Looking back on the AHC - some personal highlights

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We were pleased to be media partners for the event, which has seen significant growth since last year and was attended by around 600 delegates.

The conference was kicked off in memorable style by the iconoclastic advertising maestro Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide at Saatchi & Saatchi. Lancashire-born Roberts lives in new Zealand and works out of New York, and has a seemingly endless stream of ideas about advertising and marketing.

He told a great story about being ordered to The Pentagon to talk to the CIA top brass about improving America's image overseas. It was here that Roberts was introduced to the acronym VUCA - volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous - which was used to describe the state of the world in 2013.

Roberts countered with his own version - a spin on the acronym which turns the negative implications of VUCA into positives: SuperVUCA - vibrant, unreal, crazy, and astounding. These he argued should be the pillars on which business build their ideas and brands in the digital world.

Other gems included "ideas are the currency of today", "business should look for ROI - return on involvement", "the role of marketers is to create a movement" and to figure out where your brand sits on the love/respect axis.

On a more prosaic, but no less informative note, Jonathan Langston of CBRE Hotels - one of the AHC's organisers - analysed the UK market, while observing that 80 per cent of the new hotels in the pipeline in the UK are branded. A challenge and an opportunity for the boutique hotel sector, no doubt.

Economist David Fenton of Natwest painting a positive general picture for the hotel sector, particularly when it comes to engaging corporate guests. "Corporates have the cash and they increasingly have the confidence. CFOs are gradually loosening the corporate travel purse strings. The hotel sector is starting to recover, with the best opportunities in the corporate and conferencing market," said Fenton.

At Boutique Hotel News we believe that corporate and conferencing business is a huge opportunity for boutique and independent hotels; and we hosted a networking event on the topic last year. To read a review of the event click here.

A finance session called Funding Growth provided a great example of the rewards for a boutique hotel of getting your F&B offering just right. Michael Bibring of the newly-opened Great Northern Hotel in London's King's Cross said that 90 to 95 per cent of customers in the hotel's bar and restaurant are non-guests.

In a refreshing keynote speech on day two, Robert Cook, CEO of De Vere Hotels and Village Urban, took the focus away from the big boys and celebrated the great independent UK hotels which are leaders in their field, such as Hotel Tresanton, Limewood, the Pig and many more. He stressed that traditional holiday destinations such as Devon, Cornwall, the Lake District and parts of Scotland all offer major opportunities for hoteliers who get their offer right.

He said that there are also a lot of mediocre and underperforming properties in the UK which represent a great opportunity for someone to buy, renovate and launch a really good boutique hotel chain. Cook also pointed to the new sources of funding coming in to the sector, particularly " a lot of American private equity muscle".

Back to the big boys with a session called The Big Picture, which featured development directors from IHG, Hilton, Accor, Marriott and Starwood. Philippe Baretaud, head of development EMEA for Accor spoke about the growth potential of the serviced apartment sector. Accor's Adagio City brand is set to open new properties in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. "Serviced apartments address a need and Adagio City is a good complementary brand to our hotel brands," said Baretaud.

A breakout session featuring owner/operators of provincial hotels offered some valuable insights. Simon Berry, chairman of English Lakes Hotels spoke about the financial benefits - both from energy efficiency and government grants - of using green technology such as biomass boilers, ground source heat pumps, and hydro power. Berry has also built a craft brewery at one of his hotels.

On the marketing side, Berry has introduced 10 per cent lower prices for those booking direct on the hotels' websites and employs two full-time social media staff. His hotels average 82 per cent occupancy, with 26 per cent of guests coming from the Far East - the result of years of dedicated marketing to the region.

The AHC's closing motivational speaker was Chris Sanderson of The Future Laboratory. Equally engaging as Roberts' opening speech, Sanderson offered some concrete examples of some of the theories he and Roberts espoused. These included Bivouac NYC - basic rooftop camping in the heart of Manhattan which aims to engender a sense of "campfire community" amongst users, and, interactive theatre performances at London's Corinthia Hotel where the guests play a central role in the production.

A final thought from Sanderson's presentation which has huge implications for hoteliers - while the Baby Boomer generation are still a huge market due to their spending power, it is the Millennials, or Gen Y (those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s) who will become the primary market for travel, airline and hospitality sectors over the next five to 10 years.



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