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Master Innholders look to the future 

New technology, the future of tourism and the importance of leadership were just some of the many topics covered at the annual Hotel Leadership Conference presented by the Master Innholders.  

Over 500 delegates attended the sold-out two-day event at Park Plaza London Riverbank for the Breaking Boundaries programme, which saw hoteliers gather to gain important insights into what the future of hospitality will look like and what will need to be done to adapt to these changes.  

Opening the conference was senior innovation editor of WIRED, Jeremy White, who provided an overview of some of the technology now available to hoteliers. White stressed that this technology is now more accessible than ever before, with applications such as virtual experiences for guests and creating websites without the need for coding.  

Business futures strategy director at GDR, Ella Sy, spoke about the changing landscape of hospitality and travel, highlighting that 82 per cent of people want to travel more responsibly in the future, 55 per cent are looking for off-the-grid style vacations and 46 per cent said they’re more likely to travel to destinations that they wouldn’t have previously considered after experiencing them virtually. 

The use of AI was a prominent theme throughout the conference, with an in-depth discussion on the topic from the panel hosted by broadcaster and journalist Naga Munchetty and featuring CEO and founder of Journey, Simon Bullingham, hotelier and sustainability advisor Sue Williams FIH MI and MD of The Goring, David Morgan-Hewitt FIH MI. 

Ella Sy, business futures strategy director at GDR, spoke about the changing landscape of hospitality

Concerns around its usage and ethics were raised, and a focus on using AI to better support our teams, not replace them, was echoed throughout. 

David Morgan-Hewitt said: “I don’t think AI will replace humans. People want interaction – they want a relationship. People want to be loved. They spend a lot of time on their own and when they come to a hotel, they want to be looked after. AI can enhance the guest experience, but it will never replace the need for a dedicated team to help make our guests stay that extra special.” 

Teams and a changing workforce were also discussed by Leanne Walters-Hawke of PWC’s workforce transformation team. She said:  “Treat the employee experience like the customer experience. Use employee data like you would your customer data – what does my workforce want and value?” 

Attendees enjoyed a black-tie dinner in the evening of the first day, in which the awards of General Manager of the Future and Hotelier of the Year were presented to Chris Bancroft and Conor O’Leary MI respectively.  

Rounding out the event was keynote speaker and leadership expert Keith Coates, who spoke about the need to think like a futurist, as well as the importance of building a culture of initiative. 

Keith said: “When the world changes then the workplace also needs to change. We are dealing with a changing workforce. “We need to know the tools in which we need to put our ideas into practice but also be unafraid to break things up in order to learn how to make them better.” 

Dan Rose-Bristow MI, chairman of the Master Innholders, said: “Each year, the Hotel Leadership Conference has a theme and this year’s, Breaking Boundaries, is certainly appropriate for the year ahead.  

“It’s been clear from our talks these past few days that the status quo has changed. Hospitality has always been an industry where we go above and beyond for our guests and staff – in 2024 and beyond, we must look to go even further, breaking our boundaries once again.” 

Next year’s Hotel Leadership Conference will be held on 20-21 January at London Hilton Bankside. For more information about the Master Innholders, including applications for becoming a Master Innholder or applying for an Aspiring Leaders Diploma, visit the website or sign up for the newsletter for regular updates.

Broadcaster and journalist Naga Munchetty hosted a panel on AI
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