IHG’s AHC diary – ‘A real sense of considerate optimism’

AHC hall

Day 1 – Change for Good

On day one of the Annual Hotel Conference (AHC) in Manchester, we walked through the doors and were met with an atmosphere rivalling the much bigger shows in Europe – it felt like a bustling mini-city – and I was thrilled to see people together again!

This year the theme is “Change for Good” – and those of us attending the conference are exploring how to navigate our industry’s recovery and survival following a difficult period. 

In between a brimming agenda of meetings, there are so many interesting conversations to be had about the state and future of the hotel business in the UK. What was most noticeable to me though is that there’s a real sense of considerate optimism.

In the morning, we heard from STR, which provides market data on the hotel industry worldwide, and interestingly, the anticipate a RevPAR recovery in the UK by 2023, bringing it forward by a whole year compared to previous estimates. 

Hotel consultancy, CBRE, was also optimistic, having predicted an increase of deals in 2022 with strong investor demand in key cities such as London and other gateway city locations.

Retaining and encouraging talent

A key challenge will be retaining and encouraging talent – especially as other costs such as energy are likely to rise.  As an industry, we’ll need to confront this challenge together - head on. 

Kate Nicholls, CEO of trade body UK Hospitality, made some notable points in the panel “Accelerating Re-birth of UK Travel & Hospitality”. To encourage talent, Kate discussed the importance of positioning hospitality as a career rather than only somewhere you work; partnering with local job centres to push benefits that include rapid development and the ability to gain a breadth of experience; and finally, getting involved in industry campaigns at a government level to ensure the voice of hospitality is heard, and heard loudly. 

We also need to create the right environment for our future workforce. This means allowing greater flexibility in a work life balance, ensuring we listen and meet the needs of our employees, and finally, being a bit less stiff and a bit more human in hospitality. 

Ultimately, people serve real people. 

Serving our customers

Day 1 here at the AHC emphasised how customers are more conscious about how they spend their money more now than ever before, and are seeking a much bigger bang for their buck. From bucket-list experiences, to the use of smart-tech for a seamless stay, customers are not holding back on their demands and the industry is going to need to continue to innovate to meet the new savvy hotel guest. 

Over the years, the customer experience as a whole has dramatically changed, whether that be in retail or restaurants, customer is king and the hospitality industry is by no means exempt.

The pandemic of course placed particular strain to our industry, including a new way of travelling, and with it, expectations of hotel stays have changed too. 

Hospitality with purpose

In the afternoon, IHG’s SVP and managing director for Europe, Karin Sheppard, spoke at a panel looking at “People, Planet and Profit – Rebalancing the three Ps”. And, what food for thought that left us with! What came through loud and clear to me was the fundamentality of responsible business to our industry. Whether climate and carbon, or people and communities, it is vital not only due to the focus and direction business is taking, but also because it is the right thing to do.

Taking owners on that journey is key, and Karin, Satya (Marriott) and Dimitris (Wyndham) had a great discussion about what that looks like now that our stakeholders are more aligned than ever. A particular favourite quote from that session was from Karin: “The truth is that the best we can do today will not be the best we can do tomorrow. Use that knowledge to be humble and eager to learn and improve as you go.”

Day 2 - More aligned than ever 

I’ve enjoyed hearing from many of our owners about how they are seeing the pandemic as a measured opportunity to reset, rethink and reimagine how we do business and grow together: something that I very much share with them. Many of this morning’s plenary sessions have explored just that, focusing on how we can align operators, owners and brands – and also discussing new strategies and ways forward in this post-pandemic world.

Over the course of the afternoon, we were delighted to offer AHC delegates the opportunity to tour our Kimpton Clocktower hotel – built 130 years ago for an insurance company, it is a grade II listed building with its stunning architectural features and design layers nestled in the history of Manchester. It is a fantastic example of how luxury and lifestyle hospitality can be brought to life!

Responsible recovery

All in all, it’s been an incredible few days at the Annual Hotel Conference. There’s been a real focus on the exchange of ideas, productive conversations and opportunities for meaningful connections. What has stood out to me most is a general consensus that the navigation of recovery for the hotel industry and the wider hospitality sector must be done responsibly. 

Pursuing deals will of course be expected but we must make sure those deals are the right fit, the right quality and importantly – done in a right and responsible, future oriented, way. A need for transparency and demonstration of value to stakeholders throughout that journey will be paramount, and as part of this, we need to broaden the ESG discussion to not just be about the environment, but about the ecosystem as a whole, inclusive of the people, communities and governance. 

A responsible recovery is the only way for us to come out together, better on the other side. I hope to see you there next year!

Joanna Kurowska is the managing director for UK and Ireland at IHG