The International Hotel Investment Forum Berlin

A behind-the-scenes look from a hospitality management student. 

“What is happening here is not average, it’s extraordinary; over 2000 people, 79 countries, 800 companies. You ladies and gentleman represent the global hospitality industry, and right here, right now, it is the center of it all. You are the tastemakers, the dealmakers, you are here to inform, inspire, and conduct business. That is why we are here, 20 years now, offering platforms for the solutions to challenges our industry faces, while making the deals and illuminating the trends that will continue to define and drive hotel investment and development forward in the decades to come. IHIF is the meeting of global collaboration for a reason; together we set the goals forward. Because there is no stop on hospitality, only go, this is the working due, this is why you come to IHIF. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Berlin, welcome to the 20th International Investment Forum.“
- Questex Hospitality Group 

Just last January, ESSEC Hospitality Management students received an email from the school’s administration telling them that three students would have the opportunity to represent the school by participating in the organization of the 20th annual International Hotel Investment Forum in Berlin in March.  Being interested in hotel development, I applied and was selected. To tell the truth, I was so excited. I was going to attend one of the biggest global events of the hotel investment and development sector!
On Sunday, 5th of March, my teammates and myself arrived at the Intercontinental Hotel Berlin early in the morning to start prepping for the pending conference.  We met Questex Hospitality Group team as well as students from other hotel schools also there to help. We got briefed on how the forum will work and what we will have to do for the next three days. This first day of preparations was quite intense, including stuffed over 2000 bags with promotional material for nearly 4 hours! Once Questex told us “get ready, you are not going to enjoy the outside breeze for the next 3 days!” - something that we hoped was a bit of an exaggeration.

And indeed, the first day was intense. We started the day at 8am, setting up the registration desk. By 10.30am, we were ready to check-in over 2000 people. It was quite insane. We did a good job. I personally enjoyed being rushed and I found it very cool to check-in the senior leaders of the hospitality industry. One of my main tasks was to escort speakers from the registration desk to the back-stage area, which was very interesting. I had the chance to talk with, for example, Sébastien Bazin, CEO of Accorhotels, as well as Philip Ward, CEO Hotels & Hospitality Group EMEA of Jones Lang LaSalle, amongst many others.

With the rush of the first morning over, the next two days were far more relax. We could participate in conferences, round tables, and breakout sessions. They offered a concise overview of the global hospitality market, its most strategic trends, with opinions and debate from the who’s who of the market’s key players. Some sessions talked about the economic uncertainty, and especially the macro backdrop for the hospitality industry in the year ahead. Others focused on hotel investment today, on asset management, and on how the hospitality investment landscape might evolve over the next 20 years. Other conferences covered the digital revolution and what form the next global hotel group business models might take. Overall, the formal sessions covered a very broad range of topics about the hospitality investment sector, with presentations and insight from the leaders of the global hospitality industry. IHIF is the place to be when you are in the hospitality industry! However, we also got the chance to attend the two night events organized by Questex: the special 20th anniversary Birthday Party and the Gala Networking Reception. In addition to being fun, these gave us the opportunity to network with the CEOs, managers, investors, and developers of hundreds of hospitality companies. This was for sure the best moments to network and meet the vast number of Essec Hospitality Management alumni who work in key positions in hotel investment, development, and operations.

Overall, from a student organize perspective, the IHIF was a great experience. I was very proud to help Questex to organize such this event even if at times the workload was quite intense. By participating, I got the chance to meet and interact with senior executives from the hospitality sector and gain valuable insight in currently developments in our industry. It really opened, once again, my eyes to how broad and diverse this sector is, and to the vast amount of potential the industry offers. I was super happy I took the chance to participate, and the best of it is that I’ve earned a free entrance for next year, but as a guest this time. A big thanks to Questex and ESSEC Business School for making the opportunity available to me and investing in future talent in this interesting way.

Project presentation at Château de Versailles

Imagine, what would you do if you were given the right to have real business proposal to Château Versailles, what would you do if you were the one to revive this sleeping beauty? Walking in the Halls of  Mirrors, everything seemed so unreal. On 9th January, 2017, after three months of preparation, the whole class of ESSEC Global MBA, Luxury Brand Management major finally had the chance to bring our field projects presentation workshop at château Versailles with Catherine Pegard- President of Versailles and Michel Blanquer-Dean of ESSEC Business School, and Simon Nyeck- Major Coordinator.

