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 

Chat Button