Global Hospitality Investment Insights – Spring 2024 

With IHIF (Berlin), Caribbean Hotel and Resort Investment Summit (Florida) and Future Hospitality Investment Summit (Saudi Arabia) all taking place in April, it presents an opportune time to delve into the current state of hospitality investment, spotlighting the investment landscape across the UK, Europe, and the Middle East, while referencing global patterns that offer insights into the future of hospitality. 

Recovery and Reorientation: A Global Snapshot
The hotel industry has continued to show remarkable resilience in the face of adversity. According to the Global Hotel Investment Outlook 2024 by JLL, by the end of 2023, global Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR) not only recovered but in some regions exceeded 2019’s figures, showcasing an industry on the rebound.  

This resurgence is underpinned by a burgeoning interest in urban markets such as London, New York, and Tokyo, which are now prime targets for hotel investors. However, the narrative varies by region, with the Middle East and Europe leading the charge, with Asia Pacific trailing slightly, as it grapples with slower recovery rates. 

The JLL article also reveals that while RevPAR recovered, global hotel investment volume was significantly low in 2023, marking the lowest total since 2012 (excluding the COVID-19 impacted 2020). This decline was attributed to capital market dislocation caused by high-interest rates and geopolitical instability.  

Despite these challenges, the year witnessed a large number of global trades, indicating a continued interest in the hotel sector. However, there was a notable shift towards smaller, single-asset trades and a decline in high-dollar portfolio transactions. 

Chinese Market: The Awaited Return
A critical element in the global travel and hospitality puzzle is the return of Chinese international travellers. Pre-pandemic, this demographic was a powerhouse of spending and mobility.  

However, as Hospitality Investor reports, despite the lifting of travel bans, Chinese international seat capacity in early 2024 remained 30% lower than 2019 levels. The expected revival of Chinese outbound travel could catalyse significant shifts, particularly in markets heavily reliant on this segment but there remain significant challenges. The UK, with a strong influx of students and their families returning, has done well but, the overall picture for Europe is less impressive. War in mainland Europe and the diversion of direct flights over Russia alongside and reprioritisation of the economic landscape at home has led to a slower recovery in the long-haul sector with gateway cities in the US and Asia the primary benefactors in the recovery so far. 

Luxury and Beyond
While the luxury market has performed better than any other segment post-pandemic, this is now facing a potential slowdown. Hospitality Investor writes that significant brands like Burberry are signalling a downturn due to decreased spending by aspirational shoppers. While this trend, coupled with a general market correction following years of growth, poses challenges for luxury goods, the impact on the luxury travel and accommodation sector remains nuanced. The travel industry may still find resilience through a shift in consumer preferences towards meaningful luxury experiences over goods.  

The luxury travel market is expected to continue growing, driven by unique, personalised experiences that cater to high-net-worth individuals. The evolving luxury landscape suggests polarised spending towards high-value and luxury experiences, with an ongoing demand for unique and immersive travel experiences despite broader market challenges. 

Furthermore, the narrative extends beyond mere accommodation to embrace sustainability, wellness, and authenticity, elements now integral to brand differentiation and investment appeal. The evolving expectations of travellers are reshaping the essence of hotel branding, with a marked shift towards experiences aligned with personal values. 

Market Movements: Europe and the Middle East in Focus
Europe presents a mixed bag; the allure remains strong for domestic and international travellers alike, buoyed by events such as the Summer Olympics and Taylor Swift’s Mega Tour. However, the shadow of geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainties looms large, affecting travel dynamics, particularly from key markets like the aforementioned China. 

The Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, has emerged as a beacon of growth and investment, catalysed by major initiatives to boost tourism and hospitality as part of broader economic diversification efforts. This region’s upward trajectory offers a compelling narrative for investors, but the ongoing conflict in Gaza has started to impact revenues and the longer-term impact is hard to predict. Bloomberg recently reported that Dubai based Emaar Properties PJSC posted a 33% drop in fourth-quarter revenue despite a record annual profit in 2023. The conflict has also led to wider regional effects, including consumer boycotts of major foreign brands and a decline in tourism in nearby countries.  

Looking Ahead
The global hotel industry, particularly in strategic markets like the UK, Europe, and the Middle East, is at a pivotal juncture, shaped by the slow yet steady return of Chinese travellers, the polarisation between luxury and value and the increasing emphasis on sustainability and experiential luxury. Together with the unpredictable global geopolitical landscape, there are significant opportunities for hospitality investors. 

While the landscape is fraught with uncertainties, the undercurrents of recovery, innovation, and a renewed focus on quality and sustainability signal a new era for hotel investment. The industry’s ability to adapt, innovate, and cater to the evolving preferences of global travellers will define the success of investments in the coming years. 

This month, we will be attending the Caribbean Hotel and Resort Investment Summit in Florida and the Future Hospitality Investment Summit in Saudi Arabia. These conferences serve as critical platforms for industry stakeholders to converge, share insights, and forge the path ahead. We remain committed to providing our clients with nuanced, forward-looking advice, grounded in a deep understanding of global trends. 

If you are attending the Caribbean Hotel and Resort Investment Summit in Florida and would like to set up a chat, please contact Dan Akhtar or Andrea Shaw. 

If you are heading to Saudi Arabia for the Future Hospitality Investment Summit, Guy Lean will be our representative. Please contact him to set up a chat. 

Dan Akhtar, Managing Director – HPG Advisory Services 
+44 208 600 1166 / +44 7808 157796 
dan@hpgsearch.com   

Guy Lean, Managing Director – Madison Mayfair 
+44 20 8 600 1180 / +44 7813 009787 
guylean@madisonmayfair.com   

Andrea Shaw, Director – FM Recruitment 
+44 20 8 600 1160 / +44 7714 236469 
andreashaw@fmrecruitment.co.uk 

 

Success Stories – In Conversation with Imran Bhatia

Imran Bhatia, a notable legal expert with a distinguished and dynamic career path, began his journey at Herbert Smith Freehills in 2011 as a Trainee Solicitor, where he qualified to an Associate role working on mergers and acquisitions, as well as other corporate transactional matters, for a range of international clients.   

