Insights from the Caribbean Hotel & Resort Investment Summit (CHRIS)

The Caribbean Hotel & Resort Investment Summit (CHRIS), held last week in Florida, brought together industry leaders from around the world, including our very own Andrea Shaw and Dan Akhtar, to discuss the evolving landscape of the Caribbean hospitality sector.  

Drawing from their experience of attending, we’re pleased to share our insights and takeaways into the current trends, investment dynamics, and strategic shifts affecting the region’s hotel industry.  

Evolution of All-Inclusive Resorts
One of the standout themes of CHRIS was the transformation of the all-inclusive resort model. Historically viewed through a perception of attracting a mass market and delivering a low-quality experience, all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean are reinventing themselves.  

Dan and Andrea were delighted to reconnect with Gebhard Rainer, CEO of Sandals, during the conference. HPG has partnered with Gebhard for many years, and placed Gebhard in his current role at Sandals. We were delighted to hear his thoughts on the luxury all-inclusive sector that Sandals have dominated for so long.  

Gebhard emphasised that continuing to create emotional, and more personalised experiences, becoming more essential to today’s customers. He also noted that luxury properties will need to continue to innovate and evolve in order to inspire and capture the attention of luxury consumers. 

Dan Akhtar notes there is a significant shift in how these properties are perceived and operated: “All-inclusive used to have a bit of a bad reputation… it was encouraging to hear a lot of talk about elevating that reputation, with big-name global brands, using an authentic experiential-led approach, currently building a pipeline to becoming more active in the all-inclusive space.“  

This shift has partly been driven by the changing demographics of travellers, particularly younger generations who prioritise wellness and quality experiences over traditional vacation excesses. 

The new all-inclusive resorts are focusing on wellness, adventure, and quality services. Andrea Shaw elaborates, “This more wellness-conscious, health-conscious client coming through doesn’t want to gorge all day; actually, they want to look at different adventures and experience-led breaks.” Luxury within these settings is being redefined—luxury can mean sustainable cocktails on the beach or sports like pickleball (there was a lot of talk about the pickleball revolution), complete with high-end amenities like fresh towels, water, and fruit drinks, even at the game courts. 

The Rise of Branded Residences
Another significant trend discussed at the summit was the emergence of branded residences. These developments, where hotel brands offer residential properties, combine the comfort of private homes with the luxury services of hotels. Dan notes the prevalence of this trend, highlighting its benefits for funding hotel projects while providing the security and consistency of a quality well-known brand for its residents. This model not only enhances the allure of the properties but also provides a stable financial model through the sale of residences.  

Market Dynamics and Investment Opportunities
The discussions at CHRIS also shed light on the primary markets and investment opportunities in the Caribbean. Andrea notes statistics indicating robust engagement from U.S. travellers, with about 16 million stayovers recorded last year. The summit also addressed the significant potential of the Spanish-speaking market, which remains largely untapped in the Eastern Caribbean due to language preferences. Andrea shared insights into market preferences: “The Spanish-speaking market is huge, but understandably, they have a strong preference to go to where Spanish-speaking people are.” 

This comfort of language and familiarity plays a crucial role in attracting tourists, making regions where Spanish or English are spoken more attractive to respective demographics. This understanding is vital for developers looking to maximise the appeal of new projects. 

Sustainability – Untapped Opportunity?
The topic of sustainability at this conference revealed a stark contrast to its European counterparts in recent years. The discussions around environmentally responsible tourism were notably subdued, with little emphasis on the ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) principles that have become pervasive at European conferences.  

As global travellers become increasingly environmentally conscious, the demand for eco-friendly accommodations is likely to rise, providing a competitive edge to those who proactively embrace sustainability. This seemingly lack of focus on sustainability in the Caribbean at present indicates a significant opportunity for the future.  

As a major brand in the region, Club Med has a well-established ESG-focused approach, so there is a clear pathway for other brands and resorts to follow suit.  It will be interesting to see how this unfolds over the next decade, as more properties may seek to differentiate themselves by integrating sustainable practices into their operations which will also likely have a significant impact on the investment landscape. 

Financial Strategies and Consumer Behaviour
Financial strategies and consumer behaviour were also key discussion points, particularly in light of the changing economic landscape post-pandemic.  

Andrea relays the various perspectives on payment options that emerged during one panel, including the growing availability of instalment payments: “Some companies are offering these options because they can better forecast cash flow, yet others prefer to be paid upfront.” Dan adds “The regional hoteliers acknowledge they are competing on the global stage and the need to deliver value to customers, or otherwise risk losing business to other regions”. 

Ultimately, this reflects a broader trend towards accommodating consumer preferences for more flexible payment methods, aligning with global shifts towards financial inclusivity as well as personalising experiences to individual needs. 

