“A whole different ballgame”: Hotel Leadership Conference chair James B Clarke on planning a conference, not hosting it

James B. Clarke, general manager of Hilton London Bankside, has hosted the Master Innholders’ Hotel Leadership Conference twice in the last five years - in 2017 and 2020 – but this year his involvement is greater as he takes on the role of conference chair. As we approach the 28th Hotel Leadership Conference, which takes place on 17-18 January 2022 at Park Plaza London Riverbank, he reveals to his fellow MIs what it’s like putting the programme together and what they can expect from the two-day event.

How did you come to be conference chair this year?

I have great experience of hosting and operationally running the conference and understand the audience so when David Morgan-Hewitt said ‘why don’t you be conference chair this year?’ I thought ‘I will do it!’ It’s an honour and privilege to be able to plan a conference, but it is a whole different ballgame to when you host it. I am passionate about giving it the best shot I possibly can, though.

Why did you choose the theme – BOLDER. BRAVER. BETTER. for the 2022 conference?

Hospitality has had a tough time over the last 18 months but I am an optimist and I feel we need to come out of this scenario stronger and look forward to the future.

As leaders in the hotel world, we have to aspire to better and to be stronger so we can thrive again. That’s essentially how BOLDER. BRAVER. BETTER came about.

Tell us about the programme and what we can expect from it?

I identified six key pillars and have gathered speakers around them.

We will be looking at sustainability. We say we are being sustainable but are we really doing it? That’s one significant area so sustainability strategy advisor Sue Garrard will be passing on her expertise.  

I wanted to assess where we are and look to the future, so I have someone talking about asset management. Diversity and inclusion - making people feel they belong - is important, so I have Asif Sadiq, senior vice president, head of equity and inclusion at WarnerMedia International coming to talk about belonging.

Customers are changing and demanding more and really I want to focus on who the customer of the future is so there will be a speaker looking at that as well as a focus on technology. We have got a futurist to tell us what’s coming down the tracks and a commercial speaker who will talk about closing the deal.

We all have to change and very fast because the environment we are in is making us change, so these speakers and their insight will inspire and guide us to do so.

What are you hoping to achieve from the conference?

I want people to say I loved that session and I went back to my hotel and made a real difference to my team, my customers and community and that is true testament. It doesn’t matter on the size of your business, if it makes a difference it’s a winner.

What are you learning from the experience?

I am learning how to be a meeting planner. I am having great conversations with my customers who are meeting planners and professionals and I can empathise with them now. I am enjoying speaking to some fantastic speakers who are from other walks of life.

Who can come to the Hotel Leadership Conference and how do they get tickets?

Anyone who works in the hotel sector is welcome to attend, you do not have to be a Master Innholder. Whether you work as a front-of-house assistant, F&B supervisor, spa manager, marketing director or head of operations, you and your team will leave with new ideas and forward-thinking, implementable actions to take back to your business.

Tickets are available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hotel-leadership-conference-2022-bolder-braver-better-tickets-173329060887?aff=webstory