IHIF 2018: Its 21st year is its busiest yet
IHIF 2018: Its 21st year is its busiest yet
12 MARCH 2018 8:58 AM

The 2018 International Hotel Investment Forum might have been the most successful ever in the conference's 21 years, judging by the number of CEOs, the amount of European M&A and the often difficult task of moving from one place to another due to the number of attendees.

The International Hotel Investment Forum held 5-7 March was the august convention’s 21st birthday, and as with anyone or anything turning that magical age, this year the event had a swagger relevant to its growing confidence and maturity.

My shoes were clean, but this was the first IHIF I did not even find time to sit down and have my shoes shined at one of the two shoe-shine stands Hilton very kindly always sets up at the base of the Marlene Bar in the convention’s host, The InterContinental Hotel Berlin.

That’s how busy it was this year.

Another indication was the number of CEOs in attendance, which was agreed to be around the 35 mark. It was easy to lose count. They were roaming all over the place, and others seemed to pop up out of the blue.

All the CEOs of the top-five hotel companies shared a panel together, with the exception of the one from Marriott International. Maybe next year?

Behind that, I would guess, is the continued confidence given to the European hotel market, which is seeing improved performance in most markets and a great deal of capital still being thrown at it.

And there were several newsworthy brand announcements, notably from the newly named Radisson Hotel Group and Deutsche Hospitality, and things like that rarely happen at European conferences, at least in my experience.

So, I would say IHIF 2018 was a great success.

Here are some of my conference asides.

Ömer Isvan, president of business consultancy Servotel—who I did not know is attributed to having coined the phrase “boutique hotel”—on being asked what would be the next term to trip off our tongues, said “curated house.” He added: “If I had to put a name to a new trend in the industry, it would probably not have the word ‘hotel’ in it.”

Recent M&A activity was not the only colorful activity discussed at IHIF 2018. (Photo: Terence Baker)

Colorful socks were on display at the CEO panel, with AccorHotels’ Sébastien Bazin sporting honey-mustard hosiery, Hilton’s Chris Nassetta wearing plum ones and Wyndham’s Geoff Ballotti deciding upon striped, official La Quinta-branded examples. Ballotti presented the other panelists with their pairs of these socks celebrating Wyndham’s latest acquisition and berated moderator Andreas Scriven, head of hospitality and leisure at Deloitte, for wearing plain socks with a narrow red band. “I’m Swiss. That’s about as exciting as we get,” Scriven instantly replied.

Hotel swim lanes need to be constantly cleaned. (Photo: Terence Baker)

The opening day’s evening reception at the Radisson Blu Berlin featured a dance spectacular, dry smoke, great food and, of course, the hotel’s world-famous aquarium, which probably not coincidentally was being cleaned at that very moment by a scuba diver complete (see red circle in photo) with what probably is a sponge but looks suspiciously like a ham sandwich. That might have been the Instagram moment of the conference if the number of iPhones pointed in his or her direction was anything to go by.

Hotel and leisure sector law and tax advisory firm CMS won first prize for the most colorful give-away, with these bright bathtub ducks, but I did wonder whether millennials would know what it is that they are holding in their left hands—that is, if birds have hands.

Do keys still exist? To that extent, do bellhops still exist? (Photo: Terence Baker)

I have reported before that I am a sucker for inspirational keynotes from athletic superstars, but quite often I do wonder what the relevance is beyond the blah blah blah of teamwork.

Mountaineer Cathy O’Dowd really delivered with her closing talk on risk evaluation and team decisions. Everest is no longer of importance, she said, as for $200,000 you can book a spot on a climb along with a chef. O’Dowd has summited Everest from both sides, but she said of far more relevance in terms of human achievement is the Himalayan ascent of the Mazeno Ridge on Nanga Parbat, which had remained unclimbed, the longest unclimbed peak above 8,000 meters (26,247 feet).

Her talk on how each step of this grueling climb was decided upon and triumphed over has immediate parallels to how businesses can succeed, too. One of the iPhone interactive questions asked by O’Dowd received an overwhelming response to one of the three options—“That, guys, is the answer of someone who has had had a very comfortable night in a good hotel.” O’Dowd and her team had made their decision after a night on a 75-degree slope with howling winds, no food or water and very little cover.

Mountain climber Cathy O’Dowd gives the inspirational keynote address at IHIF 2018. (Photo: Terence Baker)

Please keep checking our pages in the next two weeks for more IHIF conference, including video interviews.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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