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INSIGHTS FROM INDEPENDENT HOTEL SHOW 2023

October 2023

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The Independent Hotel Show is a marquee event for the hotel industry in the UK, and this year's event saw some fascinating discussions, candid conversations, and data-driven presentations that captured the pulse of the sector's current landscape, as well as the direction it's steering towards. Here, Halo’s Co-Founder, Michael Donald shares some of the most pertinent insights from the seminars he attended at IHS 2023.


Building authentic brands


Daniel Twigg of Clockwork Marketing hosted a discussion around building authentic brands, and all of the panellists seemed to agree that this is best achieved when actions are  anchored in genuine purpose and values. Lotti Bruce of The Pig Hotel Group emphasised how the founders' values, starting with the kitchen garden, are weaved through every touchpoint of the guest journey. Clare Anna, of Zedwell, was very clear that a brand purpose is pivotal in achieving organisational goals, and Zedwell’s mission to prioritise sleep, positive health, and overall wellbeing is as clear as it comes. John Kelly of The Pan Pacific Hotel underscored the value of personalised service and how this translates brand values into tangible experiences. Adapting to evolving trends, notably sustainability and demographic shifts, was a key theme, with Lotti Bruce and John Kelly acknowledging the growing impact of sustainability on travellers' choices. Moreover, the dialogue delved into the significance of organic growth, strategic location selection, and the essence of aligning recruitment with brand ethos. John Kelly's insights on the challenges and opportunities for international brands, especially in embracing cultural differences and ensuring consistent brand messaging, were particularly enlightening.


In conversation with... Kate Nicholls OBE


In a candid conversation, Kate Nicholls OBE, CEO of UK Hospitality, emphasised the importance of prioritising resources and assets to navigate the current hospitality landscape. She highlighted the role that UK Hospitality plays as a voice for the industry, especially when it comes to lobbying the government to support the industry, and included a few insights into her dealings with the most senior members of the government and the opposition. Addressing prevalent misconceptions, she underscored that labour shortages have emerged due to the ramifications of COVID and changing demographics, rather than Brexit. On the financial front, there were a number of questions from the audience regarding a potential VAT decrease for the industry, and she confirmed that this remains a significant goal of UK Hospitality. Visioning the future, Nicholls expressed an aspiration to expand membership of UK Hospitality and elevate the reputation of the industry as a whole. She fervently advocated for collective efforts to spotlight the sector's strides in sustainability, people investment, skills development, and fostering diversity and inclusivity, asserting that the hospitality sector has an inspiring narrative to share with the world.


Enhancing your hotel offering with real world AI


With so many tech suppliers in attendance, the AI discussion in this session was particularly insightful. Harry Fielder, CEO of Umi Digital, talked about the potential for utilising AI in hotel marketing. He referenced an experiment in which he used ChatGPT to generate compelling content for hotel marketing. The discussion highlighted the importance of feeding the software with vast amounts of structured data for more accurate and useful outputs. The potential for this to come from user-generated content, such as customer reviews, presents an incredible opportunity to utilise genuine experiences to truly tap into what your customers love about your product. The conversation also touched upon the challenges hotels face in accessing, structuring, and utilising the vast amount of data they possess. A call for a more integrated approach to data management was made, suggesting the need for a technical gatekeeper or a chief technical officer to oversee the technical aspects of the business, ensuring that decisions aren't made in silos. The key takeaway, though, was that the success of future marketing strategies could largely depend on the quality and structure of the data fed into AI systems.


Is it time to outsource your hotel restaurants and bars?


This included a comprehensive discussion about whether hotels should outsource their food and beverage department/s, Timothy Griffin, from Wellbrook Hospitality & LEVEN Hotels, emphasised the importance of a unified guest experience. He argued that whether a hotel decides to manage its F&B in-house or outsource, it's crucial that there's a consistent brand experience from a consumer's perspective. Values, standards, and the onboarding process should ensure all staff, whether from the hotel or restaurant, are aligned. On the other hand, Jordan Kiziuk, from edyn, cautioned against too much integration between hotel F&B and the hotel, fearing it might be seen merely as a "hotel restaurant". The general consensus was that there is no hard and fast answer, as either strategy could be successful in the right circumstances. The panel also highlighted current challenges like the aftermath of COVID, rising inflation, and labour shortages, which affect the financial viability of some F&B operations.


State of the nation: A hotel performance update by STR


Michal Rao delved into STR’s data to present insights on the last four years of trading as well as forecasting for the year ahead. Central to his discourse was the observation of double-digit growth across various sectors. Michal accentuated the need for accurate data interpretation, particularly stressing the removal of inflationary factors for precise asset data evaluation. An interesting comparison was drawn between independent and brand hotels. Michal revealed that independent establishments, especially those in the upscale and luxury segments, are outpacing branded ones, although these predominantly populate the midscale and economy classes. When dissecting the average daily rate (ADR), it was evident that independent hotels were adept at navigating inflationary constraints, showcasing growth in real ADR. While London's revival hinges on international travel, regional counterparts are reaping the rewards of leisure tourism and notable events like Champions League football and Taylor Swift’s upcoming mega concerts. Michal's talk also spotlighted a burgeoning hotel room pipeline in the UK, with Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, and Glasgow all expecting huge growth in supply next year. Concluding on an upbeat note, Michal expressed optimism for the sector's future, anticipating both occupancy and rate augmentations due to robust demand and events. Download STR and CoStar’s full report from the show.


What is really influencing your marketing success?


Kalindi Juneja, CEO of Pride of Britain Hotels, highlighted the necessity of authentic storytelling for independent properties, and choosing stories that resonate with guests. Tara Robinson, of the Eden Hotel Collection, pointed out that these stories can often be sourced from conversations with hotel staff, offering a genuine behind-the-scenes look. Both Kalindi and Simon Numphud, from AA Media, stressed the primacy of the hotel website in digital marketing and the need for content tailored to various platforms. Collaborations with local businesses that mirror a hotel's ethos were a shared sentiment, as was guests' desire for localised, immersive experiences, tying hotels to their specific locales. The overarching theme centred on authentic storytelling, local collaborations, and crafting tailored guest experiences.


If you would like to discuss any of the above themes further or have a chat about how Halo could support your marketing and customer experience strategies, then please click on this link to book a call.

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