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ILHA INSPIRE 2023 Conference Report Back

26 January 2024
10 min read
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The International Luxury Hotel Association (ILHA) hosted a very successful event on trends and innovations in luxury hospitality at the iconic Eden Roc Miami Beach December 2023. With just 500 exclusive spots available for in-person attendees, INSPIRE created a unique and intimate experience focused on discovery, connections, and deal-making. This event brought together industry leaders, innovators, investors, developers, owners, operators, and service providers, offering a platform for networking and meaningful business relationships.

Encore, a leader in audiovisual technology, played a pivotal role as ILHA’s partner for the event, providing comprehensive AV and event technology support to ensure the success of INSPIRE. Their expertise in audiovisual solutions contributed to the seamless execution of the conference, enhancing the overall experience for all attendees.

In addition to Encore, ILHA was fortunate to have the support of valued sponsors who played a crucial role in making INSPIRE happen. Their generous contributions and commitment to the event’s success underscored the collaborative spirit of the luxury hospitality industry.

The event kicked off with leadership interviews and keynotes featuring prominent figures like Walter Isenberg, President & CEO, Sage Hospitality, Raul Leal of SH Hotels, Amanda Elder of Kempinski Hotels, and Lucia Penrod from Nikki Beach, to name a few. It was a testament to the collective efforts of ILHA, Encore, and our esteemed partners that INSPIRE 2023 exceeded expectations and left a lasting impact on the world of luxury hospitality.

Watch the recorded ILHA INSPIRE sessions on Luxury Hotel TV

Additionally, a dynamic panel discussion, moderated by Carolina Lacerda from EY, delved into the intricate world of “Understanding the Capital Minds Behind Luxury Hotel Ownership,” where the discussion revolved around investment strategies and the ever-changing dynamics in the luxury real estate and hospitality sector. From value enhancement strategies to the changing landscape of luxury hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic, here are the highlights from this thought-provoking session.

Speakers included Dev Motwani, Managing Partner, Merrimac Ventures; Brad Mulvihill, Principal & Chief Development Officer, Oxford Capital Group, LLC; and Donald McGregor, Executive Vice President, Managing Director – Latin America, Gencom.

Unlocking Value Through Asset Management

One key theme discussed during the panel was the pursuit of value enhancement in luxury real estate. The focus was on acquisitions of underinvested and undermanaged assets, with the belief that substantial value could be unlocked through asset management, renovations, and repositioning. This approach reflects the dynamic nature of the industry, where seizing growth opportunities is crucial.

Development as a Complement to Existing Assets

Luxury real estate investors often look for ways to complement existing assets with strategic developments. The panelists emphasized the importance of this strategy when they spot opportunities in the market. By undertaking development projects that align with market trends, they can capitalize on proven concepts and enhance their portfolio.

The Challenges of Luxury Real Estate

Despite the allure of luxury real estate, it comes with its own set of challenges. The panel acknowledged that luxury condos still perform well in strong markets like Colorado and luxury ski towns. However, the industry has faced headwinds, including rising interest rates and insurance costs. This “perfect storm” has posed challenges, particularly in adapting pricing strategies to changing market conditions.

The Role of Capital Structure and Financing

Effective capital structure management is vital in luxury real estate projects. Panelists discussed the importance of financing with branded residences to offset equity requirements and reduce the need for construction loans. This innovative approach allows the capital stack for residential projects to appear more attractive to investors, enhancing the project’s viability.

Luxury’s Influence on Financing

The discussion veered towards whether being a luxury product makes it easier to secure financing. Panelist Dev Motwani noted that working with the right brands can instill confidence in the product and potentially make financing more accessible. However, this advantage comes with additional costs that must be carefully considered.

Luxury Hotel Sector in the COVID Era:

As the conversation shifted to luxury hotels, the panelists discussed the sector’s performance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, luxury hotels experienced significant gains, but spending habits have evolved. Some guests have returned to regular rooms, paying last year’s rates, with reduced premium purchasing. The industry benefited from Florida’s early reopening and the return of international travel, stabilizing the market.

Rates, Costs, and Demand Dynamics

A central question emerged: Will rates in the luxury hotel sector come back down? Panelist Donald McGregor pointed out that while rates increased, so did costs. The key is managing supply and demand dynamics effectively. As the supply-demand imbalance continues, hotel brands are demonstrating agility in addressing demand and maintaining pricing power.

Watch the discussion here

Exploring Luxury’s Tomorrow: A Conversation with Raul Leal, CEO, SH Hotels & Resorts, and Siva Selvan, Head of Global Hospitality Real Estate, Long & Foster Commercial Division

In a captivating conversation, Raul Leal and Siva Selvan shared insights into the future of luxury brands in travel and hospitality touching on sustainability, guest experience and culture.  

“The real purpose of the brand is to do all the good you can.” Raul Leal, CEO, SH Hotels & Resorts

Prioritizing the Employee Journey

Raul Leal highlighted an often-overlooked aspect of luxury hospitality—the employee experience, pointing out that the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a reassessment of priorities, shifting the focus from perfecting the guest experience to aligning it with opportunities for team members.

Leal expressed concerns about the talent shortage in the hospitality industry, particularly in the United States. He emphasized the need to showcase diverse career paths within hotels, from roles in housekeeping to accounting or sales, offering numerous growth opportunities. Leal believes hotels serve as hubs for various experiences and aims to convey this message to potential employees, inspiring them with the industry’s potential.

