None of your business

The opening of pub gardens in the UK has meant a trickle back to face-to-face meetings (in Europe we’ve been meeting in gutters for weeks now) a trial which may well catch on should hotels be allowed to reopen on May 17.

It’s much needed. As Carine Bonnejean, managing director – hotels at Christie & Co, pointed out on Watson, Farley & Williams’ webinar this week, people need to meet. If you’re going to buy or sell millions of pounds worth of real estate, a certain amount of looking in the eyes is required. Likewise if you’re selling your lovely brand or branded company.

The state of the transactions market is a good illustration of what happens when you can’t see the whites of the eyes. We have not seen massive deals, but then, so far, very few owners have needed to sell, thanks to government support and a lack of enthusiasm on part of banks for drawing attention to anything being untoward which might risk them owning any hotels. Selling one or two hotels is easy enough to do via Zoom. The market is not yet suited to the drama of a big deal and so far it’s all about refinancing. Let’s maintain the status quo and ignore 2020. La la la. 

At some point there will be a reckoning, was the reckoning of the panel. No-one was willing to put a date on this (apart from Accor’s Sébastien Bazin, who has put it at around six years from now) but the trigger for this reckoning is going to be the return of corporate travel. The leisure customer is all very entertaining – and appears champing to offload hoarded cash – but it’s the business market which drives the majority of the sector, so all eyes are straining to spot the first wielding of a corporate account. 

There was some debate about what this was going to look like and how thrilled we should all prepare to be. CitizenM kicked the debate off with its subscription model, which was based, not only on the need to bring in revenue, but on the idea that worker bees would move away from city centres, but need to come into the office for a few days at a time – and would need somewhere to stay. 

For those people lucky enough to have the option of where they work, the pandemic has been one long proof that you can be productive while working from home, even if it’s make you fall out of love with certain areas of that home. So, with an urge to cut office space high on many corporates’ minds, there is the chance for the CitizenM model to come into play. It also changes the requirements of hotels. Once you’re more living and less collapsing after a day of conferencing, extended stay and coworking models start to blur the lines. Airbnb also gets a look in.

For many, the demand of bosses will be to have you where they can see you. The only escape from the keen eye is fleeing for conferences route, but at the moment there seems to be enthusiasm for the hybrid model to continue. Some will travel to make those connections, others will join from their desktops for the content. The imminent recession and the different speeds of the vaccination programmes mean that there is unlikely to be a huge surge in attendance.

This is all grist to Greta’s mill. Businesses need to see a decent ROI on your travel – go and sign that deal – and less commuting has to be good for those dolphins which so enjoyed Venice last year. 

But what does it do for the hotels where the business plan is all about, well, business? You’re going to have to look away from the traditional corporate traveller and, in the words of Magnuson CEO Tom Magnuson, “look at orphan markets, reach out to hospitals, government business, construction”. Then you can create a foundation on which leisure is the bonus after you’ve covered costs. 

Maybe less glamorous, but hey, at least you’re saving on trouser presses. 

Scroll to Top