Now is the time: MIH General Managers Conference review

Amy Horsfield reports from the 2019 Master Innholders Hotel General Managers Conference in London.

The Master Innholders Hotel General Managers Conference 2019 was hosted at the Intercontinental Hotel – The O2 on January 28 and 29.  More than 450 industry professionals gathered at the event, which was themed “now is the time”.

With this in mind, Danny Pecorelli FIH MI, Master Innholders chairman, opened the conference by saying: “Never has there been such time for change in our industry. Our customers and our workforce are changing and maybe our government is changing, so our industry needs to change.”

This message was paramount to the conference and reflected by Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, in her speech. With the hospitality sector being hit by the uncertainty of Brexit-fuelled inflation, rising regulatory costs and soaring rates and rents, Nicholls offered advice on how the hospitality sector can tackle the uncertain times ahead. She also weighed in on whether we’re through the worst of the perils and pitfalls on the political road and the impact it may have on business competitiveness and productivity.

Addressing the conference attendees, Nicholls defined the role of UKHospitality: “We are your trade body, we’re there to be your voice, your champion and to get the environment that we need to continue to grow.”

She went onto explain how UKHospitality aims to help those working in the industry to flourish: “Our vision is of a dynamic, innovative and vibrant sector at the heart of everyday great experiences that are important culturally, economically and socially.”

This statement came after Nicholls acknowledged the difficult times the hospitality industry had endured, but expressed her optimism for the future. This is largely down to the hospitality industry being the third largest private sector employer, something that has given the industry political leverage to progress.

When discussing her vision for the hospitality sector to improve the reputation of the industry, she added: “That is what we’ve really driven home to government over the course of this last year where we’ve been merged as one body.”

The hospitality sector has generated £130 billion worth of turnover, employed 3.2 million people in highly skilled and highly valued jobs with prospects for career progression and generated one in eight of net new jobs last year.

Nicholls and her team are also working to reduce the unnecessary costs of doing business, and create a market place which treats and taxes all entrepreneurs and all businesses equally. She said: “Our core objectives and what my team is doing is first and foremost to promote the reputation of the sector as a great place to work and actively engage in finding solutions to the challenges that we face collectively today.”

In 2018, this work bore fruit as the government backed the industry for the first time with the Tourism and Hospitality sector deal, one of only six industrial sectors across the whole economy that the government has supported.

Nicholls said this decision is symbolically important as it sends a clear message that the government recognises the importance of this sector of the economy in terms of careers. The government will also be supporting the hospitality sector by endorsing a three year recruitment campaign to get the best talent into the sector and endorsing the industry as a career of choice.

Brexit has recently been dominating a lot of Nicholls’ time – she has been working with ministers to secure a food supply in the event of a no-deal Brexit. She has also been asking: “How do we ensure we have the labour that we need to deliver the high quality hospitality experiences that the rest of the economy depends upon?”

It is a message that Nicholls says she has ensured ministers understand and appreciate. She said: “We’ve been working on ensuring that the immigration deal meets the needs of our industry. UKHospitality have succeeded in getting ministers to drop the £30,000 minimum salary threshold on immigrants coming to the UK after December 31st 2020 and it is now being negotiated and have advised the salary requirement will be lower. The settled status fee for EU citizens arriving in the UK before December 31st 2020 has been scrapped as a result of the hard work from the hospitality sector.”

On the second day of the event, Ian Millar, senior lecturer at École hôtelière de Lausanne, took to the stage to talk about the top technology trends to look out for in the near future and the ones to avoid.

Firstly, Millar addressed the technology that he believes is over-hyped. These include 8K TV – that Millar said will take five to ten years to become remotely relevant, mobile apps for hotels – that are very expensive and require constant maintenance – and mobile keys that can create serious security concerns.

Millar also dismissed rumours that robots will take over the industry, telling of how a Japanese hotel sacked 250 robots because they were unable to maintain them.

When discussing the innovations that will be making a impact on the hospitality industry, Millar pointed towards guests being given the opportunity to cast their own content onto hotel TVs.
“We’re living in a Netflix world,” Millar stated and with Netflix generating 50 per cent of all internet traffic worldwide, guests’ own content is sure to become a recognisable feature in hotels.

Guest messaging is also becoming increasingly popular in the hospitality industry, with 40 to 50 per cent of start-ups using messaging platforms such as Whatsapp to allow guests to interact with hotel staff.

Other technology trends Millar suggests will be breaking ground in the future include facial recognition – although Millar reckons this is more relevant to business hotels with more than 300 rooms – sentiment analysis and 5G wifi.

Alongside the talks guests also attended the annual gala dinner and a champagne reception at the Intercontinental London – The O2 on the evening of Monday 28th January. They also took part in a raffle that raised £8,000 for the Master Innholders Charitable Trust, Springboard and Hospitality Action.

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