Are Hotelier Conferences Worth It? An Insider's Perspective

An old Chinese proverb states that you should grow grain if you want one year of prosperity, trees if you want ten years of prosperity, and people if you want a hundred years of prosperity. This may be one of the oldest known quotes on the power of networking, and it’s equally true today as it was back then.

Even though a huge chunk of networking has gone virtual, there’s no doubt that people in the hospitality industry are interested in getting together in person. The Australasian Hotel Industry Conference & Exhibition (AHICE) sold out in 2016. Big events like the Destination Australia Conference and the Australia Tourism Summit have attracted widespread attention, while gatherings such as HotelsMegaMeet and No Vacancy continue to generate a strong response.

Outside Australia, the number of hospitality events increases considerably. Among the most notable:

  • Annual Hotel Conference (AHC)
  • Americas Lodging Investment Summit (ALIS)
  • International Luxury Hospitality Association’s (ILHA) Annual Summit
  • Hotelier’s Summit; and
  • Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP) HITECH conference

Now part of the reason we attend these events is that we hoteliers are generally extroverts by nature; we thrive on personal interactions and/or being seen and heard. (Some people love the sound of their own voice as well, but that is another matter!)

Neither is there any shortage of smaller, more specialized hotelier conferences. The Association of Independent Hospitality Providers (AIHP) gives boutique operations a unique forum to share ideas. The Australian Hotels Association’s (AHA) annual Nightclub and Bar Convention takes place in Las Vegas in 2017, effectively combining the convention’s program with a tempting getaway to one of the world’s top nightclub scenes. The annual Young Hoteliers Summit (YHS) gives hospitality students the tools and knowledge to drive innovation as they enter the industry.

As the list of events and acronyms continues to build, professionals like us can be overwhelmed. How many conferences, summits, expos and annual gatherings can the hospitality industry sustain? Why do all of these events take place, and what comes out of them? As an industry professional, am I missing out on vital knowledge and contacts by choosing to stay at home? Or, am I just missing out on an annual gathering of an industry clique?

The question of value is important. On the one hand, we have tantalizing promises of productivity and growth. On the other, we have the considerable investments needed to reach these far-flung events and see them through, not to mention the days (sometimes weeks) of professional time spent. For example, the 2016 AHC had standard “delegate tickets” on sale at £510 plus VAT. Other big conferences have been known to collect AUD $1500 or more per head. Add in flights, 2-4 days of accommodation, plus meals and other peripheral costs, and you could easily be looking at total costs of $3000 or higher. Costs for smaller and regional conferences may be lower, but it’s a rare occasion when you travel to another city and attend a conference for less than $1,000.

When you’re running a small hotel and your balance sheets aren’t as strong as you’d like them to be, such expenditures are difficult to justify. For large hotels of course it’s another investment by the owner who needs to see a return. And yet, we’re seeing today that hospitality conferences are more popular than ever. The entire conference/trade show industry is worth an estimated USD $14 billion globally according to Inc. Magazine.

These figures tell us that industry gatherings are well worth it to an awful lot of people in our industry — people like you and me. But as someone who has attended conferences around the world, I’ve learned for myself that showing up is not enough to create value.

Finding conferences that attract rising stars and quality names in the industry is critical. Having a clear set of goals (e.g. make quality connections with a minimum number of new people) is critical. Attending workshops that have direct relevance to your business is critical. Budgeting your time and money carefully is critical.

The event may be in Sydney, London, Rome, Paris, somewhere you’d like to spend time. Event planners (especially in the hospitality industry) love to set gatherings in exotic locations — but if you plunk down for a ticket and fly all the way there, getting the most out of the event should be your key objective. Networking and knowledge-sharing don’t happen automatically, and making the right connections may involve stepping outside your comfort zone and/or stepping outside the conference venue itself.

It’s all very simple: Hospitality conferences can and do create enormous value. They inspire new ideas, generate fresh ways of thinking about our industry, and deliver wisdom that’s relevant to the way we do business. For hoteliers and consultants alike, knowledge is valuable currency and we don’t get this from sitting in the same place for a long time.

But this value is only available if we have a strong strategy, a clear set of goals, and are determined to squeeze every drop of value from the experience. Tack on a few days to explore the city if you can, sure. Be open to dodging parts of the program if it means taking advantage of a seriously good networking opportunity. But don’t think that sitting in the back row for a few breakout sessions and dashing off to see the sights will do anything for you or your business. It’s easy to see these industry events as getaways with a trace of work involved. For those who truly capitalise, it’s other way around.

So if you decide to attend that hospitality conference, follow the advice of the ancient Chinese. Focus not on grain or seeds, but on people. Plan meticulously and work hard. A hundred years of prosperity may sound high-minded, but make no mistake: That kind of long-term success is exactly what we’re all after.


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