myself, I am proud to say that the country is very diverse as a tourist destination, too, so I am particularly excited about the many developments in the resort sector.
Hospitality Insights: What are you looking forward to with regards to your participation to IHIF?
Walter: Needless to say, I very much look forward to catching up with old friends and to making new acquaintances. However, I do hope that our conversations change to some degree and that we come up with new exciting ideas. As an industry, we can come out of this stronger and better than before. We are one of the most flexible, creative and versatile sectors – if only we dare.
Christian Walter will be hosting the panel Roads? Where We're Going, We Don’t Need Roads! - Identifying the Major Shifts in Hospitality Trends at the International Hospitality Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin in September.