SAHIC 2020: Latin America Hospitality Industry Unites to Rethinking the Future
the Conference Offered a Complete Online Event to Connect and Discuss the Present and Future of the Industry.
The Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference for the Latin American and the Caribbean community, closed a successful virtual event last October 5 and 6. Committed to promoting regional collaboration and facing the adverse circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the conference welcomed the hospitality industry in the region for two days of interactive content and essential industry insights by global speakers, debate sessions and roundtables, as well as remote "face-to-face" networking.
Opening the first day of the conference, Arturo García Rosa, President and founder of SAHIC, said: "Meeting remotely is an experience that we had never imagined for SAHIC, but what we were sure of since the COVID-19 breakout is that one way or the other, we would remain as the annual meeting point for the industry in the region. SAHIC is an opportunity for us to stay connected, working together on a recovery effort that needs us all."
SAHIC 2020 once again brought together the leading movers and shakers for hospitality and tourism in Latin America and the Caribbean who shared insights and hard data during keynote sessions and leadership hard talks.
Gloria Guevara, President and CEO, World Travel & Tourism Council at WTTC, was one of the keynote speakers taking the stage, to understand the current scenario and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead in the hotel & tourism industry. For Guevara: "This is an unprecedented time, we are at a first survival stage, where all companies, no matter what size, are being deeply affected by the pandemic effects, but we see a light at the end of the tunnel due to international collaboration". She referred to how WTTC has created four principles to stick to in order to benefit from synchronized efforts: international coordination of public and private efforts, universal protocol for safe travelling, in order to gain travelers' confidence back, international testing protocols and use of biometrics and touchless experience implementation. Guevara received SAHIC 2020 Special Recognition for her successful career dedicated to the hospitality sector.
Brian King, President Caribbean & Latin America at Marriott International, shared valuable information on how COVID-19 situation affected operations and also measures taken: "Today we operate and franchise 272 hotels, more than 70% are open, with over 65,000 rooms". About the status of projects and developments: "Obviously it's always deal by deal but, for example, we've opened 9 hotels this year during the pandemic. We opened an AC in Chile and we brought Marriott back to Buenos Aires, which was very exciting".
For Elie Maalouf, CEO the Americas InterContinental Hotels, "it's been a bizarre, year but we have tried to lead it in a systemic and consistent way, we had to take actions that are unusual because of this crisis, but stayed true to our core values". About recovery, he affirmed that the balance is positive, that they see faster recovery compared to others, and attributes it directly to maintaining infrastructure levels. "Second stage of recovery has begun, 97% of hotels are now open, and 30% remain closed in Latin America and destinations that are very dependent on-air travel". Maalouf also admitted having seen, now more than ever, the impact they have on communities: "Our communities relied on our industry to get through the pandemic. We're essential to these communities. That gives us a sense of meaning and purpose apart from the business or economics".
Federico Stubbe Jr., CEO of PRISA Group, referred to the situation in Puerto Rico and how they are managing to get back the high-demand travel. "We need to focus for the next 4 years on creating a platform for growth in the industry", and continued: "We have a 200 million entertainment complex: it was about to open when Covid happened." Referring to the GreenWave and the relation economy-sustainability, Puerto Rico has a vast diversity and spectacular natural landscapes: "You need a strong economy to fund protecting the environment; we are making huge investments in landscaping and conservation."
Hotel leaders shared hard talk sessions about how they were weathering the storm in the hospitality industry and agreed on that taking action and adapting quickly does make the difference.About the goals set for this 2020, Patrick Mendes, CEO South America at Accor, said he still sticks to the initial plan of having 500 hotels "We have today 410 hotels, and 120 under construction, they're rushing to 500 by the end of the year". Mendes also announced his returning to France as the group's new COO and presented Thomas Dubaere, who will be replacing him as CEO for South America. Laurent de Kousemaeker, Chief Development Officer Caribbean and Latin American Region at Marriott International left clear that there is no "one size fits all" solution when it is about financing options. About the current situation, Joel Eisemann, Chief Development Officer The Americas, IHG: "We're definitely seeing that the leisure market is driving the initial recovery". "We had to be very fast in cutting list and negotiating with governments for temporary measures to reduce cost operations by 50%".