 A pivotal moment in Imran’s career was his transition to JAG Shaw Baker (now, Withers Tech) in 2016. There, he delved into the fast-paced world of high-growth tech companies, gaining crucial experience in venture capital and working with founders and scale-up business, which later became invaluable in his proceeding roles.    

In 2018, Imran made a significant leap into hospitality, becoming the first legal counsel for both Ennismore and Norlake Hospitality. His tenure saw strategic growth and expansion, notably in the successful development and launch of new Hoxton, Gleneagles and Estelle hotels. His legal expertise was especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping the company navigate challenging and unprecedented times for the sector, as well as leading Ennismore through a transformational merger with Accor   

Following the merger, Imran continued his role with Norlake Hospitality, continuing to oversee the Hoxton, Gleneagles and Estelle properties but with more of an owner’s focus. In 2022, he simultaneously took on the challenge of General Counsel at Unbound, a venture capital firm focusing on disruptive tech startups, bringing a unique perspective from his vast experience.  

Imran’s educational background in law, including a Bachelor of Laws from UCL and postgraduate studies in Islamic Banking and Insurance, has been instrumental in his career success. His journey is a compelling example of strategic leadership and adaptability and highlights how diverse legal expertise can profoundly impact and drive the future of hospitality enterprises.  

As Imran prepares to take on his next challenge with one of the largest privately held hospitality organisations in the world, placed by HPG Advisory Services, we are delighted that he agreed to join us for a short Q & A as part of our latest Success Stories series.  

Based on your varied experiences, what advice would you give to young lawyers aspiring to transition from traditional law firms to in-house counsel roles in industries such as hospitality? 

The main piece of advice I can give is to keep an open mind and be curious. You simply don’t know what will appeal to your personality until you try it.  

Going back to the start of my career at Herbert Smith Freehills, I remember being delighted that my first trainee seat was in Corporate, so that I could get it out of the way as soon as possible whilst I was at my least experienced (as I was convinced I wanted to be a litigator). Fast forward two years and that was the department I wanted to qualify into.  

Then later, the decision to join Ennismore was more about the challenge of building a first legal function within an exciting scale-up business with serious growth plans and a really credible leadership team, as opposed to necessarily looking to join a hospitality company. However, being the legal counsel, especially the sole counsel, provides such a unique position to be able to explore, and have exposure to, different facets and areas of the business, that it led to me developing an interest in the industry more generally, hence my wanting to stay in the space for my next role.  

What skills or qualities do you believe have been most crucial to your success in transitioning across different legal roles in various industries? 

Firstly, luck! I’m incredibly fortunate that every organisation I have joined has given me the chance to work with brilliant people who I can learn from and who have helped me to settle into new environments. 

The other crucial part, I think, is to not take yourself too seriously and to have the confidence to bring your personality to the fore – and the rest will follow. The world has more than enough serious lawyers. Whenever I take on a legal role within a new organisation, I always believe that the recruiters and hiring panel within the business will have had their choice of lawyers to hire, with experience and expertise greater than, if not equal to, my own. In my mind, therefore, the deciding factor must have been a personality or culture fit that someone saw in me during the interview stage, and that is what I need to ensure I lead with.  

The organisation will take it for granted that I’ll be a technically competent lawyer, but bringing your true personality and an air of humility, especially in an industry that is new to you, is a crucial way to adapt, become comfortable, and be seen as approachable within the organisation. And if it’s genuine, that should be the easiest thing to do. 

Can you describe a moment in your career when you faced significant uncertainty or risk in making a job change? How did you navigate that decision? 

Leaving Herbert Smith Freehills to join JAG Shaw Baker was for sure a big call and a tough decision. I was happy at the only firm I’d ever worked at, one of the biggest in the world, in a team where I had a good reputation, surrounded by fantastic people and working on great deals. The decision to jump ship to a firm that no one at HSF had heard of was a tough call and it was met with some raised eyebrows.  

But for me, what swung the decision was precisely that – how different it was to HSF.  

I was clear in my mind that working with earlier stage companies, where I could have a more impactful and long-lasting relationship with my clients as only a 2-year qualified lawyer, had to be my next step. To join another large or medium sized firm in the City, where the change in organisation size and culture would have been less acute, would have made no sense given how happy I was at HSF. Stepping out of my comfort zone was crucial for me to really shift the type of work and clients that I was exposed to. Although I went from a firm that had the luxury of 24-hour document support, and joined a firm that had as many people as HSF had physical offices (and where you had to activate the burglar alarm if you were the last one out at night!), it was the best decision I could have made at the time.

When you began your roles at Ennismore and Norlake, you were very much a one-person band, in a role that had not previously existed. How did you approach setting up and evolving this role? 

I have had the chance to build a first legal function within a few organisations now. I consider it a privilege and a really interesting challenge, particularly within hospitality. There can be an instinctive (often, rightly) mistrust of lawyers within a hospitality business – that the creative and operational brilliance that has got the organisation to such a point that they even need a lawyer may now be curtailed or wrapped up in red-tape by the new bore in a suit.  

The golden balance to strike is to ensure that you protect the business (which as a lawyer, is of course the reason you are there), without being the fun police. It is a real hearts and minds battle which requires patience, humility and listening to people. If you get this balance right though, it is such a fun place to be. You can be the approachable, go-to person for everyone in the organisation (rather than the lawyer in the ivory tower), with the aim of being in the room when ideas are being discussed, rather than finding out about things too late (and when they have already gone wrong and need fixing). 

Someone once told me “you’re not what I thought a lawyer would be” – I wear that as a badge of honour. 

In your role as General Counsel, how do you balance the often divergentinterests of property ownership with the operational needs and goals of a business? 

Any in-house lawyer will tell you that a key skill is to be able to ‘live in the grey’ – to have an approach to risk that perhaps isn’t what you would have been taught in law school but lives in the commercial reality of the business and identifies what is a genuine legal risk and what is a tolerable trade-off for doing business. If you are involved in the operational side of a hotel business, understanding this balance and getting it right is crucial.  

