HOTCO – Day Two in Budapest

The first day of the fourth Hotel Investment Platform CEE & Caucasus HOTCO, Monday 20 January 2020, finished with an outstanding party hosted by Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest.  Kempinski boss Martin Smura and the hotel GM, Stephan Interthal, used the occasion to celebrate the ten year birthday of the brand’s Lady in Red initiative.  Each Kempinski worldwide has do-anything ladies, always in scarlet, who liaise with, and have full powers, of conciergerie, front desk, duty management. Smura and Interthal were joined by three of the hotel’s Ladies in Red to cut a large scarlet cake. And then nearly all the 350 HOTCO delegates stayed for a long time enjoying food stations manned by hotel chefs, with wine tables overseen by Jammertal Wine Estate and their colleagues.

HOTCO is organised by Marius Gomola, MD of HTL Capital Advisors, based in Budapest, Hungary. HOTCO’s philanthropic side is exemplified by the announcement for a hospitality student in memory of the late highly-respected consultant János Hegymegi. This will be funded by HOTCO.  In addition, three % of HOTCO income goes to supporting the challenged in the industry.

This is an investment conference. But where to invest? Ilan Rudich, who heads IR Hotels & Resorts, told me privately that the market in this part of the world does not need more luxury hotels, other than for a few months in the Summer. Year-round, there is an insatiable appetite for lifestyle. He sees the greatest potential in Belgrade, Budapest and Erevan, plus such secondary cities as Krakow. And how to invest? Arik Ramot, Ramot & Co Investment House, and Ramy Yarden, co-founder Everflow, carefully explained Blockchain and how it cuts middle-men out of the investment process – they used St Regis Aspen CO as a case study.

Frankly, having six CEOs sitting in one line trying to differentiate their product could be said for a waste of everyone’s time, including that of Bloomberg’s Veronika Gulyás.  By contrast the brilliant solo performance by Franck Gervais, CEO of Accor for Europe, was full of interest. He admitted, in the one following question from the floor, that Accor is hungry.  Taking the example of Accor’s current re-positioning of the one-time Noga-Hilton Geneva from Kempinski to be a significant Fairmont, there will be other take-overs.  Liam Brown, Marriott’s head not only of Europe but, now, also of Middle East and Africa, showed you can never take the gift of the gab from an Irishman, despite his 30 years in the USA: Marriott is in all but three nations in CEE and Caucasus and he sees opportunities, throughout the entire region, for all his brands.

A few years ago such topics as talent, and even food and beverage, and wellness, never featured on an investment agenda. Now it is realised that as an increasing number of hotels are being developed, finding people to work in them is more and more difficult (in Budapest, where the unemployment rate is a mere 3.8%, competition for the workforce is heightened by BMW’s new production, which requires a team of 4,000). Most impressive on the talent panel were wheelchair-bound activist Daniel Csángó and the always-dynamic Cornelia Kausch, MD of CK Hospitality Advisors (the more individualised the career path, the more loyal the team member – and what a marvellous experience she had at The Cellars-Hohenort, in The Cape’s Constantia Valley, when she was last in South Africa).

Sadly I had to leave before the F&B panel. With many dozen really valuable business cards in hand, I left for the airport.

For details of 2021 HOTCO, see  www.hotconf.com

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