IHIF leaves the industry feeling excited and optimistic about 2015

The International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin has drawn to a close, with industry leaders leaving in even higher spirits than how they arrived. CEOs looked back on 2014 as one of the strongest years in recent memory and claimed that, barring unforeseen events, 2015 has the potential to be even stronger.

Looking back at the conference, optimism and excitement colored the event from day one, as Elizabeth Winkle, managing director for STR Global, called the industry "hot." According to Winkle, RevPAR is up in Europe by 5 percent, and capital is flowing into European markets as U.S. private equity companies shift their focus abroad. As said by Chris Day, managing director of Christie + Co., "It's an extraordinary year for hotel investment across the globe."

The second day began as Barry Sternlicht, founder, chairman and CEO of Starwood Capital Group, received the IHIF Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to him by Kerry Gumas, CEO of Questex, and Omer Isvan, president of Sevotel. Sternlicht's legacy includes a series of radical initiatives for the hotel industry, including the launch of the W brand and battling Hilton for the acquisition of ITT Sheraton.

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Afterwards, a panel of CEOs continued their high praise of 2014, with Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott International, wishing he could repeat the year forever. Not content to rest on their laurels, these CEOs are looking ahead at 2015's high demand and low supply as a positive in the industry, and a void they wish to fill. And in the face of new competition from companies such as Airbnb, Sebastien Bazin, CEO of Accor, is ready to meet the challenge. 

"Airbnb has become more significant," Bazin said. "But I'm not bitter. All new digital players are being evaluated not on bottom-line profits. We are at a disadvantage and have to adapt."

The final day culminated in a discussion of traditional versus next-generation business models, where Theresa Jaeger, director of real estate and asset management for Hilton Worldwide, argued that a brand's segmentation and performance have a direct impact on its ability to grow in the marketplace and satisfy owners. 

Meanwhile, Fred Hines, director and head of acquisitions at Queensgate Investments, discussed the benefits of building a brand over bringing in a brand. "We took the view that it was worth the effort to develop something for young people," Hines said.

Guido Fredrich, VP of special property finance-hotel properties at Aareal Bank AG, closed out the panel with a comment on the need for flexibility in order to fully take advantage of all that 2015 has to offer: "People change, tastes changes, so brands need to change." 

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