By Emma Gardiner at AHICE in Melbourne
A record of almost 600 delegates turned out for the 2015 Australasian Hotel Industry Conference and Exhibition (AHICE) in Melbourne on April 29 and 30, one that heard hotel executives, investors, owners and suppliers talk performance, operations, investment and much more.
Day one saw IHG Australasia COO Karin Sheppard, Choice CEO Trent Fraser, Accor Pacific COO Simon McGrath and Mantra Group CEO Bob East go under the spotlight in a series of Hotel Leader Q&As.
In addition to insightful and frank leadership discussions, delegates on day one received an update from Accor’s McGrath about where the Accommodation Association of Australia’s (AAoA) merger with the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) is up to.
The key message was “one voice, one body”, with McGrath saying the new body will “genuinely represent everyone – motels, apartments and non-licensed premises”, as well as “act as an advocate for staff and employers, advise the industry about government regulations to ensure compliance and create a collegiate learning environment”.
Restaurateur Luke Mangan shared his thoughts about how to make hotel restaurants successful. He said, “If you hire an expert, let them give their expertise. Leave them alone to do it.”
He said have great back-end support but sometimes there’s “too many chiefs”.
“I don’t want to spend two hours in a meeting room deciding on which plates we might buy,” said Mangan.
Furthermore, he said that restaurants that are perceived as being attached to a hotel, rather than the hotel restaurant having a better chance of success and fine dining, while it still has a place, should be replaced by a more relaxed dining experience.
Day one also saw delegates hear about the implementation intricacies and subsequent success of Voyages Indigenous Tourism’s indigenous training and employment program, as well as a talk by Graeme Dickson from Baker and McKenzie about the pitfalls that need to be avoided when negotiating hotel management contracts.
One of the resounding messages that permeated both days of AHICE this year was the growth in lifestyle and boutique brands, with many speakers including James Doolan from Marriott, Steve Skarrott from IHG, Andrew Taylor from Starwood, as well as numerous others, shedding light on which brands are coming and why. Brands mentioned included Accor’s Mama Shelter from France, Far East’s Quincy from Singapore, Starwood’s Aloft and W, alongside Ovolo and Radisson Red.
The key to the boom in boutique and lifestyle brands – especially the co-branded ones like DoubleTree by Hilton – is that travellers are looking for difference experiences within the one trusted family of brands. They want to book with as much confidence – and possibly loyalty program – for the their family holiday or couples city break as they do their business travel.
From a government and regulation point of view, Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) CEO Margy Osmond also shared insight into some of the crazy policies standing in the way of the Australian tourism industry’s progress.
Osmond told delegates about the process that Chinese tourists currently need to go through in order to secure a visa. She said that they need to fill out a 16 page visa application form in Mandarin that needs to be submitted manually. This application then takes over a week to process and costs $130 to submit.
She said the US and Canada are both making great strides in attracting Chinese tourists by relaxing visa requirements. Since Canada made the changes, its inbound Chinese market has increased by 30 per cent.
Furthermore, she said that more regional airports need to be upgraded to international airports. For example, international travellers are not allowed to disembark in Canberra because it is not an international airport. Same goes for Hobart; international tourists are bused from the domestic airport to the overseas passenger terminal (cruising) to clear Customs and are then put back on the bus to go back to the airport to collect their luggage.
She also identified the welcome that tourists receive at the airport, infrastructure elements such as roads and rail links, the acknowledgement of the contribution of the private sector makes to destination marketing, and airport access, including curfews and landing policies, as being key areas that need state and federal government attention.