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AHICE a success in Melbourne

AHICE 2013 EDITED

The fourth annual Australasian Hotel Industry Conference (AHICE) in Melbourne has been labeled the best yet by attendees and sponsors alike.

Over 300 leading Hoteliers, owners, investors, fund and asset managers, suppliers and consultants (up almost 100 on last year) converged on Sofitel Melbourne on Collins yesterday (May 16) to hear from over 30 speakers that discussed the greater accommodation industry, as well as tips from those outside the industry.

AHICE 2013, hosted by HM magazine and held in Melbourne for the first time, kicked-off with a well-attended welcome reception at The Windsor Hotel on Wednesday night (May 15), hosted by the hotel’s Chief Executive Officer David Perry and sponsored by Schweppes, Crush Fine Wines, Asahi beer and Somersby Cider.

Over 140 turned up for what proved to be one of the most successful networking events of the year and one that is now set to be a starring event at AHICE on an annual basis.

The main conference – emceed by leading asset manager Howard Kemball and themed ‘Leadership Matters… the Leaders of Today and the Future’ – then got underway at 8:45am on May 16 with a welcome from HM magazine’s Editor-In-Chief James Wilkinson, followed by a series of panels and keynote speakers.

Leading off was Carolyn Creswell, founder of Carman’s Fine Foods and recent recipient of the prestigious 2012 Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award, who inspired hoteliers with her rags-to-riches story and how the company has become a household name.

From operating her business out of a study to now at home in a large warehouse, Creswell spoke about how Carman’s have found a home onboard leading airlines Qantas and Virgin Australia, and how the brand is now digging its heels into the lucrative UK supermarket business.

A panel then followed, looking at opportunities arising from the ‘Asian Century’ and identifying how Australia and New Zealand can best target the rapidly growing outbound markets of China and Indonesia.

Panelist Simon McGrath, Accor’s Chief Operating Officer for the Pacific, said it wasn’t just the hotel product that had to suit the rapidly growing markets.

“It’s about our service,” he said. “Especially the way we welcome the Chinese, Indian and Indonesian visitor.”

Fellow panelist Craig Bond, Pan Pacific Hotels Group’s Area General Manager for Oceania, said airlines were also a key to success.

“We need to make sure we get the seat capacity into Australia,” he said.

Former Qantas Chief Economist Tony Webber then gave a fantastic presentation on the accommodation industry, in particular how hotels are and aren’t maximizing yield at the right times of the year.

Webber was followed by the always popular ‘What Owners Want’ session, moderated by Howard Kemball.

Will Deague (Asian Pacific Group), Julian Clark (Lancemore Group), James Hines (Hines Property Group), Jerry Schwartz (Schwartz Family Company) and Lucia Grambalova (Ascendas) all enlightened the crowd of mainly hotel General Mangers with what owners really want.

One of the key comments during the session came from Clark who said: “Brand standards are on overdose in our industry”.

STR Global’s Bryon Merzeo presented a wrap-up of the Australian market and interestingly, Melbourne had 120 nights above 90% occupancy during 2012, however ADR fluctuated in every month.

Merzeo also revealed there are currently 458,000 hotel rooms in the development pipeline at present and 47% of those are currently under construction.

Accor Asia Pacific’s Chairman and CEO Michael Issenberg followed after lunch, with an insightful one-on-one interview with Wilkinson where he revealed the company’s growth plans in Asia and hot spots in Australia.

When asked by Wilkinson whether 2013 would be the year of free WiFi, he said he believes WiFi should not be entirely free due to the extensive cost to owners and hotel management companies.

WiFi was a hot topic of debate on the Industry Leaders Forum panel that followed, with hoteliers – Bob East (Mantra Group), Paul Constantinou (Quest), Robert Dawson (Hyatt), Barry Robinson (Wyndham), Paul Fischmann (8Hotels) and Rob Anderson (Best Western Australasia) – in general agreement that WiFi should not necessarily be free across the board.

The panel also looked at how to capture more Chinese outbound travellers, performance across market segments and marketing through sporting celebrities such as Pat Rafter (Mantra) and Layne Beachley (Wyndham).

The Melbourne Convention Bureau’s Edwina San then gave a presentation about the booming conventions and meetings business Melbourne has been winning.

Advantage Point Business Advisors’ Bruce McDonald then gave a speech on ‘announcing the cure for attitude sickness’ – one that drew significant applause from the audience.

Development was then in the spotlight, where several leading hoteliers – including Phil Kasselis (IHG), Lindsay Leeser (Accor), Michael Moret-Lalli (Mantra), Andrew Taylor (Starwood) and Barry Fleischmann (Best Western) – were questioned on the hot development spots in Australasia and what models developers and owners are seeking at present by moderator Robert Williams from Ryan Law.

Journalist Bruce Guthrie closed out the day. Guthrie has been Editor of The Sunday Age, The Age, Who Weekly, the Weekend Australian Magazine and Wish. His most recent appointment, in 2007, was as Editor-in-Chief of the Herald-Sun – a role he filled until his dramatic and unexpected exit in November 2008, which is documented in his recent book ‘Man Bites Murdoch’.

Guthrie’s insight into the world of newspaper publishing was one of the real highlights of the conference and provided an exceptional finish to a successful conference.

Praise for the success of the day came quickly from the industry, including Pan Pacific’s Bond who said it was “the best yet” and Brett Patterson from ISIS who said he was more than impressed with the line up of “great quality speakers”.

A boutique exhibition featuring some of the leading brands in the industry was the place to be during morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea.

Sponsor and exhibitor Melissa Starbuck from Sealy said it was the most successful AHICE for the company yet from an exhibition point of view and they were “thrilled” with the result.

Sealy was one of 14 sponsors of AHICE this year, including gold sponsors Schweppes and Reward Hotel Projects; and silver sponsors AH Beard, DE Master Blenders, Dometic; Empire Hospitality, Innova Group, Meiko, Miele, Nespresso, Next Gen Services, Sealy, Sico and Sleepmaker.

“To say we have had industry support would be an understatement and I want to take this opportunity to thank Australia’s leading hoteliers, chains and suppliers for getting behind AHICE and ensuring its ongoing success,” Wilkinson said.

A dozen chains and leading hotels threw their support behind the conference in 2013, including: platinum supporter Accor; gold supporters Choice Hotels Australasia, IHG, Mantra Group and Quest; silver supporters the Accommodation Association of Australia, Best Western Australasia, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Pan Pacific Hotels Group, Toga Hotels, The Windsor Melbourne and Wyndham Hotel Group.

Alongside the support from the Accommodation Association of Australia, industry support also came from Tourism Accommodation Australia, TTF Australia and the Victoria Tourism Industry Council.

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