Wellness in Luxury Hotels

Selvan and Leal discussed the integration of wellness principles in luxury hotel design and amenities. Wellness is now integral to a hotel’s architecture and guest offerings. Luxury hotels incorporate wellness seamlessly to create an environment that promotes holistic well-being and enhances the overall guest experience.

Watch the full interview here

Defining Luxury: An Insightful Interview with Amanda Elder, Chief Commercial Officer, Kempinski

Amanda Elder explored Kempinski’s refined approach to luxury alongside Mathew Evins as it continues to evolve. Luxury, as Elder sees it, is deeply rooted in knowing the guest – it’s about nuance. The ability to understand a person’s persona at any given time while navigating the intricacies of data protection regulations like GDPR is paramount. Anticipating a guest’s desires, the true essence of luxury becomes the ultimate gift. Elder lauds Kempinski’s exceptional General Managers, known as the “Ladies in Red,” who possess the art of truly getting to know the guests. Personalization is the key. In today’s digital age, inviting a guest is one thing, but truly understanding them requires a deeper connection. It’s about engaging in meaningful conversations and hiring General Managers who are more hosts than administrators.

The Guest Journey

From pre-arrival to post-departure, ensuring a memorable and personalized guest journey is imperative. Kempinski defines this journey as a string of unique and individual pearls. Elder explains that the journey remains incomplete unless these pearls are strung together seamlessly. Kempinski invests significantly in its website and the Kempinski app, part of the Global Hotel Alliance loyalty program built on experiences. Pre-arrival surveys are used to gather preferences, and constant communication with guests occurs from pre-arrival right through to discreet exit interviews.

Focus on Departure Experience

While in the USA, the focus often leans toward the arrival experience, Kempinski places equal importance on the departure experience. Elder emphasizes the significance of genuinely understanding their remarkable guests. Mornings start with briefings, the app is utilized, and photos of guests are taken to ensure recognition, preferences, and feedback are logged in compliance with privacy laws. Kempinski is transparent with its guests, asking if they would like to share more about themselves. As the generational landscape shifts, younger guests often want to engage in a different way and appreciate personalized interactions. The information gathered is used to ensure that expectations are met and exceeded.

Dealing with Guests Who Prefer Privacy

For those guests who prefer not to share, Kempinski anticipates their needs. Elder underscores the vital role of housekeeping and the importance of the staff on the floor. They serve as the true gateway to understanding the guest, even when the guest is reticent to share.

In this illuminating interview, Amanda Elder reveals the intricacies of luxury in the modern hospitality landscape and how Kempinski is dedicated to delivering personalized, memorable experiences for its discerning guests.

View the interview here

James Bermingham, CEO, Virgin Hotels, Unveils Virgin Hotels’ Purpose-Driven Hospitality

In a conversation with Michelle McLean, International Business Representative for Ohlthaver & List and ex-Miss Universe, Namibia, James Bermingham provided insight into the ethos of this purpose-driven company. Virgin Hotel’s parent company, Virgin Group, operates as a family investment office with a unique purpose-driven approach. Their focus goes beyond just financial returns; it is about creating a positive impact on the world.

Virgin Hotel’s mission is clear – to change business for the better. This involves transforming the industry by prioritizing customers and championing their employees. Virgin Hotels is committed to doing business differently and fostering positive change within and beyond the industry.

Beyond industry transformation, Virgin Hotels is deeply committed to making a significant difference globally. They prioritize sustainability and support the communities they serve. James Bermingham emphasized that their purpose guided all their actions.

While technology was essential in the hospitality industry, Bermingham recognized that human interaction was at its core. Technology complemented rather than replaced the human touch. Virgin Hotels embraced innovations like virtual check-in to enhance convenience without sacrificing personal connections.

Virgin Hotels takes pride in being hyper-local, reflecting local culture in design, architecture, food, and beverage concepts. They prioritize local hiring, ensuring that even in markets where expatriates typically lead, the team is comprised of local talent.

Watch the full interview here

Don Peebles: Pioneering Progress in Miami Beach

A Journey of Barrier-Breaking Accomplishments

Don Peebles, a trailblazer in real estate development, shares a remarkable journey marked by breaking barriers and creating change. In 1996, he secured the right to develop the Royal Palm Hotel, a historic building that faced condemnation. As a compromise, Peebles constructed an exact replica, which opened its doors in May 2002. This achievement marked a pivotal moment for Miami Beach, as it became the first major hotel in the United States to be owned and developed by an African American developer. Peebles’ vision and determination turned the tide, ushering in an era of economic inclusion.

Two decades later, Peebles hosted a significant guest at another groundbreaking project, The Bath Club. This premier social club in the Southeast had a history of exclusivity, with restrictions that excluded Blacks, Jews, and even dogs, as indicated by a sign outside. However, Peebles, the club’s first Black member, purchased The Bath Club two years later. He went on to develop a luxury condominium project, the Residences at The Bath Club, on the parking lot and tennis court, all while preserving The Bath Club as a historic landmark. For Peebles, this act served as a poignant reminder that remembering the past is essential to prevent its repetition.

In a bid to embrace inclusivity, Peebles relaunched The Bath Club as the most exclusive beach club in Miami, proudly adopting the tagline “exclusively inclusive.” Don Peebles’ journey reflects a commitment to progress and a belief that change is not only possible but necessary for a brighter future.

Watch the full keynote here