Former CEO of Starwood Frits Dirk van Paasschen delivers a talk on the power of disruption.

The ninth annual Australian Hotel Industry Conference and Exhibition (AHICE), hosted and presented by HM Magazine, saw almost 800 hotel owners, CEOs, executives, managers, leading suppliers, consultants and educators from all across the Asia-Pacific arrive in droves at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne for a full day of learning and networking (02 May).

The sessions kicked off with a talk by STR regional manager Matthew Burke and Deloitte Economic’s Bryon Merzeo who gave a numbers update on the year that has been.

Burke said “2017 was an incredible year” for the tourism industry. “Europe continues to perform and it’s an all-time high. It has been able to rebound from the terror attacks which is a great result.”

Back home, “business trips grew 14 per cent in Australia in one year alone,” Merzeo revealed.

HM Editor in Chief James Wilkinson then led a question and answer session with AccorHotels Pacific Chief Operating Officer Simon McGrath, before Savills Global Head of Sales George Nicholas took to the stage to give a global hotel sales outlook.

An interesting fact revealed by Nicholas was that “almost 94 per cent of all hotel transactions in Q1 2018 were completed by interregional investors.”

Later on, the audience engaged in a panel session on emerging chains in the spotlight which was moderated by Lustro Hotels chief executive Sonia Lefevre. Delegates heard from Veriu Hotels and Suites group COO Caspar Schmidt; Dave Baswal, COO, Ovolo Hotels; Doma Group, CEO, Jure Domaze and Onyx Hospitality Group, VP of operations, Craig Bond.

Dr Jerry Schwartz, one of the founders of Schwartz Family Co, took to the stage next for an investor Q&A session. He spoke of the success of his Sofitel Darling Harbour property and his new Four Points by Sheraton property which is due to open in the brand new Central Park precinct later this year.

“It’s a little bit of a hidden secret,” Schwartz said of the location of his new Four Points by Sheraton Hotel.

“But this will be the largest hotel opening in Sydney this year,” he promised the audience.

One of the highlights of the day was the major keynote delivered by former CEO of Starwood Frits Dirk van Paasschen on the power of disruption.

“The wellspring of disruption is technology,” van Paasschen told the audience. With the rapid advancement of technology, van Paaschen questioned, “why is it then that some companies aren’t getting better with all the new tech coming on board?”

He implored the audience to look to tech-savvy young people to reinvigorate their businesses.

“It’s a great time to be young. There’s nobody out there with 20 years of social media experience,” he said.

The afternoon was similarly jam-packed with content. The audience heard from Wyndham Worldwide Corporation CEO Geoff Ballotti, Hyatt Asia-Pacific group president David Udell; Ord Minnett John O’Shea and JLL MD Tony Ryan.

Pro Invest Group CEO Ronald Barrott, in his investor Q&A session, then broke the news at AHICE that there would be a brand new Holiday Inn hotel to be built by Sydney Airport.

Mulpha Australia GM Lucia Grambalova then led an engaging Q&A panel session on what owners want. Joining her on the panel was M&L Hospitality asset manager Clay Bennett-Bremner; Schwartz Family Company Director Jerry Schwartz; Colliers International National Director Nigel Greenaway; Essendon Fields Director of Development Damian Dalgleish and Pro-Invest Hotels Group Managing Director Phil Kasselis.

Tourism Australia Managing Director John O’Sullivan then took to the stage to give delegates an update on the state of the tourism industry. He revealed that the latest Crocodile Dundee campaign is the most successful to date, garnering 200 million views from all around the world.

He said: “The currency of ‘feeling welcome’ has never been so important.”

“We need to make Australia the most desirable and memorable destination on earth.”

The HR panel on retaining top talent led by AHA WA, chief executive, inspired heated discussion among panellists Julian Clark, CEO, Lancemore Group; Sarah Derry, VP Talent and Culture Australia, AccorHotels; Lynda Ugarte, Head of HR and Operations, IHG and Tish Nyar, Director of Operations Aus/NZ, TFE Hotels.

One of the biggest challenges facing the industry right now is the Visa 457 changes which have affected Australia’s steady stream of talented overseas chefs, the panel said.

Another was on the topic of Indigenous Australian employment, which AccorHotels is actively

Hostplus’ Head of Infrastructure Investments, Jordan Kraiten, Jordan Kraiten then engaged in a Q&A, before another panel on brand development took to the stage to discuss luxury trends. The panel comprised IHG senior director of development Abhijay Sandilya; AccorHotels Pacific VP of Development Lindsay Leeser; Marriott International senior director Richard Crawford; Hyatt Hotels VP of development Monika Dubaj, and Hilton VP of Development Robert Scullin.

Crawford said that the term luxury has been misused a lot in the industry, reminding delegates that the Marriott view of the word is that “luxury sits above five star”.

“The beauty of luxury is that it caters to a want, not a need,” he said.

AccorHotels Chairman and CEO Michael Issenberg commanded the stage next with an engaging Q&A session with HM editor James Wilkinson. The two conversed on the Mantra acquisition and whether Accor would continue its buying spree in Australia.

“We’re never done,” Issenberg said.

When asked how hoteliers can work better with the Government, Issenberg replied: “We have to lobby, we have to work with Canberra – they need our help. We all have a responsibility to help grow this industry. If we don’t work hard together we’re gonna miss the greatest wave we’ve ever had”.

The day wrapped up with a 2018-19 Australasian Hotel Performance Outlook moderated by Withers Worldwide, head of hotels, Robert Williams. He was joined by Anthony Stanley, Director of Distribution and Revenue Management, Choice Hotels Int’l; Matt Taplin, Senior VP of Resort Operations and Property Development, Wyndham Hotel Group;  Ruwan Peiris, Head of Operations, IHG; Robert Dawson, Area VP Pacific, Marriott International.

Photos by LP Commercial Photography.