These personalised experiences and individual needs have been well catered for at the luxury Sandals Resorts International, the homegrown trailblazer in this region for luxury all-inclusive offerings that now boasts 20 properties across 10 islands in the Caribbean.  

Challenges in Recruitment and Retention
Like in much of the global hospitality industry, recruitment and retention are also a critical area for the Caribbean hospitality industry. The summit included discussions on training and developing employees from within, indicating a high-level focus on enhancing employee engagement and loyalty. However, Andrea highlighted the need for more substantial efforts in this area: “Despite the massive challenges and direct impact this can have on the customer experiences, it wasn’t a huge talking point and it was kept very high level.” 

Local Collaboration and Infrastructure Challenges
A significant portion of the summit was dedicated to addressing operational challenges, such as airlift accessibility and local procurement. Dan reports that there was the importance of collaboration among local businesses to improve efficiency and sustainability: “Managing utilities and food, working with local growers, and trying to get the companies to work together to create a more collaborative community will help secure a more stable and resilient local economy 

These discussions underscore the necessity of integrated approaches to tourism development, where infrastructure and hotel operations are cohesively managed. This in turn may also help impact some of the challenges in terms of recruitment and retention. 

Political Stability as an Investment Attractor
Finally, the political neutrality of the Caribbean was emphasised as a key factor in its appeal as an investment destination. While the region is always at risk during hurricane season, in a world where geopolitical is affecting travel decisions, the Caribbean’s political stability makes it a safe choice for investors. Andrea articulates this advantage: “Whatever’s happening in the world politically, people will still travel to the Caribbean because they’re not likely to be hindered by what’s happening in world politics.” 

The CHRIS summit offered rich insights into the Caribbean hotel investment landscape, highlighted by the evolving all-inclusive model, the rise of branded residences, and the increasing opportunities for political sustainability.  

As the Caribbean hospitality sector continues to adapt to global trends and regional specifics, its potential for growth and innovation remains significant, making it an attractive arena for both seasoned and new investors.  

We hope that Andrea and Dan’s observations from the summit provide valuable perspectives for stakeholders considering investment in the region. If you would like to discuss any of the points raised, or indeed any element of your people strategy, please get in touch. 

Dan Akhtar, Managing Director – HPG Advisory Services 
+44 208 600 1166 / +44 7808 157796 

Andrea Shaw, Director – FM Recruitment 
+44 20 8 600 1160 / +44 7714 236469 


Insights from International Hospitality Investment Forum (IHIF) 2024

The International Hospitality Investment Forum (IHIF) 2024 took place in Berlin in mid April 2024. Like many recent articles, insights and data we have seen recently, the increasingly positive results in terms of sector growth continue to be treated with caution as investors seek to secure long-term value. 

Here we look at the current UK investment landscape and highlight some of the key themes from IHIF such as expansion strategies, the future of hotel operations and what they mean to the global investment infrastructure. 

UK Investment and Market Dynamics
The UK hotel market has seen a robust recovery, with investments soaring to £1.7 billion in the first quarter of 2024—marking the highest level since 2019 and a 138% increase from the first quarter of 2023. 

In this article from Hotels, David Eisen cites recent data from Cushman and Wakefield to say “London accounted for 60% of major deals by volume and included the sale of Atlas House to Integrity International Group and the BT Tower to U.S.-based hotel owner and operator MCR Hotels” These deals highlight a growing trend of converting non-hotel assets into hotels, a strategy expected to continue shaping the market. 

The transaction volume in this quarter spanned 93 properties across the UK, encompassing around 7,600 rooms. Major portfolio deals like the Edwardian UK Radisson Hotel Portfolio and the LXi REIT Travelodge Portfolio made up 60% of the transaction volume. Private buyers dominated the market, responsible for 69% of the transactions, followed by public investors and institutional-backed capital. 

Ed Fitch, head of hospitality UK & Ireland at Cushman & Wakefield, commented on the sustained high performance of the UK hotel sector, which is stabilising as the new norm. Despite a strong capital interest, the market faces constraints due to a limited number of available properties and cautious buyer sentiment ahead of expected base rate cuts and the upcoming UK election. 

Strategic Expansion
Speaking at IHIF in Berlin, Sir Rocco Forte outlined his group’s strategy to leverage its strong U.S. customer base, where 40% of its business originates, and explore high-demand locations like New York, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and Miami, despite high entry costs. The investment from PIF, which acquired a 49% stake in the hotel group, is poised to double the size of Rocco Forte’s portfolio within five years, including launching The Carlton Hotel in Milan and a new venture with fashion company Capri Group in Naples by 2027. 

