HBAA Conference focuses on the future and serviced apartments

Piers Brown Uploaded

Hosted by the Hotel Booking Agents Association, this year's theme, 'Made to Measure' had a tailored agenda exploring the current market conditions for virtually every aspect of the hotel booking industry.

Dennis Turner, former chief economist of HSBC Bank, presented an entertaining talk on the outlook for the UK economy focused on growth, spending and interest rates. His view was that the recession is long gone, but growth remains fragile, slow and vulnerable to external shocks, such as the Euro - "increased consumer spending and continued low interest rates will drive the UK economy," he said.

Liz Hall, head of hospitality and leisure research at Pricewaterhouse Coopers was next, presenting on the results of the future trends in meetings and accommodation research collated from both HBAA and Conference Centres of Excellence members. Hall told delegates that everybody is now working within the 'disruptive decade' and a long expansion (pre 2007) has well and truly ended. She predicted the average annual increase in GDP will be 0.5% with consumer spending a lacklustre 0.2% each year until 2016. Most of those surveyed were generally more optimistic for 2014 than they were for 2013, however market conditions outside of London were predicted to be much more challenging.

Next came the first panel session of the day which encouraged industry leaders to discuss the findings of the survey. Moderated by Tom Hall, senior reporter at C and IT, panelists were Russell Green, corporate sales director, UK and Ireland, InterContinental Hotels Group; Angie Mason, director, Absolute Corporate Events; Alastair Stewart, owner, etc.venues and Matthew Wall, vice president industry and partner relations EMEA, BCD M&I. The panel concurred with the majority of the survey's findings with Alistair Stewart saying  "The UK conference venues outlook is Darwinian - the best get stronger, the weak get weaker...business outside London is patchy."

After a short break for lunch, one of the most engaging afternoon sessions was focused on serviced apartments - a key area of the business travel sector that has seen tremendous growth over the last few years.

It is, however, an area that isn't widely understood and can be the subject of confusion amongst the hotel booking agency community. Entitled 'Serviced Apartments - what's so complicated?' the HBAA serviced apartment sector committee attempted to drive more awareness, dispell any misconceptions and encourage engagement within the association membership.

The panel was Stuart Winstone, business partnerships director, SilverDoor; Tracie Crombie, business development consultant, Dolphin House Serviced Apartments; Liz Devaney, key account manager, extended stay, IHG; Ricky Kapoor, commercial director, Holyrood Aparthotel; Kylie Mann, account manager - agents, the Apartment Service, and Gavin Pereira, managing director, Check-In-London.com.

Winstone kicked off the session with an entertaining talk focusing on "Bob" the corporate traveller and "What Bob Needs". His humourous presentation slides visibly demonstrating the advantages of serviced apartments over hotels to the audience. The session was then opened up to encourage interaction and questions from the hotel booking audience. HBAA members voiced concerns about consistency of service; the perceived disparity in cancellation policies from one operator to another; the question of liability and corrective measures when there's a problem with accommodation; lack of personnel availability with late night arrivals, security and effective on-site 24/7 communication channels -  those aspects generally taken for granted with hotel accommodation.

The sharing of commissions between hotel booking agent and operator, the growth of GDS coverage, the RFP process and billback term flexibility were all cited by the panel as examples of how easier it is becoming for HBAA members to drive new corporate and leisure business within this growing sector of hospitality. "We're looking to demystify and engage with HBAA members (as we are) as it's clear there's customer demand for the sector" said Ricky Kapoor. Based on the numbers attending the session, it looks like there's a bright future for serviced apartments as a credible alternative to hotel accommodation.


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