Event review: Independent Hotel Show

BHN was a media partner for the recent Independent Hotel Show, which took place at London’s Olympia West.

As usual the event attracted a large crowd to its exhibition area and seminar theatres. Among a busy seminar agenda was a session discussing the results of the Perfect Hotel bedroom initiative, which saw the show organisers poll more than 2,000 hotel guests to gauge their preferences. The results were discussed by designer Harriet Forde, who also created a physical interpretation of the results at the show, and Steve Dobson of Unusual Hotels of the World.

Forde said that to visualise what was needed for the room, she created an imaginary couple who were the embodiment of the survey results. “Pete and Sara Dixon” are in their mid-40s, have children, but are staying on a night out in London.

The conversation quickly moved on to the advantages of being an independent hotel and how to maximise them. Dobson said: “Independent hoteliers have a lot of freedom. They aren’t tied down by the rulebooks of the chains, and this enables them to focus on a specific audience rather than trying to be all things to all people.”

The art of creating practical – as well as beautiful – hotel designs then came to the fore. Forde stressed the importance of incorporating the needs of the housekeeping department in to designs, while Dobson emphasised the need for technology to be uncomplicated. “An overnight stay shouldn’t be a tech assault course. It needs to work for the guest. Hoteliers should try out new tech themselves before guests use it – if it’s not right, change it. Don’t assume it’s right,” he said.

The importance of getting the fundamentals right was also stressed. Forde recommended investment in quality beds and linens, while Dobson said: “Get the basics right before you start thinking about frills.”

He also highlighted the need for regular communication with your guests: “TripAdvisor is not a substitute for talking to your guests. Communication with them is the ‘secret sauce’ needed to build the right culture at your hotel, which involves constantly talking to guests and evaluating their feedback.”

Looking to the future Dobson predicted that wireless charging will soon be a must-have at hotels, while Forde said that minibars will be phased out – “people don’t want them any more”.

A Dragon’s Den style panel of hospitality start ups was well attended, with standing room only. Four hopefuls pitched their businesses in the hope of getting the nod from judges Steve Lowy of Umi Digital and entrepreneur Rodney Hoinkes. The runners and riders were Sridhar Javagal of Bidbeds.com – described as a fully gamified booking engine; Nadja Bucken berger of Room Raccoon, a cloud hotel management platform which combines a PMS with a booking engine and channel manaher; Brian Garvan of Wanup, a loyalty club for hotels of all sizes; and Eropa Stein of Hyre, a sharing economy-style approach to hiring event staff.

After some deliberation, the judges chose Wanup as the winner, and the company gets an exhibition stand at next year’s Independent Hotel Show as its prize.

The evening of day one saw the presentation of the Independent Hotel Show Awards. The Independent Hotelier award was won by Paul Bayliss, general manager at Carden Park. He said: “Well done to all the nominees, I am elated to win an award. This really is a nice surprise, and a big surprise as I’ve only been in the hotel industry for nine years. Carden Park is a big hotel, so to win at the Independent Hotel Show Awards is even more special. We will continue to do what we do, which is host the biggest and best conference events for blue chip companies, in the UK. We also have a special announcement coming up, so it’s an exciting time for Carden Park! I think anyone can be inspired by me winning this award – I had a whole career with the British military before working in hotels, receiving an MBE from the Queen for my service as an army chef, after starting out at the Army school of catering in 1982. If you apply yourself, you can do anything in this industry. That’s key for me – if I can win, anyone can.”

The Outstanding New Hotel Award went to No. 15 Great Pulteney in Bath.Jonathan Walker, managing director, said: “Thank you, on behalf of everyone at no. 15 Great Pulteney, we are truly delighted to win the outstanding new hotel award – this is the one we wanted to win! After a number of years working at corporate IHG hotels, it was great to go back to being a hotel keeper with the opportunity at no. 15. We have had such great support from the team and people of Bath. We wanted to create a hotel with 100 per cent local business and we are at about 95 per cent, so we’re doing well!”

Throughout the two days of the event, Boutique Hotel News had a stand, and as usual we met a steady flow of interesting people and new contacts at what is now a firmly established staple of the industry calendar.

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