Sir Rocco highlighted the group’s commitment to maintaining high service standards in the face of rising costs and continuing to manage food and beverage operations in-house to ensure quality. He also emphasised the importance of enhancing employee remuneration and working conditions, reflecting on COVID-19 as a catalyst for improving employee welfare and aligning hotel operations closely with local cultures. 

Regional Opportunities
On Day 2 of IHIF, hotel executives highlighted increasing investments and travel interest in Mediterranean destinations, contrasting with the economic challenges in northern Europe such as Germany.  

Hotel News Now reported that that Tim Abram of Starwood Capital acknowledges the difficulties in Germany due to a sluggish economy and high interest rates but reiterated the country’s strong investment potential. 

On the other side of the coin, Italy is being seen as an emerging hotspot for hotel investments, similar to Spain a decade ago. Marcello Cicalò of Bluserena Hotels & Resorts noted Italy’s fragmented market and rising asset values are attracting significant private equity interest. Andreea Bodea of Pygmalion Capital noted that while Italy can boast the highest room count in Italy, many owners are still struggling to attract the investment their properties need in order to meet and exceed the expectations of the modern traveller. 

Operational Insights and Future Prospects
The forum highlighted the critical need for operational efficiency and adapting to evolving consumer expectations. The changing landscape of hotel food and beverage services was a focal point, emphasising innovation and operational optimisation to boost profitability. Sébastien Bazin of Accor shared insights from the company’s decade-long transformation, emphasising the importance of digital integration and stable leadership amidst a volatile geopolitical landscape. “Navigating new challenges requires a robust blend of innovation and tradition,” Bazin remarked during his session. 

Customer Loyalty and Guest Experience
Hospitality Investor reported on a fascinating panel discussion that once again highlighted the evolving concept of loyalty in the hospitality sector. The discussion, featuring insights from Antonio Gonzalez, CEO of Sunset Hospitality Group, and Gregory Lanter, a senior executive at Club Med, emphasised the shift from traditional transactional loyalty to a more emotionally driven model.  

Gonzalez elaborated on the importance of experiential hospitality that withstands changes in pricing strategies or market trends. By launching Sunset Hotels & Resorts, his group aims to expand its portfolio significantly by 2026 while focusing on crafting unique experiences that resonate on a personal level with guests. 

Lanter shared similar sentiments, pointing out that the real value lies in providing life-enriching human experiences beyond the standard offerings of rooms and amenities. He stressed that the key to achieving this is through employees who possess strong interpersonal skills rather than just technical capabilities, enabling them to engage with guests meaningfully. 

Both leaders highlighted the role of technology in enhancing guest experiences. Gonzalez discussed how technology could leverage data to better predict customer preferences and streamline experiences, making them more seamless and personalised.  

Meanwhile, Lanter viewed AI as a disruptive tool that can revolutionise how guest services are delivered, particularly in tailoring the marketing and distribution of these personalised experiences. 

Market Optimism Amidst Challenges
Despite macroeconomic uncertainties, the forum radiated a general optimism about the hospitality market’s future. The European M&A outlook appears promising, reflecting improvements in deal structures and an increase in strategic investments. However, the forum also acknowledged challenges such as rising costs, interest rates, the current geo-political instability and the necessity for flexible business models to adapt to rapidly changing market conditions. 

In conclusion, IHIF 2024 offered invaluable perspectives on the continued resilience and adaptability of the hospitality industry, highlighting the sector’s commitment to growth and innovation. The discussions reflect the industry’s concerted efforts to navigate a complex global landscape while pursuing expansion and refinement. 

Global Hospitality Investment Insights – Spring 2024 

With IHIF (Berlin), Caribbean Hotel and Resort Investment Summit (Florida) and Future Hospitality Investment Summit (Saudi Arabia) all taking place in April, it presents an opportune time to delve into the current state of hospitality investment, spotlighting the investment landscape across the UK, Europe, and the Middle East, while referencing global patterns that offer insights into the future of hospitality. 

Recovery and Reorientation: A Global Snapshot
The hotel industry has continued to show remarkable resilience in the face of adversity. According to the Global Hotel Investment Outlook 2024 by JLL, by the end of 2023, global Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR) not only recovered but in some regions exceeded 2019’s figures, showcasing an industry on the rebound.  

This resurgence is underpinned by a burgeoning interest in urban markets such as London, New York, and Tokyo, which are now prime targets for hotel investors. However, the narrative varies by region, with the Middle East and Europe leading the charge, with Asia Pacific trailing slightly, as it grapples with slower recovery rates. 

