Key Takeaways from “Bolder, Braver, Better: Hotel Leadership Conference” by the Master Innholders

Updated: Jan 21

More than 400 hotel leaders gathered in London this week for a two-day conference organized by the Master Innholders, the standard-bearer for the hotel industry in the UK, offering career training, education, networking, and support. Sessions were packed with information––so really these are just some of the highlights––on topics ranging from tech to team building, leadership, sales, DEI and sustainability.

Master Innholders

Travel Data, Real Estate Trends & UKHospitality Efforts

Sarah Duignan, Director, STR offered an overall picture of where the hotel industry stands in the UK and in relation to the rest of the world.

  • Occupancy remains quite weak overall in the UK with some pockets in the countryside doing very well.

  • London was gaining momentum until Omicron

  • No UK market is back to 2019 levels yet

  • Glasgow and Edinburgh had a massive bump in rate and occupancy from COP26

  • There is some growth in average rate compared to 2019, however!

  • UK occupancy/ADR is predicted to normalize in 2022, though London may not be until 2023

Tim Stoyle, head of hotel sales for real estate brokerage Savills, gave a recap of the year along with what we can expect…he was quite bullish! Fun fact: after residential property, hotels have outperformed all other real estate classes in the UK since 2005! Top takeaways:

  • In 2021, there were few very distressed sales (some experts had predicted this), the institutional markets have picked up, some full portfolios have traded. Overall, £4 billion of hotel assets traded in the UK in 2021.

  • Now, debt and equity markets are active, lots of funds looking to invest, lending is a bit more subdued but there are some new players in the UK market.

  • Overall, UK hotel occupancy can be directly correlated to international flight volume, particularly for London. Globally, predictions for international air travel is not set to return until 2026.

  • ESG is going to be an increasingly important metric, there will be a premium paid for “green” hotels that have strong efforts in place and a “brown” discount for hotels that are not environmentally compliant. In the near future, lenders and investors will not even be able to consider properties without ESG programs.

  • Other areas of concern: inflation, labor market, and if there are changes to business rates and VAT.

Kate Nicholls, CEO UK Hospitality
Kate Nicholls, CEO UK Hospitality

Kate Nicholls, OBE, and CEO of UKHospitality spoke about the challenges for the UK with the combination of Brexit and COVID impacting labor, the supply chain, and causing inflation.

  • COVID wiped £146 billion off of the hospitality sector and our industry is needed for a strong recovery–we bring life and light to the UK!

  • Good news: three ministers have been appointed to help advocate for hospitality within the government

  • UKHospitality's focus moving forward is on keeping VAT and business rates low, as well as programs to assist in resolving labor shortages and Visa issues for international workers, and to further hospitality’s image as an employer of choice with a new initiative to rally the industry together, "Hospitality Rising."

Team Building, Diversity & Inclusion

Several inspiring speakers brought energy to the conference with a focus on people and team building.

  • The event was kicked off by motivational speaker, and best-selling author, James Kerr who drew on the success of New Zealand’s rugby team the All Blacks to demonstrate how hoteliers can lead their own teams to success. Explaining how the team’s core values – humility, excellence, and respect – were the backbone to their success, he challenged the industry to adopt them to bring out the best in their own people.

  • Joanna Aunon, director of WiHTL, urged the industry to prioritize inclusivity. The key to attracting and retaining employees – and therefore building successful teams – is to focus on diversity and inclusion.

  • Creating a true sense of belonging was echoed by Asif Sadiq, senior vice president at WarnerMedia for equity and inclusion, he pushed the narrative further, suggesting there were moral and business cases for encouraging a diverse and inclusive workforce.

  • Hoteliers’ Charter: Edward Bracken, GM, Raddison London Heathrow, spoke about the importance of this initiative to attract young people to hospitality by working with local schools.

Sustainability NOW

With consciousness around sustainability at an all-time high, there was a key focus on bolder responsibility with top tips shared by experts Ben Wielgus, head of sustainability at Informa, and sustainability strategy adviser Sue Garrard:

  • Change the rhetoric to be purposed-led: update references to sustainability and remove the outdated term "corporate responsibility" from all marketing materials. Sustainability is an aspirational value set, people are willing to pay more for sustainable products, so “now is the time to be brave, carry out a ‘top-to-tail review’ of their sustainable actions and implement new ones.”

  • Ignoring sustainability is actually not an option: inaction will lead to government taxation, potential staff shortages or revolts as well as accelerated global warming. Common self-limiting beliefs we need to change:

  • I can’t make money from it

  • I can’t afford it

  • I don’t have time to think about it

  • I am not technical and don't understand it

  • My customers don't care about it, why should I?

  • I’ll wait until the government forces me

  • I don’t know where to start

  • Adopt the long-term multi-stakeholder model for the business: engaging the whole workforce and understanding the customer is the best way to enable change! Start with these steps

  • Define the “why”

  • Break the binary thinking

  • Build the business case

  • Understand your customer

  • Focus on your priority areas

  • Be highly ambitious

  • Include everyone

  • Focus on Impact

Technology

One of the fastest moving parts of the industry, speaker Florian Montog, business development director at apaleo, provided insights on how technology is rapidly changing the guest and employee journey. Everything was accelerated during the pandemic with pressure on operations from both health and safety, labor and supply challenges forcing solutions through tech.

Expect this to continue at a brisk pace–some buzzwords and acronyms to know about:

  • CRM (Customer Relationship Management) – more information and better use of it at every stage from search to stay

  • AI (Artificial Intelligence) – more use of this in the bookings process to come

  • Robotics – seeing this in some housekeeping, but still a ways away

  • Blockchain / Crypto / NFT / Metaverse – all just starting to creep into the hospitality industry

Inspiration

Two speakers that captivated the crowd with visionary thoughts and good humor were sales specialist, Marcus Cauchi, and broadcaster and best-selling author, Jez Rose.


Focused on the sales cycle, Marcus suggested looking through a different lens.

  • Collaboration: work with others in your region to bring in accounts together instead of competing

  • Don’t think of sales as a numbers game, focus on relationships and creating “wow” moments that engage customers about their needs not just “showing rooms”

  • Practice active self-reflection to see what is working and what isn’t, make changes

  • Learn from other industries to prepare for the future


Motivational speaker, Jez Rose
Motivational speaker, Jez Rose

Jez closed out the conference on a really high, energetic note. He said that in this era of technology is even more important to be human. Key points:

  • People can change– instead of thinking “no” when someone asks you something say “Yes, if…” this literally changes your neurochemistry

  • People are resilient––we’ve seen that through the pandemic

  • Focus on emotional intelligence and authenticity: life happens in moments, the environment is everything, authenticity is a gift, and to find your purpose.

Dates are soon to be announced for the Hotel Leadership Conference 2023. For updates and to register your interest in attending, visit Master Innholders Conference.