According to Langston, who is senior director at CBRE Hotels and co-founded the AHC over a decade ago, the biggest change to the industry over the past year has been the rise of the provinces, which have finally come out from the shadow of London to shine in their own right.
“Over the past year, the level of profitability increase in the provinces has eclipsed the performance of London, which is nice to see after so many years of the provinces heading in a downwards direction,” he explains.
“In the 12 months to August, the provinces were posting an almost 9 per cent rolling 12 month profit increase compared with the same period the previous year.”
After a period of stagnation, the provinces are also enjoying renewed interest from investors, with some big deals providing the longed for movement in assets that was needed to unlock regional activity.
With money now being invested in properties across the UK – rather than just in London – Langston believes there are ‘good signs’ ahead for the industry.
“We are seeing hotel groups being picked up, money being invested into them. In itself, presenting a better product to the market should enable hotels to move headline revenues up,” he explains.
However, there are still some big challenges for operators. Online Travel Agents (OTAs) remain a ‘significant cost’ for hotels, and regulatory compliance is also hitting profits.
“Labour’s view on where minimum wage should be and their pledge to move there would pose a significant challenge to the industry, it would be a real game changer”, Langston says.
“Because I don’t think that even now we are seeing the ability to grow top line revenues to absorb that kind of quantum change in payroll costs.”
The strength of the sterling could also pose a challenge in the year ahead, although Langston believes domestic tourism is unlikely to fall away completely.
“I do think it seems to be well embedded in the British psyche to at least spend some of their vacation time at home,” he explains.
“I think in the large part we have moved away from a lot of people spending their main holiday in the UK, but the advent of new products, of more and varied boutique hotels, destination hotels and refurbishments means people will continue to take short breaks in the UK.”
The AHC 2014
So with all of this in mind, what can we expect from this year’s conference?
“You can expect to see OTAs feature large on the programme, and you can expect to see speakers deal with what they see coming on the horizon as some of the key challenges and opportunities,” Langston says.
“But we will also deal with things like finance – and whether the purse strings really are loosening now that trade is improving.
“We will also cover the issue of branding –whether you need a brand or not, what benefits a brand will bring, what the costs are with branding. And within that we will discuss social media marketing, and how to make that work for you.”
The conference will also include a session called ‘Tomorrow’s World’, which will look at harnessing technologies developed specifically for the hotel industry. “People tend to look at that and think it is about buying a new telly or improving the Wi-Fi,” says Langston.
“Those things do matter but we will also look at technology behind the scenes, such as the ability to collect and analyse data in order to optimise digital marketing,” Langston explains.
The AHC 2014 will take place at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate on 15 and 16 October. For the full line-up and to buy tickets, visit the AHC website.
BigHospitality is a media partner to the AHC and will be reporting live via Twitter during the event, as well as providing news updates following it.