It has long been the fate of hotel owners to stand alone in the face of myriad obstacles; in the hospitality hierarchy they are firmly at the bottom, exposed to all of the risk, yet typically the last to reap the rewards. Overtaxed, overcharged, and underappreciated – what can the lonely owner do to ease the burden?
HOFTEL (Hotel Owners and Franchisees Transatlantic and European League) represents a step in the right direction to redressing the balance, and SEAHIS 2017 at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Bangkok on June 13th/14th provides an opportunity for owners to join forces in a summit which specifically meets their needs. As Simon Allison, Chairman of HOFTEL, explained, the seniority and quality of the speakers along with the nature of the chosen topics have helped to create an event which feels quite different to the conferences to which many attendees might be accustomed. This has already been made apparent through the success of sister events recently held in Abu Dhabi (GIOHIS 2016 and 2017), and from the attendance and level of participation on the opening day of SEAHIS 2017. It is abundantly clear that HOFTEL meets a critical need in bringing owners together to share ideas from an oft-neglected perspective.
According to Simon, many of the problems faced by owners are concerns which are also shared by the major brands and other owner-operators: OTAs are often top of the list, closely followed by the innovations brought about by the sharing economy; taxes, regulations, and labor costs are an ever-present drain, while the availability and cost of funding brings volatility into the equation. The potential disruption caused by “events” is a further worry for all participants.
On the other hand, however, owners face some of their challenges alone. Among these are the difficulties they face in dealing with the power of the brands they work with. Brands bring to the table the advantages of size and scale, with significant legal budgets, wider experience of sales and distribution, and minimal exposure to the risks borne by the owners, who are in turn much smaller and perhaps more fragmented. It is normal that in any market scenario where one party is significantly larger than the other, their bargaining position tends to strengthen. The trend for mergers and consolidation on the part of brands and operators has created precisely this weakness for hotel owners.
For owners to improve their situation, certain steps can be taken, and HOFTEL supports this by giving owners a forum through which to share information, advice, and best practice. As Simon further explained, at SEAHIS 2017 around half of the delegates are slated to make an appearance on stage, as speakers are selected for the insights they can offer rather than the sponsorship they might provide. This gives the program greater relevance and effectiveness in addressing the issues which really matter to owners. By coming together and working together, as Simon suggests, owners can perhaps begin to level the playing field.