A key way to get this right is to work closely with, and have a good relationship, with your General Managers and senior Ops staff. One thing I have learned is that GMs are geniuses at what they do, and will instinctively do everything they can to protect their hotels. Their risk radar is often set at exactly the right level, and so they are a great resource to leverage from when determining where you should set your balance as a lawyer. 

On the property ownership side, there can be a temptation to be more conservative and not as operationally liberal in approach. However, a key point to remember that between owner and operator, there should be an alignment in interests more than a divergence. At the end of the day, if the hotel is successful, everyone should stand to benefit. 

How have mentors and professional networks influenced your career decisions and progression? 

A key thing with mentors, especially within law, is that you can admire people and see them as mentors, without actually wanting to emulate their career paths. I’m very lucky to have Partners and other lawyers who I have worked with, both whilst in private practice and since, who I consider friends and who I have discussed my career moves with in a non-judgmental way, whose advice I deeply respect and appreciate (even though I don’t think I would ever go back to private practice myself!) 

Being in-house, and especially as a sole counsel, can be a lonely gig, but fortunately some fantastic networks for in-house lawyers have been formed over the last few years, which are great for sharing knowledge, tips and asking the questions you don’t want to be billed for by your retained lawyers. 

What would have been your Plan B? 

Ultimately, what I love the most about being a lawyer is the challenge of communicating information to people in a way that will resonate with and make sense to them. I think that’s why my Plan B would have been to be either a teacher or a journalist. Or, if talent wasn’t a requirement, centre forward for Liverpool FC. 

To discuss how we can support your businesses with our full suite of human capital services to help grow your hospitality business, please call HPG Advisory Services on +44 20 8600 1160 or email Dan Akhtar on dan@hpgsearch.com

 

Insights from The Resort & Residential Hospitality Forum 2023

With the Resort & Residential (R & R) Hospitality Forum recently taking place in Lisbon, we delve into some of the key insights to uncover opportunities in leisure hospitality investment in the Mediterranean and Southern Europe.

This event is run by Questex, the same team behind the International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF), which Dan and Mara attended in May, and the Annual Hotel Conference (AHC), which was attended by our colleague, Guy Lean, in September.  

Here is a brief summary and some ke takeaways from The Resort & Residential Hospitality Forum 

Attendance and Demographics
The forum saw a total of 390 delegates, with an impressive 58% being first-timers. Significantly, 98 of them, which is over 25% of the total count, were investors, proving that leisure hospitality continues to draw attention from varied capital sources. 

Theme: Leisure to the Core
This conference has now evolved from its traditional emphasis on beach resorts. It includes a wide variety of leisure offerings like wellness retreats, Alpine resorts and hotels which used to be more corporate-centric but are now welcoming leisure guests. This shift also indicates a new wave of investors who perceive these assets not as fleeting opportunities, but as long-term investments. 

The Market’s Perception of Leisure Hospitality
One of the most discussed topics was the resilience of the leisure hospitality sector. Despite the numerous challenges thrown at the travel industry in recent times, including wildfires, air traffic control strikes, and even the aftermath of COVID-19, the demand for leisure hospitality remains strong.  

This is evidenced by statistics presented by STR, Hotstats, and tourism economic analyses. This steadfast demand, combined with an observed savings glut during the pandemic, suggests there’s ample room for optimistic growth projections. 

Investment Trends
Patrick Whyte, from Hospitality Investor, shed light on emerging investment patterns. He highlighted the contrast between struggling transaction volumes in Northern Europe and flourishing ones in Southern Europe, particularly in countries like Portugal, Spain, and Greece. This is likely because of owner-operators and family businesses seeking exits or joint ventures after facing post-COVID challenges. 

Supply Evolution and Professionalisation
The forum also touched upon the professionalisation of assets. Opportunistic funds, for instance, are keen to understand how to better position an asset to appeal to long-term buyers. A significant part of this involves understanding modern demand, where travellers seek unique and local experiences, rather than traditional resort offerings. 

Climate Change and Extending Seasons
Climate change, which has its set of challenges, is inadvertently offering opportunities by reshaping travel seasons. Investors and hoteliers are capitalising on this by expanding resort seasons, finding profitability in previously off-peak months. 

Branded Residential Growth
The conference highlighted a growing interest in branded residences, with large hotel brands like Marriott and Wyndham leading the way. However, they face competition from luxury non-hospitality brands seeing potential in this market. 

Destinations in Focus
Southern European destinations are garnering the most investor attention. Greece, particularly, stands out due to supportive government policies and market conditions. Additionally, emerging markets like Montenegro, Bosnia, Slovenia, and Albania were discussed as potential growth areas. 

Experiential Elements
Lastly, the forum emphasised the importance of offering a holistic experience to its delegates. From rooftop receptions to hotel tours, participants had the opportunity to truly experience the best of Lisbon’s hospitality. This reflects the increasing trend for more experiential localised experiences that customers are demanding. 

Summary
In conclusion, the R&R 2023 was a comprehensive showcase of trends, challenges, and opportunities in the leisure hospitality sector for the Mediterranean and Southern Europe regions.  

With a broad range of speakers on various topics, it clearly has its finger on the pulse of the industry and the digital debrief offered through multiple videos on the R & R Digital page is an extremely valuable asset.  

Next year’s event is moving to its new home in Athens, tipping its hat to Greece’s growing influence in the hospitality industry. 

If you would like to read more about our personal experiences at International Hotel Investment Forum, Annual Hotel Conference or Future Hospitality Summit this year, then please click on the links.  

If you would like to discuss any of the topics shared in this article or would like to speak to us about your people strategy and our advisory services, then please get in touch. 

Dan Akhtar, Managing Director of HPG Advisory Services +44 20 8600 1166 / +44 7808 157796 / dan@hpgsearch.com

The Evolving Role and Importance of the Hotel Asset Manager

In the dynamic and ever-changing hospitality industry, the role of the Hotel Asset Manager has become increasingly more visible and vital to the investor, owner and operator relationship.   

For some time, HPG Advisory Services has been familiar with the position, as hotel owners and investors build an independent connection to the day-to-day operations of their properties, while savvy operators prove their commercial acumen by adding this additional skill to their property management arsenal.  

