Sharpening the Saw: Insights from Annual Hotel Conference 2023 with Guy Lean

In the dynamic and ever-evolving landscape of the hospitality industry, the Annual Hotel Conference (AHC) stands as a pivotal event in the UK, offering a rich tapestry of knowledge, innovation and networking opportunities.  

Guy Lean is an annual attendee at this event in Manchester, and once again had the privilege to represent Madison Mayfair and Hospitality People Group for the two-day event. Here he shares his insights as hospitality professionals converged to explore emerging trends and envision the future of hospitality.  

The Manchester Conference Centre once again played host to a successful iteration of the AHC, drawing in a large audience of over 1000 attendees from various segments of the hospitality industry. The event provided an engaging platform for stakeholders to share insights and fostered a collaborative environment where attendees could freely discuss the pressing issues and opportunities in the industry. The prevailing sentiment was one of positivity, with a focus on the resilience of the industry and an optimistic outlook on the economic landscape. 

In the spirit of providing exceptional hospitality, the event logistics were well-organised and executed perfectly. The panel discussions and plenary sessions were the backbone of the AHC event, offering slick, well-rehearsed presentations that were both engaging and informative. The sessions covered a range of topics, including the current economic landscape, the resilience of the hospitality industry and the evolving trends in customer preferences with a focus on experience-driven spending. The breakout sessions were well-attended, offering interesting discussions and insights. 

Key Takeaways from AHC
Economic Insights
The event presented a rich tapestry of economic insights, with economists painting a vivid picture of the current economic landscape. In his economic keynote speech, James Pomeroy, Global Economist with HSBC, shared his The Flour Pot Bakery analogy which really resonated with the audience. He suggested that when he finishes his morning run and has to queue out the door for a high-quality coffee and pastry at The Flour Pot Bakery in Brighton, the economy must be doing well. However, if he arrives and can get a table, maybe more people have decided to forgo their morning treat, then the economy is likely to be suffering. Inflation was also a hot topic, with experts dissecting its potential trajectory and discussing strategies to mitigate its adverse effects on the industry. 

Industry Resilience
A significant focus was on the resilience demonstrated by the travel and hospitality industry amidst unprecedented challenges over the past few years. The narrative has shifted from a retrospective analysis comparing current statistics with those of 2019 to a forward-looking approach that envisions a robust future. The role of human interaction and experiences was underscored as a cornerstone in fostering the industry’s resilience, emphasising the irreplaceable value of the personal touch in hospitality services. This trend has seemingly benefited the luxury end of travel and hospitality more than the budget side, emphasising the need for a balanced approach to cater to diverse customer preferences.  

Market Trends and Technology
Technology took centre stage at the event, with tech companies particularly well represented on the stands and introducing ever more innovative solutions to the market. The event served as a reminder of the relentless pace of technological advancements and their profound impact on the industry. However, the overall message continued to see these advancements as ways to enhance the employee and customer experience or help the human decision-making processes rather than replace the personal experience or existing people strategies. 

Networking Opportunities
For many the networking opportunities were a highlight, offering a vibrant platform for reconnecting with old acquaintances and forging new connections. There was great representation from many newer brands, as well as many familiar larger brands, fostering a collaborative environment to forge new connections and nurture existing relationships. 

Challenges and Opportunities in the Industry
Food and Beverage Sector
The AHC event shed light on the pressing issues faced by the food and beverage sector. One of the focal points was the heightened pressure on this sector due to soaring costs, exacerbated by the current economic landscape discussed in the economic insights segment. Experts delved deep into the topic of food inflation, analysing its ripple effect on the industry. 

Investment Landscape
The investment landscape session was enriched with insights from the investment panel during the capital talks segment. The panel highlighted the pivotal role of granular strong leadership in navigating the current scenario, emphasising the necessity for leaders to have a detailed understanding and control over the P&L and all facets of the business.  

The discussions also ventured into the realm of opportunities present in the distressed assets market. The previously anticipated feeding frenzy hasn’t materialised quite as expected, as banks have been much more open to discussion and finding solutions. Alongside this, investors have been encouraged by the industry’s resilience and commitment to protecting profit and there are many private equity firms ready and willing to do deals. 

Human-Centred Leadership
During the AHC event, Ros Hardiman, Group People and Organisation Development Director at Kew Green Hotels, introduced the transformative concept of human-centred leadership.  

Guy found this to be a powerful insight closely aligned to previous Hospitality People Group articles on The Battle for Retention and How can Culture help Win the War for Talent. Ros Hardiman’s views on a human-centred leadership approach places a significant emphasis on the human aspect of organisations, advocating for a leadership style that is more empathetic, understanding and focused on the holistic well-being of employees.  

In a human-centred leadership model, leaders foster an environment where individuals can thrive both personally and professionally, thereby nurturing a workspace that is more collaborative, innovative and productive. 

Underscoring the vital role of aligning leadership strategies with company culture and values, it was emphasised that companies can build a resilient and committed workforce. This alignment creates a symbiotic relationship between the employees and the organisation, fostering a space of mutual growth and respect. 

The discussion transitioned into the evolving dynamics of employee engagement and appraisal in the current landscape. It was highlighted that the traditional methods of appraisal are gradually giving way to more inclusive and continuous feedback-driven approaches.  

