Food & Wine Luxury Hotels

IHIF-3

SO/Berlin’s GM Dario Pithard, left above, with Accor’s head Northern Europe, Duncan O’Rourke, was on hand to greet the lucky guests invited to the hotel for Accor’s IHIF party. It was exciting to see such an eminent gathering, says Girlahead – even Kevin Wallace,  luxury hotels’ Flashman, of the George Macdonald Fraser novels, was there (last heard of in Vietnam, he seemed now to have popped over from Montenegro).

Obviously Sébastien Bazin, CEO Accor and host of the evening, was expected to say a few words and, as always, he spoke fluently, honestly and with passion. We have been through 24 months of hell, he admitted. Among many other pressing needs now, he is thinking how to re-define Accor, a very strong and formidable company but very difficult to understand. Why would it take seven hours to explain Accor but only 60 minutes to understand Marriott?

Accor, says the boss, is not the ’best’ hotel company but it is the nicest. Take its people, individuals who are nice guys: from his inner circle he cited luxury lifestyle Ennismore’s co-CEOs Gaurav Bhushan and Sharan Pasricha, and investment partner Paolo Barletta, who has just announced a 2nd Orient-Express, a conversion of a Rome palace. Yes, Bazin loves what is happening to the entire industry right now ‘but we must be cautious’, he admitted. ‘There is a lot of positive energy but we are very near to a messy world.’

Geopolitics as a challenge sits alongside other industry-wide challenges, of rocketing money-borrowing costs (hitting developers), of soaring inflation (hitting all sectors) and acute labour shortage (hitting operators).  On this last point, David Bowd, CEO of Salt Hotels, has a solution.

With a hotel about to open on New Jersey shores, he was warned he would not find ‘anybody’. He set up an open-to-all pop-up Salt School, and he now does this before all openings. Widely publicised, the three-day event is masterminded by a succession of David Bowd’s own hotelier pals. At the last Salt School, 100 potential employees signed on, of whom 500 turned up, and 48 were taken on, then to be hotel-trained. A 62-year old retired flight attendant is now a no-nonsense head of security, says Bowd and a teenager heads IT.

Berlin has shown itself magnificently, with superb Summer-type weather throughout. The CEO of Visit Berlin, Burkhard Kieker, showed the IHIF crowd how interwoven travel and tourism are to politics. Almost 20 years ago Willy Weiland, then GM of InterContinental Berlin, started a communication bridge between hospitality and politicians, and all that network groundwork more than paid off during the pandemic. In 2019 Berlin had 34 milliom arrivals, ad the sector brougt in €16.9bn annually. It employed 11% of the city’s citizens and, as  whole, represeted 6.6% of GDP. When Covid struck, politicians came to help.  They contributed €6bn in both 2020 and 2021, and throughout they have very obviously been pushing the Berlin brand. Tegel airport, for instance, saw its end-of-life passing marked by a dinner or 3,000 seated at white linen-covered tables, on a runway, tables set in such a way to spell out, from above, BERLIN LOVES YOU. A video attracted over two million views.  Sadly the ‘new’ Brandenburg airport is another matter – designed in and for the last century. It’s far out, the terminal looks spacious but some areas are cramped inside and to get to some gates you have to walk seemingly miles along shiny marble. Also, with flights leaving at 6 a.m. why, at 5.40 a.m., was  airside Information not open (and I never found the British Airways lounge)?