Luxury Hotels

It’s IHIF time again, hosted at Berlin’s long-established luxury hotel

Sébastien Bazin holds the stage

Over 2,000 delegates attended this year’s annual International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF), the biggest such meeting globally. What a challenge it is for the host property, InterContinental Berlin, but once again the calm and professional GM, Aernout De Jong, waved his magic wand and the whole event, March 6-8, 2017, was splendidly worthwhile. Looking back, says the gal, without doubt the most charismatic speaker was Accor’s Sébastien Bazin, who in a 15-minute monologue inspired the audience, including many of those also running top luxury brands, with the message that hotels need to look around them more. What is digital doing that this industry is not? Why are individual properties not engaging more with those around them?

A morning snack display

Of the total complement, probably 1,800 were men, all dressed in dark suits and ties but with faces showing more smiles and emotions than I remember from the big investment conferences in the USA. The fashion prize went, I think, to Su Pecha, above, not only for her Fortuny-like orange shirt but its complementary earrings, fashioned out of old bicycle tyres. The event’s overall prize for thoughtfulness, I decided, went to InterContinental Berlin’s culinary team, for creative morning and afternoon snacks, and for two sensational parties. Monday’s opening party celebrated 20 years of this event, with global food kiosks set all around the IHIF exhibition areas – the American steak shack in the hotel’s all-day restaurant was especially popular.

Arne Sorenson

The second night’s party, hosted as always by the hotel, saw a variety of food stalls in the main ballroom – there, the mozzarella bar showed particular imagination. I also liked the closing lunch, which started with salmon trout steamed in lemon oil, purple cauliflower, Indian lettuce, smoked celery, and went on to a presentation of beef (and, illustrating European, as opposed to US, industry hospitality, freeflow Pinot Gris Weingut Beck, Hedesheimer Hof, Rheinhessen, and/or Altano Doc Douro Gaia). In other words a good time was had by all. As Marriott’s Arne Sorenson said, on receiving the lifetime achievement award, he loves this industry, and he is excited every day. With the Starwood purchase completed, however, there is still plenty to do – and he did admit that Trump’s bans are already having an impact on travel.

Puneet Chhatwal, Deutsche Hospitality, left, and Chinmai Sharma, Taj

Overall, there is an evolution towards even more sensational luxury hotel resorts, and also to freeform, sometimes-wacky, lifestyle properties that attract the millennial-minded, regardless of actual age (how about Explorer Hotels, which have sports gear rooms, communal spaces with big tables for sorting out your gear and large glass-doored lockers, locked with your room key, in which to store bicycles or skis?). But what about the perhaps-boring old-style mid-level hotels: what will happen to them? That is a BIG question. Meanwhile, I suggest you note, now, the date of the next IHIF, March 5-7, 2018, which will once again be organised and run by Questex,