Over 470 hotel professionals gathered at the De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms, London, on 15 and 16 January for the 25th Hotel General Managers’ Conference. The sold-out event, entitled ‘The Spirit of the Time’, reflected on the past, analysed the present and looked forward to the future of the industry during a programme of expert talks and panel discussions with thought-leaders.
The conference began with CEO & Co-Founder of cyber security platform Trustlight, Oliver Rees, introducing delegates to an era of ‘New Innovators’. Rees shared stories of how companies are engaging with hackers to keep their own cyber security ahead of the game: “When it comes to data security, think about ‘when’, not ‘if’. You need to have a strategy in place to limit the damage and communicate it to customers”. Rees also advised delegates not to be afraid of trial and error with experimenting with technology and to embrace innovation.
The Evolution of Food panel discussion was chaired by hospitality consultant Amanda Afiya. Founder of Gorgeous Group Robbie Bargh, Group Operations Director at Marcus Wareing Restaurants, Chantelle Nicolson, and Store Director of Selfridges, David Jarvis, discussed the growing popularity of plant-based diets, meeting changing consumer demands and standing out from the crowd. According to Bargh plant-based diets are here to stay and represent a ‘culture shift’ rather than a trend. Nicolson stated that the “rising costs, uncertainty in the economy and a squeeze on disposable incomes will mean 2018 is one of the toughest for trading” and Jarvis pointed out that “everything nowadays in hospitality can be copied, except your staff and the experience they give”.
The importance of creating a brand was a key focus over the two days. In Revolution Through Revelation, Managing Director of Mixxa Ltd Paul Martin said: “The brand lives in your people and it’s not about what you do but how you do it.” Branding consultant Tim Watson also touched upon this in his session, Why Brand?: “You need to communicate from the inside out, and once you have internal buy in, then you are on your way to being an authentic brand.”
Leadership, performance and mindfulness
Performance coach Nigel Risner inspired delegates with his session on leadership and communication. He suggested that people can be divided into four groups based on their preferred communication style – Lions, Monkeys, Dolphins and Elephants – and asked the audience to decide which animal they are.
Risner also said that people spend too much time talking about what was rather than what will be in meetings, and any meeting should be no longer than 40 minutes.
Olympic Gold Medallist Crista Cullen MBE gave an inspiring presentation about teamwork. Cullen was a member of the GB Hockey team that made history in the Rio 2016 Olympics. Cullen said: “We invested time in getting to know each other, analysing each of our strengths and weaknesses to understand how we can work together efficiently.” Cullen explained that honest conversations are what made the team resilient and hungry for the challenge, making them train harder.
In a session about mindfulness, Director at Soul Nutrition, Katie Sheen, shared her tips on how to become more self-aware and how to calm the mind to lower levels of anxiety. “The more positive and self-aware we are, the more resilient we become, and this feeds happiness and innovation” she said.
The Future of Hotel Design panel chaired by SPACE magazine and Hotel Spec Editor Can Faik, discussed whether design is becoming too extreme. When asked where hotels need to begin, Creative Director at HBA London Constantina Tsoutsikou, said: “The lobby is the heart of the hotel so if you want to convey what you’re about, that’s where you start.” Creative Director at David Collins Studio, Simon Rawlings believes there’s a danger that hotels are trying to be and do too many things and forgetting what they do best.
Founder & Chairman of 80 DAYS, Mark Forrester and Co-Founder & CEO of Avvio, Frank Reeves gave two different talks in the Consumer Behaviours in the Digital Age session. Forrester outlined the advantages of using digital benchmarking to get the best understanding of how hotel websites are performing. “For country hotels, there is a conversion rate of 0.49% meaning that out of 200 visitors to your website, only one will make a booking. The conversion rate is nearly double for city hotels at 0.94%.” Reeves followed with a talk on Artificial Intelligence (AI). According to Reeves all hotels of all types must start looking into AI to improve the user experience and convert website visits to bookings.
In a time of adversity and disruption for the industry, the conference programme included a round-up of Everything You (Really Do) Need to Know to continue business. Covering National Minimum Wage, GDPR and the most recent update in licensing, the data and information provided ensured hoteliers were aware of all the legislation to come into place over the next 12 months.
On the evening of Monday 16 January, guests were treated to a Moët & Chandon Champagne reception before indulging in a three-course dinner created by Principle London’s Executive Chef Rodger Olsson and his team. The Caterer’s new Editor, Chris Gamm, introduced the Hotelier of the Year winner Sue Williams FIH MI, General Manager of Whatley Manor. Williams urged guests to get behind their teams and inspire the future professionals of the industry. Guests generously took part in a prize draw to raise vital funds for the Master Innholders Charitable Turst, Springboard and Hospitality Action, raising over £10,000. Acclaimed food writer Matthew Fort took to the stage after dinner to share his anecdotes of his time in hospitality.
The two-day event was chaired by Pride of Britain Hotels chief executive Peter Hancock FIH MI on day one and by award-winning photographer and hotel consultant Jeremy Rata FIH MI on day two.
Chairman of the Master Innholders Conference and General Manager of Grosvenor House, A JW Marriott Hotel Stuart Bowery FIH MI concluded the conference by inviting hoteliers to apply for the upcoming Master Innholders accolade and Aspiring Leaders Diploma.
For more information on the Master Innholders, please visit www.masterinnholders.co.uk