The JLL article also reveals that while RevPAR recovered, global hotel investment volume was significantly low in 2023, marking the lowest total since 2012 (excluding the COVID-19 impacted 2020). This decline was attributed to capital market dislocation caused by high-interest rates and geopolitical instability.  

Despite these challenges, the year witnessed a large number of global trades, indicating a continued interest in the hotel sector. However, there was a notable shift towards smaller, single-asset trades and a decline in high-dollar portfolio transactions. 

Chinese Market: The Awaited Return
A critical element in the global travel and hospitality puzzle is the return of Chinese international travellers. Pre-pandemic, this demographic was a powerhouse of spending and mobility.  

However, as Hospitality Investor reports, despite the lifting of travel bans, Chinese international seat capacity in early 2024 remained 30% lower than 2019 levels. The expected revival of Chinese outbound travel could catalyse significant shifts, particularly in markets heavily reliant on this segment but there remain significant challenges. The UK, with a strong influx of students and their families returning, has done well but, the overall picture for Europe is less impressive. War in mainland Europe and the diversion of direct flights over Russia alongside and reprioritisation of the economic landscape at home has led to a slower recovery in the long-haul sector with gateway cities in the US and Asia the primary benefactors in the recovery so far. 

Luxury and Beyond
While the luxury market has performed better than any other segment post-pandemic, this is now facing a potential slowdown. Hospitality Investor writes that significant brands like Burberry are signalling a downturn due to decreased spending by aspirational shoppers. While this trend, coupled with a general market correction following years of growth, poses challenges for luxury goods, the impact on the luxury travel and accommodation sector remains nuanced. The travel industry may still find resilience through a shift in consumer preferences towards meaningful luxury experiences over goods.  

The luxury travel market is expected to continue growing, driven by unique, personalised experiences that cater to high-net-worth individuals. The evolving luxury landscape suggests polarised spending towards high-value and luxury experiences, with an ongoing demand for unique and immersive travel experiences despite broader market challenges. 

Furthermore, the narrative extends beyond mere accommodation to embrace sustainability, wellness, and authenticity, elements now integral to brand differentiation and investment appeal. The evolving expectations of travellers are reshaping the essence of hotel branding, with a marked shift towards experiences aligned with personal values. 

Market Movements: Europe and the Middle East in Focus
Europe presents a mixed bag; the allure remains strong for domestic and international travellers alike, buoyed by events such as the Summer Olympics and Taylor Swift’s Mega Tour. However, the shadow of geopolitical tensions and economic uncertainties looms large, affecting travel dynamics, particularly from key markets like the aforementioned China. 

The Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, has emerged as a beacon of growth and investment, catalysed by major initiatives to boost tourism and hospitality as part of broader economic diversification efforts. This region’s upward trajectory offers a compelling narrative for investors, but the ongoing conflict in Gaza has started to impact revenues and the longer-term impact is hard to predict. Bloomberg recently reported that Dubai based Emaar Properties PJSC posted a 33% drop in fourth-quarter revenue despite a record annual profit in 2023. The conflict has also led to wider regional effects, including consumer boycotts of major foreign brands and a decline in tourism in nearby countries.  

Looking Ahead
he global hotel industry, particularly in strategic markets like the UK, Europe, and the Middle East, is at a pivotal juncture, shaped by the slow yet steady return of Chinese travellers, the polarisation between luxury and value and the increasing emphasis on sustainability and experiential luxury. Together with the unpredictable global geopolitical landscape, there are significant opportunities for hospitality investors. 

While the landscape is fraught with uncertainties, the undercurrents of recovery, innovation, and a renewed focus on quality and sustainability signal a new era for hotel investment. The industry’s ability to adapt, innovate, and cater to the evolving preferences of global travellers will define the success of investments in the coming years. 

This month, we will be attending the Caribbean Hotel and Resort Investment Summit in Florida and the Future Hospitality Investment Summit in Saudi Arabia. These conferences serve as critical platforms for industry stakeholders to converge, share insights, and forge the path ahead. We remain committed to providing our clients with nuanced, forward-looking advice, grounded in a deep understanding of global trends. 

If you are attending the Caribbean Hotel and Resort Investment Summit in Florida and would like to set up a chat, please contact Dan Akhtar or Andrea Shaw. 

If you are heading to Saudi Arabia for the Future Hospitality Investment Summit, Guy Lean will be our representative. Please contact him to set up a chat. 

 Dan Akhtar, Managing Director – HPG Advisory Services 
+44 208 600 1166 / +44 7808 157796   

Guy Lean, Managing Director – Madison Mayfair
+44 20 8 600 1180 / +44 7813 009787   

Andrea Shaw, Director – FM Recruitment 
+44 20 8 600 1160 / +44 7714 236469 


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