IHIF 2020 Interview: Deputy CEO & COO at PPHE, Greg Hegarty

Deputy CEO & COO at PPHE, Greg Hegarty(Greg Hegarty PPHE)

1.              What does 2020 have in store for the hotel industry?

Guest experience remains top of the agenda in 2020.  The guest persona has shifted to be a ‘generation now’, requiring everything on demand, and so with this, we could expect to see hotel brand loyalty starting to reduce.   As an industry we need to respond with even more personalised experiences in order to avoid the trend of ‘switching’ which is what the new generation of guest now tends to do.   

We have even seen Meetings & Events clients not wanting to commit in advance and requiring increased flexibility in commercial terms.  

Convenience such as online-check in and seamless experiences inspired by peer-to-peer reviews and recommendations is what guests are now looking for.  Social media has never been a more important awareness and booking tool. 

We know that guests are time poor with little patience and so the use of Online Travel Agents (OTAs) and new flexible lodging options such as a new era of hostels and home rental brands, continue to rise in popularity.  The hotel industry needs to work hard to embrace and collaborate with these disruptive brands and emerging sectors, seeing them as healthy competition and an extension of our current portfolios and offering. 

Recruiting and retaining a dynamic workforce remains key in 2020.  We know that many of our operational team members require flexible working opportunities and a career that complements their personal lives.  Working collaboratively with our team members allows us to attract talent who have perhaps assumed that the hotel industry is only long, rigid hours – whereas now we are offering a range of flexible options.  Through this new approach which I believe many corporate brands are now starting to warm up to, we have seen a reduced number of open vacancies in areas such as housekeeping across our European business. 

We know that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will continue to dominate 2020 while we await details of the final trade deal. We kicked off our preparations three years ago focussing on the three main areas of; refinancing, talent retention and attraction and supply chain management.  Amongst other initiatives, we reengineered our menus by introducing a number of new British supplier partnerships such as English wine companies. 

2.              PPHE operates a unique business model, combining owner, operator and manager. What are the main advantages of this structure?

Our hybrid owner/operator model paired with development is a point of differentiation within the hospitality real estate sector and means we can take control of our planning, construction timetables, processes and ultimately investment and operational decisions.  This agility as a business enables us to make swift decisions as required and capitalise on opportunities.

With our model, we take advantage of the ever-changing shifts in guest needs and can flex our offering accordingly.  We can take immediate actions which makes us a nimble company to work with. 

As established operators we have an excellent understanding of the needs and changing trends regarding both guests as well as team members, on which we base our reinvestment and programmes within our existing portfolio as well as our Acquisitions & Development strategy.

On the other hand, as hotel owners and investors we also understand the stakeholder’s needs, which results in our hotel concepts and management being facilitated with the owner’s interests front of mind.  This provides greater adaptability and a dedicated focus on mutual returns rather than delivering purely managed and franchised concepts.

As a business, we took the decision three years ago to refinance a number of our existing hotels allowing us to quickly react to any potential opportunity and release cash for new investments.   This long-term visibility on our capital is a key strength within our business today to drive further growth.

3.              As an experienced player in the sector, what are some of the trends you are observing in terms of guest behaviour?

We know that the personalised customer experience (CX) is more important than ever before, overtaking even price or brand decisions.  That Instragram worthy moment is how we believe many guests make that booking decision.   

Solo travellers, networking events and co-working are all on the rise.  I expect to see even more of these travel patterns in 2020.

‘Generation Now’ is showered with opportunities.  To stand out brands need to demonstrate responsible travelling, working with ethical partners who focus on reducing food miles and sustainable associates (e.g. linen, towels and replacements for all SUP plastics) - and above all doing something authentic and of difference to your peer group. 

4.              If you could change one thing about the hotel industry, what would it be?

The traditional perception of the industry itself as a career of choice.  Having spent my entire career in the travel and hospitality industry, I fully embrace our somewhat ‘charmed’ reputation and now in 2020, recognise the guest need to drive the digital footprint forward in the industry.  Analyst, fund and investor relations, asset management, corporate finance and law, PR & Communications, restaurant and bar concept development and entertainment management are only a few areas of the industry that offer internationally recognised progressive careers. 

We continue to promote the industry as desirable to young people across our European portfolio when choosing a long-term career path. In the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, we work closely with a number of hotel schools and organisations. 

According to UKHospitality, the hospitality sector is the third largest private sector employer in the UK and contributes to 5% of total GDP.  We still have a lot of work to do to increase industry awareness.

5.              If you weren’t Deputy CEO & COO at PPHE, what would you be doing?

When I was younger, I was a member of a number of military initiatives including the Army Cadets and I always felt that the methodical, strategic process and leadership skills required suited my competencies well. From here, I established a keen interest in aviation and at one stage even considered becoming a pilot or officer in the military.

Having started my early career as a representative in tour operation in the Balearics, if I wasn’t working in hospitality here at PPHE I would likely see myself working in a leadership role within a global tour operator.