Historically, owners would have liaised directly with hotel General Managers and Finance Directors to measure performance. Over the last 20 years, we have seen the emergence of dedicated Hotel Asset Managers who play a crucial role in maximising profitability, ensuring operational efficiency, enhancing the overall guest experience and ultimately, maximising the return on investment. In an interview with Hotelier Middle East last year, Hospitality Asset Managers Association’s Vice President Amit Nayak said that owners have realised that “you need a certain category of individuals to run your asset, those who understand operations; those who understand corporate finance and lending; and those who understand relationships.” 

Here, we explore the ever-evolving responsibilities and significance of hotel asset managers in the hotel industry. 

Financial Performance and Revenue Optimisation 

One of the primary responsibilities of a hotel asset manager is to drive financial performance and revenue optimisation. With a highly competitive market, rising costs, and fluctuating demand, it has become crucial to engage experts who can analyse data, identify new revenue opportunities, and implement strategies to protect profits. Hotel asset managers work closely with hotel owners, management teams, and other stakeholders to develop comprehensive financial plans, set performance benchmarks, and monitor key performance indicators (KPIs). They provide valuable insights on pricing, revenue management, cost control, and expense reduction to achieve sustainable financial growth. 

Risk Management and Investment Strategy 

As the hospitality industry faces various risks and uncertainties, effective risk management and investment strategy have become paramount. Hotel asset managers are responsible for evaluating potential risks, assessing market conditions, and implementing risk mitigation measures. They play a pivotal role in determining the investment strategy, analysing market trends, conducting feasibility studies, and assessing the viability of expansion projects or acquisitions. By carefully managing risks and making informed investment decisions, hotel asset managers protect the interests of owners and investors while maximising returns. 

Operational Efficiency and Quality Assurance 

 In an era where guest expectations are continuously evolving, operational efficiency, quality assurance and a clear focus on the customer experience are essential for maintaining a competitive edge. Hotel asset managers collaborate with operational teams to streamline processes, enhance productivity, and improve service quality. They implement industry best practices, conduct regular operational audits, and identify areas for improvement. By analysing guest feedback, monitoring online reviews, and benchmarking performance against competitors, hotel asset managers ensure that the hotel maintains high standards of service delivery and guest satisfaction. 

Asset Enhancement and Capital Expenditure 

Hotels require ongoing capital investments and asset enhancements to stay relevant and attractive to guests. Hotel asset managers develop long-term asset enhancement plans, aligning them with the overall business strategy. They identify areas where renovations, technology upgrades, or repositioning efforts can add value and increase profitability. By closely monitoring industry trends and guest preferences, hotel asset managers play a crucial role in guiding capital expenditure decisions that optimise returns and enhance the guest experience. 

Relationship Management and Brand Alignment 

Building and nurturing strong relationships with stakeholders, including hotel owners, operators, brands, and third-party vendors, is a critical aspect of the hotel asset manager’s role. They act as a liaison between owners and operators, ensuring alignment of goals, contractual compliance, and effective communication. Furthermore, they work closely with brand representatives to ensure brand standards are met and brand values are upheld. By fostering collaborative relationships, hotel asset managers create an environment of trust and transparency that leads to successful long-term partnerships. 

Conclusion 

The hotel Asset Manager role has become a multifaceted and indispensable position for many hotel operators, owners and investors. Their expertise in financial management, risk assessment, operational efficiency, and relationship management contributes significantly to the success and sustainability of hotels in a competitive market. The ability to adapt to evolving industry trends, leverage data-driven insights, and make strategic decisions is essential for maximising profitability, enhancing guest experiences, and ensuring long-term success in an uncertain landscape. 

HPG Advisory Services are specialists in the hospitality Investor, Owner and Operator landscape.  If you would like to have a deeper conversation about asset management, or any of the other services we can offer, then please reach out to set up a call. 

Dan Akhtar, Managing Director of HPG Advisory Services +44 20 8600 1166 / +44 7808 157796 / dan@hpgsearch.com 

Will AI replace human hospitality recruiters?

Last year, the Metaverse was touted as the future of business. While that might certainly be the case at some point in the future, it feels that the enthusiasm for this project has waned.  

The technology needed to experience Web 3.0 is still unfamiliar to many, but more importantly, there has been a huge backtrack in recent months from innovators such as Meta and Disney, as they have dramatically reduced their workforces dedicated to this sector. 

On the other hand, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is growing in influence. We are familiar with AI through popular culture, and Hollywood movies have often highlighted the advantages and disadvantages very clearly, and often, dramatically!  

Since Chat GPT was launched in November 2022, we have seen a sudden deluge of AI add-ons and features added to familiar websites, search engines, and productivity programmes. Devices we already own, suddenly have the ability to leverage the power of advanced AI…. for free. 

There is no doubt that AI is disrupting the way we work, live and interact. Like all advancements, it has the potential to create both new opportunities and challenges for various sectors, and the hospitality industry is no different.  

But what impact is this technology likely to have on recruitment in the hospitality industry? 

Hospitality Skills
Before we look at how AI could affect recruitment, it is important to ask if AI might make a difference in the type of roles or skills that may become more sought after in future.  

AI can enhance the efficiency and accuracy of many jobs across the sector by automating repetitive and routine tasks, such as data entry, reconciliation, invoicing and payments.  

This can free up time and resources for employees to focus on more strategic and innovative activities. This could help hospitality professionals to generate new insights and recommendations, identify new opportunities and trends, and create new products and services. 

While the reduction of manual tasks may certainly affect the number of employees required, it may also help augment the skills and capabilities of employees to help them to deliver more value for their businesses and guests. This would require the industry to continue to adapt and evolve roles and responsibilities and acquire new skills and competencies to leverage the power of these technological advancements. 

Recruitment
We know that finding and hiring perfect candidates for hospitality roles is a challenging and time-consuming process. AI will certainly be able to help streamline and improve certain recruitment processes including: 

  • The screening and shortlisting of candidates based on their resumes, skills, qualifications and experience. AI could help save recruiters time and effort and reduce human bias and errors 
  • Providing personalised and timely communication, feedback and guidance throughout the recruitment journey. This can increase candidate engagement and satisfaction, and improve the employer brand 
  • Providing insights and recommendations for recruiters and hiring managers. This can help them make better and faster decisions, optimise their strategies, and identify talent gaps and opportunities. 
  • Helping candidates find and apply for roles that match their preferences, goals and potential. This can increase the quality and diversity of the talent pool, and reduce the turnover rate. 

