Mary Gostelow looks at fun, and serious, industry development in Berlin

GirlAhead visits 25hours Bikini Hotel Berlin and Orania.Berlin Hotel

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Before Berlin’s annual International Hotel Investment Forum (IHIF) and ITB, I enjoyed myself. First, I had yet another memorable evening at 25hours Bikini Hotel Berlin. This is an extraordinary hotel, managed by a unique GM, Dirk Dreyer, a one-time professional DJ who then spent years marketing music with EMI and Sony. At the age of 40, he wanted a lifestyle change and settled on hospitality; he now looks after music for the entire 25hours group. As always, there was a line in the ground-floor lobby, waiting to be allowed into the dedicated elevator that takes you up to the rooftop Monkey Bar, one of Europe’s best bars, a haven for all ages. It caters for over a thousand covers a night. There are no reservations, but it sensibly staggers those allowed up.

The adjacent Neni, by contrast, is absolutely reservation-only. If you do not have a table you will not get in; this is a 149-room hotel that regularly does over 450 covers, total lunch and dinner, in its restaurant. At lunch, you look right down into Berlin Zoo. At dinner, you tend to look in at the other diners, many of them locals who know this is a jolly good place to eat, at extremely reasonable prices. Dirk Dreyer and I shared a three-plate mezze starter, which comes on one of those curate stands that are normally associated with afternoon teas. We had baba ganoush, a plain hummus and a beetroot hummus and, having lived in the Middle East, I must say this was entirely authentic and oh-so-flavourful. (It was also decidedly more enjoyable than the Alain Ducasse version I had in his new Omer restaurant, in Monte-Carlo, the week before.) Neni, in case you were wondering, is named for the four sons of chef Haya Molcho, an Israeli chef who lives with her mime-artist husband Samy in Vienna: their sons are Nuriel, Elior, Nadiv and Ilan, and lucky them if Mum cooks this kind of food at home.

After dinner, Dirk Dreyer kindly drove me to my one-night home. I was staying at Orania.Berlin Hotel. This elegant five-floor building started life in 1914 as a café and today’s Managing Partner, who also did all the design, is an entrepreneur called Dietmar Mueller-Elmau, who, along the way invented the Fidelio software, which he sold on to Opera. The building is L-shaped. The ground floor has 3.6-metre-high windows looking out into Leuschnerdamm and Oranienstrasse and Oranienplatz, and an L-shaped bar with 15 leather-seated chairs with backs, right round to the one restaurant, run by GM Jennifer Vogel’s husband, Philipp Vogel. Once again, the hotel, which has 41 rooms, sees all 60 restaurant seats full at lunch and dinner.

This place oozes culture. Bookcases in the main ground floor area are filled with German hardbacks. A prominent grand piano is a reminder that at least every night there is a serious event, up in fifth-floor salons. I was going out to dinner, but that night there was a Thibault Falk piano recital. To take three days mid-month, 17 March is a Benedikt Jahnel piano evening, 18 March is jazz, and on 19 March there are two consecutive events, a classical hour of soprano and piano, followed by two hours of Declan Forde on the piano. What an admirable benefit not only for hotel guests but also for Berliners who are lucky enough to live nearby.

The brains behind this stylish and comfortable hotel also appreciate wellness. There is a charming inner courtyard for fresh-air dining when the weather allows, and the basement gym, 24/7, is first class. He also obviously has a sense of fun, as I found out when I spoke to a young front desk man who moved here from a legacy-hotel competitor. This is fun, he told me. A china elephant stands at the foot of the original-1914 staircase, and when I climbed 78 stairs to the third floor, to room 307, I found I shared it with about 90 elephants, printed on the dull-persimmon fabric that forms the headboard and cushions, including on big window seats at both windows. The windows open, by the way, and toiletries are local and organic, i+m, in big pump-pots. This is the ideal luxury hotel for those who want history, culture and delightful people.

And so, I was all mentally fuelled up for the start of this year’s International Hotel Investment Forum. IHIF saw 2,400 delegates descend on InterContinental Berlin. The forum, now owned and organised by Questex, had more exhibition stands than ever. Standing out from enormously elaborate and expensive displays from Hilton and Marriott, as well as IHG, were less-expensive but oh-so-stylish presentations from, say, Rosewood. And what a relief that Hilton, and GOCO Hospitality, offered quick massages. Caesars enlivened the proceedings with a bit of jazz, which enlightened sessions full of investment types in dark suits (it must be said that an increasing number merely network around stands and in quiet corners, never entering plenary or break-outs). Lead roles on stage, however, were played by AccorHotels’ Sébastien Bazin talking with Expedia president/CEO Mark Okerstrom (‘We’re not fighting any more, our relationship is adult and sophisticated’). Asset management took a starring role. Amaris’ John Brennan said this discipline should be in from any development start, and at all times it helps to be able to benchmark within a family (his managers are all in-house and incentivised).

Talking of families, Accor grew its portfolio by two additional members; Bazin was, apart from his one appearance on the IHIF stage, holding court across the road, at Pullman Berlin Schweizerhof, and, on the Monday evening, at Sofitel Berlin Kurfürstendamm. On both occasions, he introduced Tribe, the Melbourne-based lifestyle brand conceived and owned by Melissa Peters. The following day, sbe – which is 50% owned by Accor – announced its new The House of Originals brand. As always, there were plenty of awards, highlighted by Sol Kerzner’s lifetime accolade, accepted by his daughter Chantal. Next IHIF is on 2–4 March 2020.

As always, Berlin moved on from IHIF to ITB, 6–10 March at Messe Berlin. Though there were still elaborate, (sometimes two-storey) stands in Hall 9, traditionally the hotel world’s home, the actors morphed from IHIF’s dark suits, to a kaleidoscopic palette that included national dress and full-size bear outfits. Prominent Hall 9 stands included Accor, Hilton, Kempinski, Marriott, Steigenberger and Vienna House. And, of course, there were thousands of destination exhibitors to visit. At the end of one day, one ultra-fit hotelier said he was thrilled to see such exposure for Morocco and Maldives, though his feet were falling off and he had lost his voice. In all, says Messe Berlin, total ITB visitor count this year was up 3% to 160,000, of whom 113,500 were trade. They had on display 10,000+ exhibitors from 181 countries.

ITB this year stressed Asia-Pacific, which in 2018 saw international (which includes regional) visitation up 6% to 343 million arrivals. Main ITB sponsor Malaysia, which aims for 28.1 million arrivals this year, sees 3.9% of business coming for health treatments. Globally, says ITB, 2018 saw 1.4 billion international trips. While Spain as a destination stagnated, Turkey saw numbers up 8.5 million over 2017 (safety perception has improved, as it has for Egypt and Israel). Messe Berlin already has an established ITB Asia – this year, 16–18 October in Singapore. Now it adds ITB India: 15–17 April 2020 in Mumbai. Next main ITB will be 4–8 March 2020.

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