Look at the hotel industry leaders above, all sitting together and actually appearing to have a good time. There, on the stage on the first day of the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) at the luxury InterContinental Berlin hotel were, left to right, Deloitte‘s Nick van Marken, the very-American Geoff Ballotti of Wyndham, Hilton Worldwide‘s Chris Nassetta, Rezidor‘s Brussels-based Wolfgang Neumann, InterContinental Hotel Group‘s Richard Solomons and Federico Gonzalez Tejera of Spain’s NH Hotel Group (fast being ensnared by the Chinese HNA conglomerate). Listening to them were most of 2016’s 2040 delegates. Yes, over two thousand, which meant the gal did not realise so many friends were there – until the three-day event, organised by Bench Events, and Questex,was all over.
Frankly, put these big names on a panel together and none will say anything revealing – all have shareholders and lawyers listening to every word. The most fascinating talk was by Roger Bootle, a regular on the European investment speaker circuit (wherever you are in the world it is well worth subscribing to the Daily Telegraph online, if only to read his Monday column). As Chairman of Capital Economics he knows his stuff, and his witty delivery is a delight. First he spoke about China. As percentages of their GDPs, exports to China are most crucial to Korea, Malaysia and Singapore, all over ten percent: India, UK and US are all under one percent. He has been against the euro since its start, but when it comes to Brexit, he simply says that no-one knows, and he showed a chart showing a swing from a 12% positive impact on the UK economy (Tim Congdon) to a 10% loss (LSE).
What else was outstanding? A serious round table discussion on what owners and developers should look for when choosing a brand, and, from the head of IHG’s global safety, a former military officer called Helen Loughborough, what hotels should be doing on security. The young leader award winner, Ben Justus, is an American who set up, and runs EGBOK – Everything’s Gonna Be OK – a totally admirable training school in Cambodia getting severely underprivileged youngsters into the hospitality workplace. ESPA founder Sue Harmsworth, who drives an Aston Martin, sat next to Marek Reichman, design director of that marque (‘please do NOT use the word brand’): luxury is rarity, said the designer – it is authentic, and you feel better afterwards.
The amazingly ageless InterContinental Berlin, hosting the event, showed that a luxury hotel can even keep its cool when it is overwhelmed with meetings people. It provided endless food stations, one buffet and one seated lunch, and a splendid beerhall-type networking dinner (the other evening was a bratwurst and pretzel cocktail to show off Steigenberger‘s chic new Am Kanzleramt hotel). At the end of the day, it is networking, and worthwhile networking, that is the reason IHIF attracts key players, the money men, the operating gurus and a handful of consultants. See more about the extracurricular goings on in Monday’s www.girlahead.com – and read about the business side, in depth, in April’s monthly Gostelow Report.