Up in the air

This month sees the return of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta with the skies over Southwest England filled with all manner of impressive inflatables – the Darth Vader and Stuart the Minion shaped balloons remain the most prized to spot. Aside from being sponsored by Costa Coffee (it’s been a long pandemic for us all and needs must) and events spread over a Fiesta Fortnight to avoid large gatherings, it’s up up and away.

Further reasons to be cheerful were delivered courtesy of IHG Hotels & Resorts as they presented their H1 results which included reported profit of $138 million for the period, a 20 per cent increase in Ebitda which was $233 million for the half year, compared to $107 million same period last year and, drum roll, the launch of a new brand. This one, a collection brand (of course) would be ‘capturing the increasing opportunities of conversions and further strengthen our position in Luxury & Lifestyle’.

Keith Barr, CEO, IHG Hotels & Resorts, said: “The addition of a collection brand will provide high quality independent hotels access to the many benefits of IHG’s system, whilst retaining a property’s distinctive identity. There are currently around 1.5 million independently run rooms in the market segments we are targeting, and we expect the collection to attract more than 100 hotels within 10 years.”

So far, so standard pandemic.

One area that the analysts were keen to press Barr and CFO Paul Edgecliffe-Johnson on during the earnings call was business travel.

Whilst Barr maintained that “the death of business travel has been grossly exaggerated” he admitted that “the shape and profile may look a little different” and that “it won’t be back tomorrow”. Other industry operators have talked about permanent business reductions, possibly in international travel, and research from Redburn suggests that expectations for 2024 airline capacity globally are 20 per cent below what was anticipated pre-COVID, largely driven by business travel expectations. Definitely not coming back tomorrow.

This is not new news and as we have mentioned in previous columns and on our podcast (podcast!) before the pandemic we were all conscious of the mounting argument to travel less but it was so very fun speeding through an airport without kids, enjoying an uninterrupted latte with uninterrupted thoughts, browsing books without having to field the various requests for Haribo/Pokémon/yet another bloody water bottle, that we pushed the images of devastating wildfires from our minds.

And yet here is an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues, clients and friends but to do it in a more considered, less planet-ravaging sort of a way.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its landmark report on global heating earlier this week and we have all read the key points, in all their horror: increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts, flooding, the oceans continuing to warm and become more acidic and the likely growth of in fire weather in many regions.

I’m all for a positive mindset. I’m all for the hotel sector. I’m all for PR. I’m all for a brighter future, happier times and less pinging. But, and perhaps this feels more pertinent as I complete another circle around the sun, why don’t we take the chance that’s been presented to make some changes, do things differently and try less to simply hurl ourselves back to what came before because that’s what we all know and are familiar with?

Or maybe I have my head in the clouds.

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