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UK Hoteliers To Keep ‘Hands on the Tiller’ as Optimism for Recovery Grows

MANCHESTER, England — The rebirth of the British hotel industry is making hoteliers in the United Kingdom feel more optimistic, although speakers at the Annual Hotel Conference differed on their level of optimism.

Attendees agreed, however, that hotel operations, financing and acquisitions have become more scrutinized than ever before.

Matt Lederer, director of hotel acquisitions at private real estate investment firm Castleforge Partners, said the medium-term prospects for the U.K. hotel industry are good, but “we will all have our hands on the tiller for the next six months.”

The end of the government furlough has been a welcome development, and hoteliers agree it was critical at the time but has since created an artificial disruption.

Lobbyists for the U.K. hotel industry continue to advocate for more aid for hoteliers. Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, was asked if U.K. politicians realized how difficult the past 18 months have been for hoteliers.

“We are looking after [politicians] in the Houses of Parliament, where they have restaurants and bars,” she said.

“So, are you saying we should take all that away from them?” asked Sean Worker, managing director and principal of business advisory T5 Strategies.

“It would certainly help them see the struggle in the industry,” Nicholls replied.

Labor remains the most difficult challenge for the industry. Stephen Cassidy, senior vice president and managing director for the U.K., Ireland and Israel at Hilton, said while the recruitment struggles are real, and not just in the hotel industry, “we are an industry of problem-solvers.”

Hotel models are likely to change, with more franchises with shared risk and more alignment coming to the forefront.

Overall, the recovery of the sector has been pushed forward by a year, with STR, CoStar’s hotel analytics firm, due to release its latest forecast later this week.

Vicky Pryce, an economist at the Centre for Economics & Business Research, said the U.K.’s economic recovery is expected to recover more slowly than other developed nations.

“COVID hopefully we can deal with, but long-Brexit, that might be something different?” she said.

The sun is shining again on the U.K. hotel industry, as the Annual Hotel Conference moves into its new home at the Manchester Central Convention Complex, but no one is taking for granted that brightness will continue without at least a few clouds. (Terence Baker)

“Why would you choose to work in hospitality when you might think hospitality will be closed down in three months? We need that clarity that we will not be closed down.”
—Neil Kirk, chief operating officer, London & Regional Properties

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