On 6 September 2011, delegates met at the Park Plaza Riverbank Hotel in London for the launch of the Hotel Investment Conference Europe (Hot.E). The three-day event invited industry leaders to explore Europe’s hotel investment opportunities.
With nearly 250 delegates on the roster, Hot.E saw attendees from firms such as Blackstone, Starwood Capital Group, Pandox, London & Regional, Canyon Equity, Union Investments, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays Bank, Aareal Bank and Lloyds Banking Group. Despite the uncertainty in the capital markets, the mood was generally upbeat. An in-depth programme of plenary and breakout sessions and keynote presentations facilitated a lively dialogue about opportunities for the coming year.
The experts were enthusiastic about possibilities for future growth. With key cities such as London having performed particularly well over the last 12 months, it was no surprise to hear that RevPAR was continuing its upswing. This optimism was tempered by a realistic appraisal of current market challenges.
The programme kicked off with a data-driven analysis of hotel performance, followed by a panel discussion of the hotel investment outlook in Europe. Simon Vincent, area president Europe at Hilton Worldwide, affirmed that some of the stronger markets had shown good recovery, despite the severe measures that were taken during the recession and the pockets of difficulty that remained. This conversation branched into the topic of branding, which was unanimously commended as valuable for the industry, and provided a theme for one of the breakout sessions later in the day.
Other sessions debated the choices for distressed and bank-owned hotels, lease versus management agreements, lending options and the social media phenomenon. A final talk, entitled ‘Making Lemonade out of a Lemon’, focused on real projects and success stories, with hotel representatives explaining how they had cleverly capitalised on the resources they had at hand.
The stand-out keynote presentation came from global futurist Rohit Talwar. He shared the findings of the recent Hotels 2020 study and outlined the trends we can expect to see in years to come, highlighting the importance of uncertainty management now that growth is no longer perceived as a given.
With visitor demographics shifting and their spending patterns in flux, Talwar suggested that the hotel of the future would be a living laboratory, subject to constant experimentation and innovation. "Thinking is back in fashion. The change process has only just started," he said.Throughout the conference, a prevailing theme was the divided nature of the European market.
"The fragmentation is not just north, south, east, west, but even within countries," said Thorsten Kirschke, COO of Carlson Hotels. It was therefore apt that the third day broke down Europe into specific geographic areas. Delegates could follow one of three workshop tracks: Eastern Europe, Western/Northern Europe and Mediterranean/Southern Europe. These provided a stimulating forum for experts to air their thoughts about particular pockets of growth.
The final plenary session looked at the UK and Ireland, which have historically been the leading markets in Europe. It supplied a fitting end to a conference where the host city was lauded throughout as a particularly strong contender for investment.