Understanding Bias in AI  
A 2021 Forbes article, Understanding Bias in AI Enabled Hiring, it was highlighted how AI objectively assesses the data points and reduces assumptions, mental fatigue and bias that humans often succumb to.  

While there is a risk of human bias being subconsciously programmed into the AI algorithm, there are still clear advantages to relying on AI to screen candidates on a large scale.  

In 2019, a Harvard Business Review article, Will AI reduce Gender Bias in Hiring, it highlighted that AI does not need to engage in unconscious biases to penalise based on gender or other under-represented groups in order to get a self-esteem boost. 

Reducing human bias is undoubtedly a fairer solution, but this lack of bias could also be a significant drawback to AI-based recruitment.  If a business wanted to diversify its workforce or business culture, recruitment without any human judgement may not serve the purpose.  

There are candidates out there with atypical work experiences that fail to meet the AI algorithm standards, who could potentially be the best fit in terms of their individual personality, interests, character and work ethics. 

Our Conclusion
As specialists in people strategy, we recognise that our view comes from a position of bias, but we strongly feel that AI will never replace our consultants. It will likely become a powerful tool that can augment our capabilities and performance, by helping reduce mundane tasks. This will allow us to focus on the human aspects of people and performance strategies, such as building relationships, focussing on retention and culture, and providing added value to businesses and candidates. 

If you would like to have a chat about your people strategy, please get in touch and we can chat – human to human – on Tel: +44 20 8600 1166. 

 

IHIF 2023: Key Highlights and Insights Shaping the Hospitality Industry

The International Hospitality Investment Forum (IHIF) 2023 recently concluded with the theme “Fortune Favours the Bold”. This year’s event brought together a diverse group of industry leaders and experts to discuss the latest trends, challenges and opportunities in the dynamic world of hospitality. Here, Hospitality People Group’s Dan Akhtar and Mara Cattaneo share their highlights and key insights that continue to shape the hospitality landscape. 

The Battle to Attract & Retain
Earlier this year Hospitality People Group published an article on The Battle for Retention, that spotlighted the challenges that the hospitality industry continues to face, so it was no surprise that this topic took centre stage in Berlin. Jan Hein Simons, Hotels Director at Colliers specifically highlighted labour shortages as the major industry challenge, and said that “some companies had been turning down revenue because of a lack of staff.” Participants explored the increasing competition to attract and retain skilled professionals in an ever-evolving job market. As the industry faces a growing demand for talent, strategies and initiatives were shared to address this challenge. These included innovative recruitment practices, talent development programs, and creating a positive work culture to attract and retain the best talent available.  

Focus on Luxury
We found that there was huge optimism for the ongoing recovery of the luxury hospitality sector. The event shed light on the evolving expectations of luxury travellers and the growing demand for personalised and exclusive experiences. Concepts such as hyper-personalisation, unique amenities, and curated experiences were discussed as key drivers to enhance guest satisfaction in this segment. While the labour shortage has certainly affected the luxury segment’s ability to fill hotels, they have also been far more successful in passing increased room rate onto their guests than midscale properties, leading to ADRs that are already well ahead of 2019. The integration of cutting-edge technology and partnerships with luxury brands were also highlighted as strategies to provide unforgettable and personalised luxury experiences. 

ESG Goes Mainstream
The development of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) considerations from a niche subject to centre stage at IHIF 2023 is remarkable. It clearly signals a willingness to shift towards more sustainable and responsible practices in the hospitality industry, driven by increasing consumer demand and regulatory requirements. However, it is still not clear that what consumers demand, and what they are willing to pay for are quite the same. Attendees discussed how governmental policy would likely drive the implementation of ESG strategies, including energy efficiency programs, waste reduction strategies, community engagement, and ethical sourcing. Overall, establishing your company’s values and beliefs and clearly communicating them with potential employees as well as customers seemed to be a growing trend and excellent advice to businesses looking to grow, attract investment and/or win the battle for retention. 

Subdued Hotel Transaction Market
From our experience at IHIF, there is usually a news ticker sharing updates on the various deals that have been struck during the week. This was noticeably absent this year and points to a hotel transaction market that remains subdued, with a gap between seller expectations and buyer financing capabilities. While it seems clear that there is capital available, rising seller expectations and the subsequent lack of distressed assets, coupled with the increased cost of debt have made financing a challenge for potential buyers. Despite the challenges, participants expressed great optimism about the market’s resilience and the potential for future growth. 

Financing Challenges
Participants highlighted the increased cost, and reduced accessibility of debt financing in the hospitality industry. However, it was noted that lenders are still open to financing projects that demonstrate institutional appeal and align with their investment criteria. Factors such as sustainable themes, commitment to the hospitality sector, and desirable locations were identified as crucial elements in securing financing for hospitality projects. Alternative financing options, such as private equity and crowdfunding, were also explored as viable alternatives to traditional debt financing. 

The Potential of AI
The potential of artificial intelligence (AI) to transform the hospitality industry was widely discussed at IHIF 2023. Participants delved into the various applications of AI, and how it could be leveraged to address the biggest challenges in the industry. Reducing the impact of mundane tasks on hospitality employees would likely increase employee retention. AI could also help with elements of the customer journey that are not considered to be drivers of delight, such as cleaning rooms, allowing the potentially reduced workforce to concentrate on ‘value-adding’ activities  The event showcased pilot projects and initiatives that leverage AI technologies, such as chatbots for personalised guest interactions, smart room controls for enhanced comfort and convenience, and AI-powered data analytics for market trend analysis and predictive modelling. While AI is still in its early stages, industry leaders expressed optimism about its ability to revolutionise how hotels operate and deliver exceptional guest experiences. 

