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Day Three Rundown at IHIF
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That's a wrap!

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve come to the close of IHIF. It’s been an incredibly rewarding three days of networking, discussion, debate and reconnecting our industry. We thank you for being a part of the journey with us this year.

We started day three with John Pagano, Group CEO, The Red Sea Development, sharing about his passion project in Saudi Arabia. Responding to the word that’s been on everyone’s lips the last few days, John said, “Sustainability is really not enough.” By partnering first with scientists, rather than architects, John has set the goal not just to ‘sustain’ but also to improve the destination by increasing the net conservation value by 30%.

In our ‘Operational Models’ session, our panellists revealed that they each reacted to those first few punishing months of the pandemic by throwing out the rule book. Dimitris Manikis, President and Managing Director EMEA, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, Michael Deitemeyer, President & CEO, Aimbridge Hospitality, and Hubert Viriot, CEO, Yotel, all agreed that working across the owner, operator, landlord and lender relationship structure requires high degrees of collaboration and flexibility. 

“What we learned over the last 18 months was the value of human interaction," said Dimitris Manikis as he explained that in response to the pandemic, Wyndham made the effort to connect with each of their franchisees to offer reassurances and maintain the sense of security that the brand was in a position to offer.

As Aimbridge set out to navigate the US state-to-state regulations set forth by the pandemic, Michael Deitemeyer shared that the company quickly formed a government affairs team to help staff on the ground to understand the ever-changing regulations and evolving customer concerns. Aimbridge also launched a charitable fund for employees to offer further support. 

From an asset-light operational standpoint, Yotel weathered the initial storm of Covid-19 by relying on their head office to deliver key functions of their hotels in order to reduce burden at the property level. All approaches from our panellists showed that in order to succeed during difficult time, all parties must work together efficiently.

In the ‘One-to-One Chat: Championing Sustainable Growth’ session, we heard more about IHIF’s Country Patron, Saudi Arabia, described by Mahmoud Abdulhadi, Deputy Minister, Investment Attraction, Ministry of Tourism, as a “beautiful land that is relatively untouched.” Under its Vision 2030 plan, the country has set itself some ambitious goals for creating a prime destination for investment. These include reaching 100 million visits, creating one million new jobs, and bringing 400,000 room keys into the market.

Touching on sustainability, as so many speakers over the last three days have, Mahmoud Abdulhadi explained that while the ‘E’ is crucial in their ESG plans, the ministry is also deeply focused on the socioeconomic, cultural and financial sustainability of the country. 

Our general sessions closed with a final discussion of the industry’s ESG goals. According to David Kellett, Senior Director, Hotel Transactions, Invesco Real Estate, “The risk of getting it wrong is almost too big.” He was just one of many speakers who stressed that we must all commit in order for the entire industry to succeed. While some brands still cling to the argument that certain ESG initiatives conflict with their brand standards, what’s become clear is that the pandemic has shattered all the previous norms and that it’s time to reframe such thinking. We need to constantly question what is best for the investor? The owner? The operator? The customer? And more pressing, how can we hold all parties accountable?

Raj Chandnani, Executive Vice President & Chief Development Officer, WATG, offered one solution – incentivise the customer, don’t penalise them. Doing so allows the consumer to share in the experience of doing the right thing and will likely drive the future behaviour of booking stays based on sustainability programmes.

While keeping the customer happy is central to our industry, it’s also important to keep the investor happy. Caroline Tiveus, Senior Vice President, Director of Sustainable Business, Pandox, made the great point that there’s no better way to please investors than to provide them with favourable data. There’s great opportunity for generating ROI with a long-term sustainability plan when the numbers speak for themselves.

The last three days have been more insightful than we could have imagined, which is entirely down to you all being involved. Thank you so much for joining us live in Berlin! We hope you will continue to join the conversation on social media with hashtag #ihif2021. And don’t forget to save the date 3-5 May 2022 for next year’s edition.