And now it is time to begin the real business that has brought nearly 800 top hoteliers in from all over the world, here to the luxury InterContinental Hong Kong hotel for the 25th annual Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific (HICAP). The gal has her badge on and dresses in her conference glad rags. Uniform for guys is a dark suit and, definitely, a tie – unless you are Tony Fernandes. The boss of Air Asia and Tune Hotels was being recognised with the HICAP entrepreneur award but he chose to be interviewed by video in his Kuala Lumpur office – while he was eating lunch. The result was hilarious, band-aid on one cheek, both cheeks chewing away. Even Richard Branson could not have stage-managed a more memorable presentation. Honestly, HICAP is essentially worthwhile, and from a personal viewpoint, it is fun – thanks to its three conference organisers, Jim Burba (in the gym at 6.30 am), Robert Hecker (inviting all and sundry out on a boat, when HICAP is all over) and Linda Stiles (who then escaped to explore Laos).
There is a world of difference between hotel investment conferences in the USA, where I once had a box lunch, literally, with a selection of snacks, and anywhere else in the world, where the catering suitably befits a hospitality event. Here at the ‘InterCon‘, the hotel MD Jean-Jacques Reibel was at the opening cocktail – free-flow Perrier-Jouët and full international buffet – and at both lunches. All the restaurants were full, too, during HICAP (but they are full anyway, Hong Kong people appreciate good food and here is not only the STEAK HOUSE but also a two-star Spoon by Alain Ducasse, a one-star Yan Toh Heen and an always-popular Nobu). The overall chef, Nicola Canutie, is as omnipresent as M. Reibel.
Nicola Canutie was, for example, supervising the breakfast buffet in the marvellous second floor (US-style) Club InterContinental – before seven a.m. Why is this Club so essential during HICAP? It is where people meet, and network. The lovely manager, Ida, has moved upwards on her professional ladder but she has returned, during HICAP, to help her successor, Jacqueline. They know what you like, Ferme des Peupliers yoghurts and a wide selection of fruits at breakfast, and a choice of leaves at afternoon tea – which you can now also have, by the way, at Nobu – and more of that free-flowing Perrier-Jouët, at cocktail hour or whenever.
So the meeting goes on and on. What is luxury? Time, space and experiences, said a panel overseen by branding expert James Stuart. Experiences are expensive, said Homi Vazifdar, thinking of the US’ most gorgeous and natural luxury resort, Amangirl, just north of the Grand Canyon. I argue that not all experiences need cost the purveyor lots of money and, in the next conference break, head back to my home – room 316 – to pick up yet another supply of business cards. I look out of the window at the view. Now THAT is a unique experience, different from watching the shipping from InterContinental Sydney or Park Hyatt Sydney, or from Fairmont Pacific Rim, Vancouver. Other than paying for my room, this experience costs me nothing, except in investment in time taken from writing or networking.