Conclusion
IHIF 2023 provided a platform for industry professionals to gain valuable insights into the current state and future direction of the hospitality industry. The event emphasised the need for bold strategies and innovative approaches to address challenges such as the Battle for Retention, the evolving demands of luxury travellers, the mainstream adoption of ESG practices, the subdued hotel transaction market, financing challenges, and the future potential of AI. As the industry continues to evolve and build resilience, a forward-thinking mindset will be crucial to thrive in a rapidly changing landscape. 

If you would like to discuss any of the topics raised in this article or would like to chat about your people strategy, then please get in touch. 

Dan Akhtar, Managing Director of HPG Advisory Services +44 20 8600 1166 / +44 7808 157796 / dan@hpgsearch.com 

 

UK and European Hotel Investment Outlook for 2023

Our Hospitality People Group Advisory Services team, Dan Akhtar and Mara Cattaneo, will be attending the upcoming International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) in Berlin this May.  

Ahead of this global forum, we explore what the current trends are in UK and European Hotel Investment. 

Firstly, let’s look back on 2022. 

2022 – A tale of two halves 

In our UK Hotel Investment Trends – Summer Update, we explored how the UK had seen a surge in capital investment in the first half of 2022. According to Knight Frank 68% of total transactions in 2022 occurred in the first six months of the year. The easing of travel restrictions in 2021 helped drive optimism in the latter part of 2021 and this enthusiasm carried through to boost the numbers in early 2022.  

However, the war in Ukraine, sky-rocketing inflation, compounded by a disastrous mini- budget late in the year, quickly turned this optimism into caution. As a result, the UK Hotel Investment market saw a final total of approximately £3B in transactions, about 30% down on the previous 5 year average.  

While the UK remains the largest investment market in Europe, the gap has narrowed between the UK and other competing markets such as Spain (£2.3B), France (£2.0B) and Germany (£1.6B) coming in second, third and fourth respectively. 

Although investor enthusiasm was hindered by the macroeconomic events that peppered the second half of 2022, they will have been equally assured by the industry’s financial performance. Hotels enjoyed a much better than expected year in 2022, as the pent up demand for travel and hospitality drove ADR back up close to pre-pandemic levels, earlier than previously predicted. 

How do we expect the hospitality sector to perform in 2023? 

While the easing of that post-pandemic, pent-up demand and the cost of living crisis continue to promote caution, operators are being challenged to carefully balance the business in order to protect profit. The recruitment challenges faced by the industry have certainly helped reduce immediate costs, but we are continuing to see the reputation of the industry being damaged. Glassdoor published their Top 50 list of employers for 2023, and for the 4th year in a row, the number of hospitality companies on that list has dropped, with Dishoom the only representative left in that top 50 list.  

Interestingly, one hospitality business has suggested that the hospitality industry itself is responsible for shifting the pessimistic narrative that took place during the pandemic. Wyndham Hotels and Resorts suggests that we have much to learn from those missteps. Many people thought that the future of corporate travel and buffet breakfasts were doomed and this pessimism may have prevented the industry preparing for and reacting better to the travel chaos last year that led to flight cancellations and airport shutdowns. This experience was something that will live long in the memory for customers who may think twice about traveling with those airlines again and the employees who may now have already reconsidered their career paths. 

Our team at FM Recruitment recently explored how operators are trying to promote a hospitality culture that focuses on retention ahead of recruitment. 

Resilience 

Hospitality has always shown resilience and the pandemic proved that it is also an industry that can be hugely creative when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges.The businesses that can continue to flex and adapt their costs, if and when when revenues drop, and demonstrate a people culture that allows them to scale back up with a full complement of experienced, well-trained employees, will prove to be extremely attractive to investors. These businesses are more likely to be able to inspire exceptional guest experiences at full capacity and therefore reap the financial rewards at peak times. These same investors are thought to have the funds available and will be eager to step back into this market, but will be extra careful to ensure great value and resilience is factored in with the continuing expectation of recession ahead. 

An expected an upturn in investment levels  

Henry Jackson, partner at Knight Frank, said: “While no hotel business is immune to the effects of an economic downturn, and while profit margins are likely to be squeezed in the short-term, operationally the sector has continued its recovery and an upturn in investment levels for 2023 is anticipated. We have seen an uptick in investor activity at the end of 2022 and purchasers who are proactively seeking out opportunities now are well placed to move quickly when new stock becomes available. Investors are showing renewed signs of confidence in the London hotel market, with overseas purchasers benefitting from currency plays. 

Once the economic picture is clearer and the availability of debt recalibrates, we expect transactional activity during 2023 to rebound at a more buoyant pace, exceeding 2022 levels. With hotel property offering value and resilience relative to other real estate asset classes, a wide range of investor types will seek to deploy capital into the sector.” 

Speaking to Hospitality Investor, Chris Brassington, Senior Director of Fund Management at Invesco commented that “we fully expect to make additional investments with the aim of creating further value. Our intent is to create investments that have potential to deliver long-term compound growth above the market.” 

HPG Advisory Services 

If you would like to discuss any of these topics further, and examine how they might apply to your business or your investment portfolio, then please get in touch.  

We have exceptional industry relationships and proven successes with operators, developers and investors in the hotel, and hospitality sectors across the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. 

Our services include executive search, human capital architecture, talent management consultancy, behavioural profiling and a range of human capital services tailored to meet the specific challenges of each of our clients. 

We are proud to have delivered some of the industry’s most talented leaders into key appointments. If you’re looking to build, strengthen or diversify a role, a team or your entire business, please contact us today. 

Dan Akhtar, Managing Director of HPG Advisory Services +44 20 8600 1166 / +44 7808 157796 / dan@hpgsearch.com

 

Is Middle East Hotel Investment set to reshape the Tourism Industry?

Future Hospitality Summit (FHS) recently took place in Dubai. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to attend this year, but Dan Akhtar has been following events closely online.

The event was a huge success. Attendees and digital participants were encouraged to “Lead the Change” in the hospitality industry, aiming to make it more progressive, sustainable, and lucrative for the upcoming generations.

With industry giants such as Hilton, Accor, Marriott and IHG all announcing plans to significantly expand their portfolios in the Gulf at FHS, we look at what the hotel investment landscape currently looks like in three of the region’s most dynamic markets.