In an in-depth conversation, hotel leaders also talked about the strategies each has adopted to keep operating in the Covid era, how they managed to build and maintain the relationships with stakeholders. About the role of the brand in the region, Frances Gonzalez, Vice President Operations Latin America admitted Radisson Hotel Group has always been an owner-focused organization, and now that trend has only accentuated: "We have been conducting trainings, and have been handling logistics of getting PPE and equipment. We also have provided guidance, tools and info owners need". About dealing with owners in region, Ted Middleton, Senior Vice President Development Latin America and the Caribbean at Hilton said: " We have relaxed brands standards, reduced operating costs from fees and invested in programs that drive revenue and increase market share", and added: "During times like this, it's of paramount importance to stay in constant contact with partners. Major focus of new deals have been conversions, now more than ever owners need a brand that can drive strong REVPAR". David Tarr, Senior Vice President Development Americas at Hyatt added: "It is a purpose-driven company. We have had very robust and transparent conversations with our stakeholders and tried to balance differing objectives" and mentioned: "Our strategy is to be judicious in how we grow; we are not pivoting, instead, focusing on leisure destinations and resorts, especially focusing on Mexico and Pacific alliance countries, places with strong and diverse economies".
Hotel Owners spoke out and gave their view on the hospitality landscape in the near future. Fernando Poma, Vice President & Managing Director, Real Hotels & Resorts, the hotel division of Grupo Poma thinks travel has changed and will continue to change permanently in times to come, demand will be altered forever. "What we're doing is taking care of our cash position, and trying to reduce staff, renegotiate loans, and reorganizing the company so that even if demand doesn't return to normal, we can maintain profitability levels", he said. On the current situation, Herman Bern Jr., President, Bern Hotels & Resorts,said: "We all expect this pandemic to be over by mid 2021, hopefully vaccines will be available soon, but the outlook isn't good at least in the short-term". About the mixture of businesses and adapting infrastructure to suit the new demands, hotel owners expressed that resorts are dependent on a lot of groups coming in, the lack of individual corporate travelers will have a negative effect. "You may want to reconsider changing your hotel into some sort of residency if you weren't doing well prior to COVID", said Bern.
Representatives from governments in the region actively participated sharing their experience and views from the public perspective. In a Leadership Session Iván Eskildsen Alfaro, Minister of Tourism of Panama, covered several topics, such as the current programs in order to keep the industry going. "We are working together with airlines and the rest of the sector for the reopening in a week, which will be gradual. Airlines are slowly activating their routes", the Minister stated.He added that a financial program has been launched with IDB and Banco Nacional de Panama. All of this has coincided with a brand-new master plan for Panama based in sustainability, innovation and enhancing the natural beauty this hub offers, relaunching the destination itself apart from the reopening.
When traditional tourism models no longer work and local tourism is not enough, communications efforts were a strong pillar, which were not interrupted during the pandemic. Minister of Tourism of Costa Rica, Gustavo J. Segura, admitted to have had a strong bond with airline representatives during the isolation period, in order to make sure decisions taken would not be disruptive for airlines. He also stated: "We created a differentiated brand for Costa Rica. We have guests staying 12 days on average and European guests stay even longer. We've opened our borders to Europe and Mexico, and on November 1st we're going to open to America, our biggest market". About insurance coverage, which is now more than ever a very relevant topic, Honorable Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism of Jamaica, knows that the initiative proposed is a game changer and very necessary to build confidence. "It's now $40 end-to-end to be covered going to Jamaica. Tourism's more than music and fun now, it's now about the safety and well-being of the guest". In an in-depth conversation the importance was put in resilience more than anything, and both ministers identified electronic tools, reopening of borders and health insurance as main points to focus on, when talking about recovery.
The program included a series of I-Talks to look at how the industry is transforming through technology and innovation.
Senior Expert on Innovation and Digital Transformation, World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), Natalia Bayona, gave valuable information on the role Innovation has in healing Tourism Economy. "We are connecting startups with investors, corporations, and government workers to promote tourism and safety in a better way. When we talk about innovation it's not just technology; we have to create new business models and help with new forms of entrepreneurship". Always with sustainability and education as core values, the ultimate goal is to recover tourism. "We are working in developing different solutions with multilateral financial institutions such as the IFC to create more powerful mandates to encourage sustainable investment, with private sector projects focused on recovery". She summed up by reminding that there are three important drivers for recovery: innovation, education and investment.