This is the first time that ESSEC Business School signs a partnership agreement with the Château de Versailles and launches the ESSEC Savoir-Faire d’Exception Chair.
“Luxury at ESSEC is both part of our heritage and one of our constantly developing strengths. These new partnerships reinforce one of ESSEC’s key areas of expertise and secure our position as a strategic partner for members of the luxury industry on a global scale” emphasizes Jean-Michel Blanquer, Dean of ESSEC Business School.

The château de Versailles and ESSEC Business School unite to create an ecosystem dedicated to the transmission of the art of French living, know-how, luxury careers, heritage and creation. And ESSEC MBA as the pioneer work with teams at the château de Versailles to identify the issues they face and in turn develop business case studies about them.  So the whole class was divided to five different groups to work on different field projects: “ Visitor experience and high-end marketing”, “International promotion”, “ESSEC Singapore Campus- Versailles Project”,  “Brand extension” and “E-Commerce Strategy”.

Let’s check out what the students think about the project.
“The Versailles project was our first big assignment based on real business challenges faced by a living, working brand that is château de Versailles. This was the first year of the collaboration between Versailles and ESSEC Global MBA. We knew we had a big task at hand but we hadn’t yet seen and understood the historical saga of château de Versailles.
In September 2016, just a few weeks into the MBA program, we were taken to the Château. We walked the halls of the residence of Louis XIV, absorbing in complete awe the story behind Versailles. The team at the Château introduced us to the business issues we had to work on. Having experienced the legacy and Brand DNA first-hand, I realized the responsibility and challenge that lay ahead of us. The next 3 months would be nothing short of a roller coaster ride!”, said Dhanika, she and her team together presented first with the task of boosting the Versailles e-store to become one of their primary revenue channels, especially within their focus markets of USA & Asia. What she learnt most during the Versailles project is how to manage heritage and modernity. We started thinking in terms of how we could turn the e-store into a successful revenue channel while staying true to the Brand DNA. This whole experience of learning and applying the knowledge was a big value-add for the students.
For the next team on the stage, their topic is about how Versailles attracts a high end clientele from the US and Asian markets. Based on Anjali, one of the team members, “Initially, the topic seemed to be a no-brainer. We had the mindset that Versailles, being the epitome of high culture and luxury, attracted the high caliber clients by just reputation alone. However, after visiting the Château during normal visiting hours, we quickly realized that the clientele was not exactly on target and that a few things would have to change in order for a high end visitor to enjoy their time in the Château and, more importantly, plan on returning.”  For the team, the project was a great way to understand the positioning of a high traffic tourist location when trying to change their customer base. Because logistically you cannot change the format of the Palace itself, we have to be creative in determining ways to change the experience for the customer.

The third group focused on the Brand extension, the core of the project is do wake up the sleeping beauty, How to develop innovation, How to restructure brand portfolio and how to create brand extension is key to do the Versailles Renaissance plan. The group started with a more clear analysis of Versailles brand identity and values. Then the plan focused on improving brand awareness, renovating Heritage Savoir-Fair and reviving the eco system. Learning to balance the heritage from the philosophy of King Louis XIV and modernity to focus on center for innovation and entrepreneurship is quite a experience for all the students in this group.

The next team took the stage was focusing on International Promotion for the US and Asia. Wynter who previously had a PR background gave the perspective of the US being an international market. The entire team seemed excited about and interested in the project. They worked diligently and gathered as much information as we could with the help of the Versailles team. It was nice to work on a team where everyone all had similar interests instead of being arbitrarily thrown together.

The last project is quite interesting, considering it’s Versailles-ESSEC partnership on Singapore campus and related promotion. According to Mariya, one of the team members, bring Versailles to Singapore was very challenging but exciting task. “Our team was very dynamic and international so we believe we presented the essence of Singapore well. The whole experience of presenting for Versailles was surreal. The memory of it will stay with us for many years to come. They proposed to make a competition opened to all nationalities and ages in Singapore. The contestants should apply online with their projects either in the field of technology e.g. augmented reality or Art & Sculpture After that, the best 4 teams will be selected to the incubator based in ESSEC Singapore and receive grant to complete their projects. During the incubator period, the contestants will receive important business classes for their start-ups as well as mentoring by prominent persons in each field.

All students feel honored to be able to work with an entity as esteemed as château de Versailles. As MBA students in Luxury Brand Management Major, the Versailles project were like a trailer to the final field project we will start in the next few months. The students were extremely grateful to the Versailles team and to EESEC for entrusting us with this real-life business challenge and for believing that we will be able to pull it off. We can now confidently say that we at ESSEC not only learn but also action and execute our knowledge.