2018 largely has been a productive, exciting year. Brexit is a bore, but the hotel industry has not tanked—indeed, is moving along nicely—and there has been a healthy number of consolidation exercises and private equity buys. In that spirit, here are my awards for 2018.
My 2018 has been an eventful year, as I have no doubt yours has been, too.
I wish you all very happy holidays as we look back at the winners (and one loser) of 2018.
Cheers of 2018
Hotel of the year
Hotel Mas de Cebrián is in the middle of nowhere, just outside the village of Puertomingalvo in the Spanish province of Aragón, north of its border with the province of Comunitat Valenciana.
I was here with my wife’s twin sister and niece on our first-ever skiing trip for my niece’s 10th birthday, and my sister-in-law chose this place because it was the only one with two rooms as yet unsold. In an area called the Maestrazgo de Teruel, it is wonderful, with 12 rooms, a good restaurant, a welcome felt immediately on entering and a small, cozy library with a real fire.
There were also sightings of Crossbill and Cirl bunting in the hotel grounds, and regular readers of my blog and Twitter feed will know how often birds fly around my writing. In addition, the hotel is a short drive from the ski resort Valdelinares, the village of which just down the hill is officially the highest municipality in all of Spain.
Hotel event reception of the year
Apart from the ones held at STR and Hotel News Now’s own Hotel Data Conference (I can hardly award awards to myself … or can I?), this trophy goes to official opening party of the 150-room Nhow Marseille, France, on 13 September.
The Nhow Marseille is a cool hotel in regards to its design and layout beside the Mediterranean Sea, and the party wrapped around a pool and featured an improvisational trumpet-led jazz band of over-60s. It was explained to me that France still celebrates talent that might not now be deemed worthy of making the covers of glossy magazines in other less-enlightened nations. The band was fantastic, with not a cover tune anywhere in aural range, plus there was sea urchin on the buffet menu.
Most exciting Hotel News Now article to write in 2018
It was when French real estate investment trust Foncière des Régions, now known as Covivo, moved for the first time into the United Kingdom with a £858-million ($1.1 billion) buy of a 14-hotel portfolio from Starwood Capital Group.
What made this story stand out is that it was a new wave of highly structured capital from Europe buying from established U.S. private equity and including assets developed by Starwood as a new brand, Principal. Also, the new owner brought in InterContinental Hotels Group to manage this portfolio, with the notion that IHG’s Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants brand would thus be able to debut in the U.K.
Conference side trip of the year in 2018
Huge cheers to the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference for moving out of Dubai and up the Gulf Coast to Ras al Khaimah (a situation that will be repeated in 2019), as it gave me the opportunity to fulfill one of my travel goals—a visit to the cut-off Omani province of the Musandam Peninsula.
An Omani visa and special rental-car insurance coverage need to be obtained, plus there is the potentially long waits at both the Emirati and Omani border controls (I was very lucky getting through swiftly), but the travel rewards of Musandam are more than worth the extra hassle. Those rewards include the Khor al-Najd fjord, the sleepy “capital” of Khasab, the petroglyphs of Qadah and the reflections of the mosque and fort in the curved bay of Bukha. Plus I saw an Indian roller there—yes, another bird species.
On-the-way-to-a-conference book of the year
This award goes to Halldór Laxness’ “The Fish Can Sing” (in Icelandic, “Brekkukotsannáll”). Laxness won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955, so he is not exactly modern.
When I read it for the first time this year I was travelling to our HDC in Nashville, Tennessee, and images of hardscrabble lives in the paucity of a mid-20th Century Reykjavík suburb, tall tales of seamanship and the mystery surrounding an opera singer who rarely returns home from Paris acted as a wonderful counterweight to a short pre-conference trip I took through the back roads of Kentucky. It used to be that I would always choose a novelist that is or was from the place I was travelling in, but almost exclusively now I choose one that is from as far away as one can get—perhaps the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz while I am journeying around Burma.
Best random find at a conference of the year
The day before HDC (yes, I know, that is three mentions already, but I think they are unavoidable), I was at a loss what to do when I saw a poster advertising Scottish band Franz Ferdinand playing that evening at the Cannery Ballroom in Nashville. In the U.K., a show of this size would be sold out in minutes, but not so in the States, so off I went. The band rocked and swung at the same time, which I believe is quite a feat, and I met two Scots who came all the way from Arbroath, Scotland, just for the show. That was nice.
Best tweet of the year
The U.K. has wasted far too much time on Brexit, and I think that holds true to whatever side of the huge divide you stand on. This tweet made me smile, especially as it is usually the lawyers who clean up—who knows, maybe they still did.
Photo of the year
I am ready to take charge of Brexit (I am listening to your repeated requests), and this would be how my cabinet would look. I should add that it was by chance I happened to be both wearing a red tie and in the middle front of this photo during a UKHospitality report unveiling at the Houses of Parliament, but you get the idea. Perhaps I could do no worse than our current elected choices.
Jeer of 2018
Worst transportation gimmick of the year
There is only one big jeer of the year, and that is my discovery that American Airlines, on at least its transatlantic routes, now has self-tinting windows, which means that even if the flight starts and ends in the hours of light, what you get is dark. I’ve said this before, and I am saying it again: Obviously, there is no way that “Anaconda 3” ever can compete with the meandering glacial rivers of Greenland seen from 36,000 feet. I am loyal to American because of that carrot called air miles, but this is making me think twice, although I am sure this sickness is not limited to my one airline of choice.
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