Global Blockchain Business Council CEO, Sandra Ro referred to the relevance of blockchain, how to see data and time not only as value but also how to move money on "rails" in digital forms. "Opportunities are coming all over the way, governments are listening, because they have seen the problems, they need verification." She added that trust is the most important thing, blockchain & AI enable more transparency and confidence, which can offer many benefits to global supply chain, and democratization of economy which will only be accelerated by the pandemic.
Susie Vowinkel, Industry Director Travel at Google provided an insight on how the industry is today, and how to benefit from technologies and data usage to stop predicting and start acting in real time. "Rethink what it means to take action, because there may be more change and uncertainty our way". She also gave an overview on what consumers might value more in a company, and said: "Personalized experiences and loyalty programs are going to be increased for success in our industry...Travelers are shifting expectations and moving quickly".
Also, Olivier Ponti, Vice President Insight at ForwardKeys, on Aviation Industry Outlook and the impact on Tourism in Latin America & the Caribbean Region: "Latin America has performed better than the rest of the world, South America itself is still not recovering, but the Caribbean is doing significantly better. It is difficult to recover, but it is definitely possible".
Experts in the region shared hard data at SAHIC 2020
In the General Session presented by Patricia Boo, Area Director and Rico Louw, Senior Account Manager and Client Liaison at STR on Global & Regional Hospitality Industry Overview, compared numbers of 2019 with the current period and stated: "Leisure travel is in the lead, business travel is recovering."About the behavior in the Caribbean region: "There's multiple markets and countries, so there is a big mix on how they handle the pandemic. Some of them have been cautious and have closed up. Puerto Rico and the Bahamas chose to shut down for the most part. We will say this, there hasn't been a drastic drop in ADR for the region". They shared insights on specific countries such as Argentina where "the luxury market has had under 10 percent occupancy for more than 6 months, it might take longer to recover, but definitely will".
Clay Dickinson - Managing Director, Valuation Advisory Services Caribbean and Latin America at JLL provided the Global & Regional Economic Outlook. He offered a quick sight of past numbers, He began comparing them with post-COVID statistics and stated: "With respect to travel and tourism, COVID is an unprecedented event. Leaving a negative growth of only 60% by the end of the year, it's estimated that loss in revenue for airlines in 2020 is 252 billion."
Climate change was topic in the agenda. Hilen Meirovich - Head of Division in charge of Advisory Services at IDB Invest and the Head responsible for the Climate Change agenda stated: "Climate crisis saw that people were eager to do more, and millennials are more interested in sustainable travel". Then continued: "We first thought, we'll focus on Covid, and then on the economic recovery, and then on climate change, because that creates a lot of challenges", and finished by saying " It'll probably take tourism 4-7 years to recover, but there is no Planet-B".
Delegates had the opportunity to choose from 12 different hot topics at ‘TRTs', which featured 40-minute roundtable discussions including the topics of innovation in future of work, cybersecurity, the regional financial agenda, the future of FF&BB, airlines, luxury experiences, transformation of hotels industry, evolution of all-inclusive, protocols, destination branding, sustainability and learnings for the future. In these sessions, delegates had the opportunity to meet, pose questions and share knowledge with industry experts and fellow attendees.
There was time for an inspiring conversation between Damian Benegas - Mountaineer and Big-mountain Climber, Owner and Co-Founder of Benegas Brothers Expeditions and President & Founder, Arturo Garcia Rosa. "Behind each mountain there is a lot of suffering, we are not prepared to be there, but what is left to me are experiences, the human aspects, exchange with others and also inside my head, each summit is unique". García Rosa closed: "Passion, effort, engagement, priorities in order, each of us has its own mountain. Wait for the storm to pass, good times will come".
Final highlights from the event included word from Arturo Garcia Rosa who proudly announced that the 16th edition of SAHIC will be celebrated in Panama City on September 27-29, 2021.