Where do all those with interests in money and luxury hotels gather every March? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind – to Berlin. The annual International Hotel Investment Forum IHIF is, says the gal, more than ever the biggest such event for top echelons of investors and operators and all those who supply to either faction, say designers and consultants and lawyers. And this year’s conference, with over 2,000 delegates, was more relevant than ever. Speakers included Chip Conley, the maverick Joie de Vivre hotel conceptor who built up his disparate San Francisco-based group and sold it on to John Pritzker’s Geolo Capital – he, Conley, is now the hotels liaison at Airbnb, and his talk was an eye-opener for some of the more traditional and stuffy hoteliers.
But actually Bench Events’ Chairman Jonathan Worsley, who puts the IHIF programme together, made sure that it keeps ahead of the times. Panels on future hotels were outstanding. And Robert Herr, the GM of the host hotel, InterContinental Berlin, ensures that the hospitality is more stylish than ever (compare the table setting at the final lunch with some of the investment conferences you get in New York and elsewhere). Jonathan Worsley and Questex, which owns IHIF, schedule it back-to-back with Germany’s biggest travel bunfight, ITB, where the most stylish thing, I must say, is Ursula Sax’s Looping sculpture, all 19 x 50 metres of it, outside the Messe.
It used to be that of ITB‘s nine mammoth exhibition halls, the luxury hotel sector congregated in Hall 9, for that was where groups of the calibre of Four Seasons and Peninsula and Rosewood had stands. Now the only true luxury exhibitors are those that are part of multi-brands, like FRHI, Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Starwood. It was surprising to see Paramount having a really big and lavish stand as it will be at least a year before this Dubai-based company even opens its first property, but good for them. And I was happy to be invited to the always-friendly Preferred Group stand, even though I missed the announcement of the new naming of its brands.
Hall 9 is mostly now filled with OTAs, online travel agents, and digital accomplices that in many cases only the Germans have heard of. Anyway, ITB organisers were extremely happy with the event and I was pleased to see the prominence of Mongolia, sponsoring the whole event. Well done, by the way, to Hilton, who provided luxury hoteliers, and anyone else, with disposable wheelies in which to cart away all the paraphernalia that one picks up on these occasions.