The 2016 Hospace Conference and Exhibition was planned with Brexit at the top of the agenda, with only an outside chance that the event - timed for the day after the US election - would take place with an unexpected president-elect, Donald Trump.
Starting with the results of the EU Referendum, Martine Ainsworth-Wells, Head of Destination Engagement, ETOA, told delegates: “There is a short-term opportunity for Britain to be better value. The second opportunity is that, not only has it not happened yet, but it might not be a hard Brexit ,so let's continue as usual. We also need to not fan the flames of Brexit. There's a bigger crisis, which is terrorism and security, which is having a much greater effect on inbound tourism. Sadly the Far Right ideology of closing the borders and keeping terrorism out is alive and well in local markets.”
Jeremy Robinson, partner, Watson Farley Williams said: “Our expectation is that all the regulation which effects tourism and hospitality will be transferred into UK law. When you consider how unimportant the current government thinks the sector is, imagine how long it will take to negotiate them.”
“Without aviation traffic rights, you can't fly. If we exit without an agreement on this, we revert to having bilateral traffic rights with each of the 27 member states, which are a lot more complicated. If you look at the individual treaties they are more restrictive. At the moment, any EU registered airline can go to any other point in the EU. What will this mean for some regional airports?
“The nature of European law is that when it is applied in the UK, the courts are bound by interpretations by the Courts of Justice. When we leave, we won't be subject to that, but that means that the law we have copied out will start diverging. And where we have legal inconsistency, we have uncertainty, which makes lives difficult.”
Robinson turned to consider Trump, adding: “Trump is not seen as antagonistic to the UK, as Obama has been, so you might think we might be at the front of the queue for a trade deal. That said, Trump is also quite protectionist, so whether there is any US/UK deal or any US/EU deal is up for grabs.
“The first thing to think about is what Trump has said and what his attitude has been. He's been more isolationist and said that Europe has to put its defence house in order, which means that governments have to spend more money that they don't have which could be better used elsewhere.
While the Brexit debate was largely one of stoicism in the face of a likely rocky future, Mark Essex, Director Public Policy, KPMG, remained positive, commenting: “I'd rather find out that a country is that unhappy and try and deal with it than ignore it.”
He added: “If your competitors have supply chain in Euros and you are in Pounds, what are you going to do with your competitive advantage?” He did, however, add: “This sector in particular has challenge in the labour market and not just from Brexit. I'm not sure that our negotiators are as sympathetic to this industry as others.”
Robinson looked at the need to lobby harder for the sector’s needs, telling the audience: “The government has got more than enough to do than listen to different industries' individual concerns. So we have to adapt.”
Peter Martin, Vice President, CGA Peach, said: “The sector needs to get behind Brexit issues of people and pricing supply and lobby the government.”
Staffing was expected to be an issue once the UK has exited the EU, with Sally Beck, GM, Lancaster London, commenting: “Brexit is going to affect us all, but it’s going to be long term. I think that we have to try and keep calm and retain talent and try and lobby the government to get our voice heard.”
Stephen Cassidy, Senior VP & MD, Hilton UK & Ireland, added: “We will power on through, we’ve been an industry around for centuries, we’re an enormously successful industry and the growth projections are really good. We’re always going to be looking for people. As an industry we have to give our people great bosses.”
“As the travel industry we have the greatest opportunity to expose people to different ways of life and help people
see that more interaction with different points of view is the greatest thing we have to offer,” said Jessica Kramer, VP, Business Development, Alice.
Looking ahead at the likely impact of the Brexit decision next year, Liz Hall, Head of Hospitality & Leisure, PwC,
told delegates: “Uncertainty, volatility and disruption and, with elections coming up in Germany and France, are likely to continue into 2017. Business travel will be affected by uncertainty, with corporate travel budgets expected to narrow in 2017, away days were making a comeback before Brexit, but they've now stopped.
However, Hall said: “Consumers are more confident than they were pre-Referendum.”
This confidence was being seen in the eating-and-drinking-out markets, with Martin commenting that “provincial chains are now matching London for growth”. He did, however, caution that “the frequency of eating out has not changed in the past three years, since the end of the last recession”.
Consumers remain demanding, with 2,277 new beer and cider products having been launched in the past three years, “driven by the need for excitement by Millennials” and this innovation in alcohol was influencing food, with Martin adding: “Restaurants and casual dining are now using drink to drive profits and sales, particularly through craft beers and artisan gin”.
Robin Sheppard, chairman, Bespoke Hotels, taking part in a debate concerning the value of the brand, said: “I long for a High Street with differentiation, with intrigue. On behalf of the mop-haired hoteliers, don't let the branding get you down. If you've got a property in Haversham West, put a BestWestern flag on it, if it's in Central London, don’t. A hotel should be a source of pleasure and reward. If you rely on a brand to deliver the people, then woe betide you. Brands are useful in distressed areas, but the brand will not compensate for the lack of attitude and positive service.”
In the opposing camp was Surinder Arora, who said: “When 9/11 happened we realised we needed to look outside our comfort zone. It's not just about the brand, but location. But when you've got lots of room, you need the accessibility.”
However, while Arora looked to brands for distribution, he manages them himself, commenting: “I hate someone else managing our hotels, I'm a control freak. Having branding helps the business, but looking after the property takes the personal touch.”
Sheppard acknowledged some tricks learned from the brand, commenting: “We have a loyalty scheme, we'll bribe everyone we possibly can.”
Delegates were encouraged to do their part, with Robinson pointing out: “The fact that a large number of people has
chosen to vote for Brexit doesn't mean that the country has to become unwelcoming”. A hospitable industry indeed.
Next year’s HOSPACE will take place on 2nd November 2017.
This article was written by Katherine Doggrel, Editor of The Overview, HOSPA