AHICE 2022: Outrigger CEO Jeff Wagoner speaking with HM's James Wilkinson

Over 1200 hotel industry professionals descended on Adelaide this week for the 13th annual Australasian Hotel Industry Conference and Exhibition (AHICE) – an event which saw a number of major hotel signings and announcements.

IHG launched a new Holiday Inn in Adelaide and announced plans to open a Crowne Plaza on NSW’s South Coast. The Ascott Limited announced the debut of the lyf brand in Australia with a property in Collingwood set to open this month.

Pro-invest discussed the purchase of a Canberra hotel, its second Sebel-branded hotel in the capital. TFE Hotels revealed the expansion of Adina and Vibe to Asia with Singapore openings this year. And Event welcomed a Rotorua hotel to its Rydges portfolio.

La Vie announced that it has secured exclusive rights to bring YOO Hotels to Pacific, while BWH revealed that it will bring long-stay Executive Residency brand to Australasia. Meanwhile, Wyndham announced further investment in South Australia with McLaren Vale hotel among four recent signings.

A new peak industry body

Another key announcement and top talking point throughout the conference was the launch of new industry association Accommodation Australia.

When asked who will take up the position of Accommodation Australia CEO, President Leanne Harwood said:

“We will be going out to market. We’ve come with a recruitment agency right now and we’re working towards looking at who that individual will be. It is a fully transparent and fair process that we’re undertaking.”

A common theme throughout the many panel discussions at AHICE was the importance of collaboration and uniting the industry as one voice to tackle issues such as employment, skills shortages and sustainability, and the important role the association will have in this.

Global CEOs share insights

A number of global CEOs flew in to attend the event in person including IHG CEO – EMEAA, Kenneth Macpherson, who is based in London; Outrigger CEO Jeff Wagoner (based in Honolulu); Hilton President – Asia Pacific Alan Watts (Singapore); Marriott International President – Asia Pacific (excluding Greater China), Rajeev Menon (Singapore); Far East Hospitality CEO, Arthur Kiong (Singapore); LWT Asia Pacific, Leader, Satoshi Konagai (Singapore); and Pro-invest Group Co-Founders Ronald Barrott and Dr Sabine Schaffer (Dubai and London).

During a panel discussion on sustainability, Pro-invest Managing Partner, Sabine Schaffer, talked about how sustainability should not just be reserved for luxury brands.

“Sustainability needs to be something that goes throughout – it goes through all of our work streams and work processes within the company – and from my perspective, it has to go from the select service hotel until all the way up to luxury,” she said.

“Does the end consumer wish to pay more? … If you look at surveys, they say that they’re happy to pay up to 20% more for a sustainable stay at an express hotel, and they do spend about 30% more in general. This year in particular, after COVID. everybody’s very conscious about where the money goes, but it certainly pays off.”

IHG’s McPherson discussed the wellness trend that is becoming an all-important factor for travellers.

“Building in wellness as part of what many of the brands are going to have to offer will be an increasing part of what we need to do in the industry, and we’re doing that,” he said.

“The sustainability part is going to be vital for us as an industry and we’ve tackled that with our Journey to Tomorrow – that’s talking about people, communities and planets and making very significant commitments on that. So that’s going to be really key. The [Even] brand speaks to that, and that’s accelerated in the US and China at the moment. We’re just refining that before we take it to market.”

Outrigger CEO Jeff Wagoner touched on geospatial learnings from a recent McKinsey study that the company did. The study tracked cell phone pings of travellers when they returned to the US mainland after travelling to Hawaii to better understand the other locations that are of interest to resort traveller.

“It’s a little freaky,” Wagoner said of the power of the technology.

“What we learned was the first place they went to after Hawaii was San Diego, the second was Miami. And so, we are looking in Southern California and we are looking at Miami [for future properties]. Miami that would be an awesome launchpad into the Caribbean for us, and we’re also looking at a property right now in Cabo.”

Marriott’s Rajeev Menon discussed the company’s impressive Q1 results which were announced on Wednesday. The company reported a global RevPAR increase of 96.5% compared to the first quarter of 2021.

“It was an exceptional quarter,” Menon said.

“Tony announced last night that we are reinstating our dividends in the second quarter which is incredible from a shareholder point of view. We’re going to start buying back shares; our EPS earnings, incredible, 35 times over estimate.

“The big announcement was that the US, which is the biggest market with over 5000 hotels, in April RevPAR was flat to 2019. And the company is very optimistic about our booking pace for the future. So from our perspective, be it the US or Asia side markets like Australia, India, some of the other markets that have opened up, we’ve stopped talking about recovery to ’19, we are talking about growth versus ’19, which is incredible.”

More reporting to follow on AHICE 2022