The new strategies are designed to be more responsive to the individual needs and aspirations of employees, fostering a culture of continuous learning and development. The changing approach also recognises the value of employee well-being, encouraging leaders to adopt strategies that promote work-life balance and mental health, thereby creating a more engaged, satisfied and productive workforce. 

For Guy, the event served the purpose of “sharpening the saw,” a metaphor encapsulated by Stephen Covey, which promotes taking time out of the day-to-day tasks to renew and reset, allowing for personal development.  

A key takeaway was for attendees to constantly hone their skills, to be adaptable and to embrace a mindset of lifelong learning. This principle is pivotal in navigating the ever-evolving dynamics of the industry, allowing hospitality professionals to stay ahead of the curve to foster environments of excellence and innovation. 

In closing, the AHC event painted a picture of a resilient and adaptive industry, poised for growth and brimming with opportunities. Despite the challenges that loom, the underlying sentiment was one of optimism, driven by human-centric leadership, technological advancements and a renewed focus on value-driven strategies.  

As the industry forges ahead, it does so with a spirit of positivity. It is a time to leverage the insights gained, to “sharpen the saw” and to work collaboratively towards a future that is not just successful, but also sustainable and inclusive. 

If you would like to arrange a chat about your people strategies or to discuss any points raised in this article, then please get in touch on +44 (0)208 600 1182 or +44 (0)7813 009 787 or 

Insights from the Annual Hotel Conference 2022

The “Peak of Uncertainty” 

Our very own Guy Lean attended the recent Annual Hotel Conference (AHC) and shares some of his observations and insights from the event.  

As Hoteliers and Investors prepared to attend the first sessions of the event in Manchester, news of the tax policy backtrack came through from Westminster, shifting the economic goalposts once again.  

We are becoming increasingly used to operating in a state of flux and it is no surprise that “adaptability” became a theme throughout the conference. One attendee even suggested that the AHC was taking place at the “Peak of Uncertainty” for the UK. 

Annual Hotel Conference in Manchester
The AHC has always been an impressive event and has grown year on year. It is generally considered to be a more intimate version of IHIF in Berlin, but since the UK continues to be the most valuable region in the European investment market, it is one that attracts a lot of interest from investors, owners and hotel executives.  It has always been innovative, being one of the first to go paperless and it has evolved to now offer a seamless app experience that gives more control back to the user. 

The Economy
As expected, the economy was the most common topic of discussion, but the most fascinating aspect of this was the general positivity that surrounded the event. There was a lot of talk at the beginning of 2022, about just trying to hit 2019 numbers. And actually, many attendees spoke of how they’ve shattered those numbers. 2022 has been a phenomenally positive year. The success could be partly attributed to the huge pent-up demand from customers, who were still catching up on delayed experiences.  

Forecast for 2023
Naturally, the ongoing war in Ukraine, rising inflation and interest rates are still keeping hoteliers cautious. As we plan for 2023 and another very uncertain future, there is continued pride in the resilience that has developed and embedded over the past couple of years. This ability to adapt to changing circumstances is no longer merely a tool to survive, but a highly prized asset now being used to drive success. A few of the speakers at AHC suggested that 2023 will be about bringing things back to basics, keeping things simple and doing what they do really well; cutting out waste and mistakes, looking after employees, working hard and ensuring that guests have great experiences time and time again. As a big rugby fan, it is a mantra that reminded me greatly of Paul O’Connell, former captain of the British & Irish Lions, who said “Let’s be the best at everything that requires no talent”.  

So how are investors planning for 2023? 
As costs continue to increase and the pent-up demand stabilises to normal levels, which business will continue to outperform the market?  

Investors are hopeful that energy prices will settle in the second half of 2023 and feel that there are still great opportunities out there, especially in the luxury market. While the economy hospitality sector will be less able to pass inflation costs onto the consumer, luxury hotels have a history of being able to do exactly that and are seen as a safer hedge against inflation.  

ESG Investments
The Investor influence is also being strongly felt in terms of ESG. An investment in a building is generally planned for longer-term value, and buildings that exceed current sustainability measures will be better placed to future-proofing their investments. Inevitably, operators are now being forced to prove their eco-credentials, with roadmaps to carbon net zero and green certifications now de rigeur for attracting investment. If they can’t do this, then then they simply won’t get the funding they are looking for. As the competition for corporate clients in 2023 is also likely to rely heavily on eco-friendly commitments, ESG is no longer a can to be kicked down the road. It is here and now, and needs to be treated with care and authenticity if you’re going to progress. 

I couldn’t sum up the event without also looking at the current state of recruitment. We’ve all heard about how businesses have struggled to recruit since the pandemic and the phrase “War for Talent” has been used frequently. At AHC, the operators that were most positive about the future tended to be the ones who spoke of strong cultures in the workplace. Being great communicators and focussing on retention has helped them drive employee satisfaction, keep their best talent and consequently helped attract new candidates when needed.  

From our experience, there is no doubt that there is a huge pool of talent out there, but they may just be a little more selective about where they will move next and are looking to work with employers that share their values.  

If you would like to arrange a chat about your recruitment strategies or to discuss any points raised in this article, then please get in touch on +44 (0)208 600 1182 or +44 (0)7813 009 787 or 


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