One of the world’s key hospitality players

“The region is going through a fascinating transformation in the hospitality sector, with over 600,000 hotel rooms in the planning and development stage. This quantum of development, which has not been seen before in the Middle East or even globally, is set to change the shape of the region’s tourism industry in the years to come and will help to further raise the region’s profile as a one of the world’s key hospitality players,” said Turab Saleem, Partner & Head of Hospitality, Tourism & Leisure – MENA at Knight Frank.

Dubai
Dubai is enjoying a very strong year both in terms of ADR and occupancy rates. The successful hosting of huge events like EXPO 2020 Dubai, which recorded 24 million attendees during its 6 months of opening, proved that Dubai is a world leader in hosting mega events. Its hospitality industry has enjoyed exponential growth building on this reputation.

With 65,000 hotel rooms under development in Dubai, tourism contribution is set to reach 15% of GDP by 2030, with an international average of 9%.

While UAE failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup being hosted in Qatar, Dubai is set to reap huge benefits, being just a one hour flight from Doha.

Its generous supply of accommodation and a more permissive environment towards clothing and alcohol, availability may mark it out as a preferred option for many football fans over staying in Qatar.

Qatar
Qatar will take centre stage when the FIFA World Cup kicks off in November and this will be a once in a lifetime opportunity to highlight its travel and tourism industry. Qatar has been reported to have spent upwards of USD20 Billion on the event, with more than 100 hotels due to open in time for the visitors flocking in.

Already graced with a grand selection of luxury hotels, Doha is set for a bumper few months but attendees do have alternative accommodation options in neighbouring Dubai, if the inflated ADRs of Doha’s hotels prove too much.

As part of the legacy project, Qatar promises to turn football stadia into huge event spaces for concerts and events and has invested heavily in Qatar Airways in recent years. With average rates likely to drop due to oversupply after the World Cup, it may become an attractive alternative to Dubai for tourists.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has one of the most ambitious projects in the region as part of  Vision 2030.

The Kingdom’s plan is to build a more diverse and sustainable economy, while becoming an international economic hub to connect Europe, Africa and Asia .

Last year, Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Development Fund (TDF) also announced it was setting up a USD400 billion hospitality investment fund. This will be in collaboration with the UK-based global hospitality developer Ennismore and Al Rajhi Capital, a homegrown asset management company. It promises to introduce Ennismore’s brands (which include The Hoxton, Mondrian, TRIBE and Gleneagles) to 12 destinations in the kingdom.

The Future Hospitality Summit also proved to be a very successful week for Marriott, IHG and Accor as they all announced that they are expanding their portfolios in Saudi Arabia. Marriott announced six luxury brands (including St Regis, Edition and Ritz Carlton), two select service branded properties alongside a total of 20 properties in the Gulf region, will open by the end of 2023. IHG announced the management contract signing for Hotel Indigo Jeddah and Accor revealed that they will open a Novotel Living, a serviced apartment development, in 2026.

HPG Advisory Services
We have exceptional industry relationships and proven successes with operators, developers and investors in the hotel, and hospitality sectors across the Middle East, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

Our services include executive search, human capital architecture, talent management consultancy, behavioural profiling and a range of human capital services tailored to meet the specific challenges of each of our clients.

We are proud to have delivered some of the industry’s most talented leaders into key appointments. If you’re looking to build, strengthen or diversify a role, a team or your entire business, please contact us today.

Dan Akhtar, Managing Director of HPG Advisory Services +44 20 8600 1166 / +44 7808 157796 / dan@hpgsearch.com

 

 

 

 

UK Hotel Investment Trends – Summer Update

40% increase on previous year so far, but what trends are emerging? 

Although international travel restrictions have eased, disruptions in travel, as airlines and airports struggle to scale their operations back to pre-pandemic levels, has made many holiday makers reconsider their travel plans this summer. The Great British Staycation trend looks set to continue for another bumper year. This strong domestic performance is driving increased investment in well located, efficiently run hotel business which are often seen as a less volatile option than real-estate, with year round returns on the right properties. 

According to Knight Frank, this increased investment has already seen a 40% increase on 2021 in the first four months of 2022 and with trends continuing to point in the same direction, this is likely to continue. Portfolio transactions have seen the biggest increases in this period with some highlights including the regional sales of The Pig Hotel Group and The Inn Collection.  London has seen a similar level of  the sales in the same period with the purchases of Point A Hotel and the Hilton London Olympia. 

While Investment in regional and London hotels has been relatively evenly distributed in 2022, this has not been the case in recent years. 2021 saw more that 60% of all investment took place in regional parts of the UK with Edinburgh being the highest performing city outside of London. 

Scotland
Last year, Edinburgh took 15% or all regional hotel investment capital excluding London. Three transactions in particular accounted for nearly half of this as Courtyard by Marriott Edinburgh, Adagio Aparthotel Edinburgh and Macdonald Holyrood Edinburgh all changed hands. But what effect will the recent announcement from the governing  party in Scotland, the SNP, that they will push to hold a second independence referendum in October 2023?  

In 2014, when polls were warning of a possible Yes vote prior to the first Independence Referendum,  investment in the UK shrank as banks warned of a Sterling collapse. The field of play is certainly very different now with the UK having left Europe, the world recovering after a pandemic and inflation at a 30 year high but we may still be able to learn from these trends. The five years after Indyref1 saw a huge increase in international investment in Scotland as UK investors hesitated to immediately step back into the region.  

Commercial Mindset
The announcement in June that Accor is entering exclusive negotiations to sell 10.8% stake in Ennismore for £159m to a Qatari group proves that innovative, commercially minded lifestyle brands are proving to be very attractive to international investors. The ability for brands to adapt to, and in many ways drive the change in, an ever evolving and competitive market raises the interest of prospective investors. This commercial mindset sees opportunities where others see obstacles and this is always very attractive.  

