Contributor/ The Vulture
What if you held a conference and nobody came? Not a scenario likely to afflict the International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin, the annual sector bash where while there are occasional incidences of non-payment, it remains a must-attend event.
Apart from the conferencing itself of course, where barely any of the badge holders bother to attend, networking being far more important. With a marked uptick in the partying (in line with the improvement in trading fundamentals) the main conference room, with its dark lighting and soft chairs, was a haven rather than a zone of enlightenment.
This, and the fact that it came with water and a Starbucks outside on the IHG stall meant that the room was often just about half-full, sparing the blushes of the panelists. Other than for Housetrip CEO Arnaud Bertrand, where, had he been able to see past the spotlight, only The Vulture would have been visible.
The hotel sector, y’see, has dismissed Housetrip and Airbnb as of no relevance. Worst-case scenario is they might take some leisure business, but who needs that when all these road warriors are back out, flexing their expense accounts? And with legislators around the world getting their magnifying glasses out and probing to see if ‘sharing economy’ really means ‘capitalist economy’, they won’t be around in a couple of years’ time anyway.
The hotel sector is many things, but far-sighted is not one of them. A decade ago the likes of Expedia were being dismissed as a passing fad. At this year’s conference attendees were told that consumers were increasingly brand loyal to the OTAs, rather than the hotel brands.
Bertrand holds listings for close to 300,000 properties, only four years after launching. Properties – not rooms. If anyone thinks that he, or someone just like him, isn’t working out a way to apply this to the corporate market (and don’t forget that many big businesses own residential real estate already and are no strangers to stashing employees in it rather than hotels) then their brain is more addled than a day-three conference attendee. Wake up.