Serviced Apartments
Another area that has raised the interest of potential investors are Aparthotels and serviced apartments. As mentioned earlier, real estate values can fluctuate wildly in uncertain time. While well run hotels can offer a much more consistent return than real estate, Aparthotels offered much more operational resilience during the pandemic and the and have the ability to switch to mid and long term let more easily. According to Savills, the supply of serviced apartment stock across Europe is set to accelerate, with supply forecast to expand by 21.2% over the next three years. London and Munich are seeing the highest levels of demand, but the regional UK cities Manchester and Belfast are both sitting at number 5 and 10 in Savills’ outlook. In a  market  still dominated by a small number of brands including Staycity and Adagio Apartments there is a huge opportunity for new and existing operators to leverage private equity, expand and grow. 

HPG Advisory Services is proud to have helped place some of the industry’s most innovative and commercially minded executives and operators. If you’re looking to build, strengthen or diversify a role, a team or your entire business, please contact us today.  

Dan Akhtar, Managing Director of HPG Advisory Services +44 20 8600 1166 / +44 7808 157796 / dan@hpgsearch.com 

 

Hospitality Investment Trends

Last year, HPG Advisory Services looked at the Global Hotel Investment Landscape as international travel was beginning to re-emerge after Covid-19. We explored some of the key considerations for investors and owners and looked at which geographic regions and styles of properties were most likely to see an immediate uplift post-pandemic.  

Since then, consumer confidence towards travel has increased, and as restrictions are being lifted in numerous countries, and many hospitality businesses are reporting a promising return to growth.  

Here, we review the emerging trends and what opportunities the hospitality sector presents in the future. Whilst we’ve taken various insights into consideration, we must acknowledge the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine which continues to threaten stability throughout Europe and events there could quickly shift any current trends in unpredictable directions. 

What happened in 2021? 

Firstly, let’s recap on some of the hotel investment highlights from 2021. The Caterer has reported that hotel investment in the UK grew by 84% on 2020 levels and at £4.14 billion, was just shy of the 15-year average. Private equity was particularly interested in regional hotel investment which was particularly buoyant, and it was clear that international investors still see great value in the UK market with investments relatively split between investment from within and from outside the UK. 

The hotel sector has had a resilient year with strong momentum in the final quarter showcasing the appetite for UK hotel assets. While there remains operational challenges in the short-term, investors continue to be positive on the long-term outlook of the sector and we anticipate another strong year in 2022 for the UK hotel investment market.” – Tim Stoyle, Head of UK Hotels at Savills. 

Investor trust also returned to Spain as the €3.19 billion (as noted by Christie & Co.) where investments exceeded pre-pandemic figures. 2020 had seen a strong pull away from urban hotel investment, a trend reinforced by one of HPG’s clients that completed two transactions in the Iberian Peninsula during the pandemic. 

Continuing Trends into 2022 

Recruitment and Retention   

One of the biggest challenges in hospitality, since the start of the pandemic and closure of so many businesses, has been recruiting and retaining employees. Furlough, redundancies and the continuing effects of Brexit forced many front-line employees to either join new industries or return to their home countries, precipitating a perfect storm for the decline in available talent in the hospitality industry.  

As with every challenge, there is an opportunity and any hospitality organisation that can make their business more attractive in what is currently a candidate-driven marketplace will have a huge advantage. Working from home, digital nomads, flexible working and reimagined office space all became the norm during the pandemic. New working trends are condensing the space between business and leisure and the portmanteau Bleisure has re-emerged.  

 Hospitality, especially at the luxury end, has always given employees an insight into a luxury lifestyle and the opportunity to travel or live abroad. Company benefits that replicate this can still be very appealing to potential candidates while also giving them a valuable insight into customer expectations and a road to building empathy and genuine connections with the guests they take care of.  

Hospitality’s Digital Transformation 

Investors will be keeping a keen eye on the increased digital transformation of hospitality service and how they may be able to leverage these digital innovations to drive customer experiences, revenues and return on investment.  

The pandemic was a catalyst for the hospitality industry to accelerate processes for everything from contactless payments to online ordering and mobile hotel check-in. The expectations of digital-savvy customers are very high, but the concept of creating completely new digital experiences to complement the more traditional in-person experiences doesn’t seem quite as far away as it did two years ago. While taking on too much could harm the existing customer experience, successfully integrating innovative, creative and exciting digital experiences could be very tempting to investors, eager to catch the next big wave of this transformation. 

ESG and Property Investment 

We recently explored how the Environmental, Social and Governance strategy of businesses is a key consideration for potential employees when choosing a new organisation to work for. Unsurprisingly, ESG is now playing a large part in how property investors are thinking about their investments. Since property is usually a longer-term investment, ensuring that all new buildings have sustainable credentials and retro-fitting existing buildings with environmentally friendly features will help future-proof their investment. 

ESG Investment Funds are also increasingly popular and have rewarded investors with solid returns over the last few years. Larger Hospitality chains, who form part of these funds are often keen to ensure that the hospitality operations are aligned to the expectations of these funds manager and investors. As a result, the role of Hotel Asset Management has become increasingly popular as owners look to listen to the market in order to protect their assets and drive growth.  

General Investor Trends 

The recent 2022 Knight Frank Wealth Report looked at investment trends for popular luxury items such as art, whisky, classic cars, diamonds, wine and watches. While these investors had different experiences through the pandemic, they all seem to be predicting some sort of future that embraces digital transformations with Cryptocurrency, NFTs and the Metaverse featuring heavily. Many investors appear to be dipping their toes into this area so as to not be left behind, but the majority seem to have little understanding of how this digital future might actually play out. In many ways, the future is unwritten and it will be the innovators that best capture their moment that will ultimately succeed.  

HPG Advisory Services have exceptional industry relationships and proven successes with operators, developers and investors in the hotel, and hospitality sectors across Europe, Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Our services include executive search, human capital architecture, talent management consultancy, behavioural profiling and a range of human capital services tailored to meet the specific challenges of each of our clients.   

We are proud to have delivered some of the industry’s most talented leaders into key appointments. If you’re looking to build, strengthen or diversify a role, a team or your entire business, please contact us today.  

Dan Akhtar, Managing Director of HPG Advisory Services +44 20 8600 1166 / +44 7808 157796 / dan@hpgsearch.com 

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