[Interview] Matthew Weihs, Managing Director, Bench Events
Matthew Weihs, Managing Director of Bench Events is the face behind some of world's prestigious events in hotel, hospitality and tourism investments. The Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF) and the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference(AHIC) are just a few of the world-class international gatherings hosted by Bench Events.
In this interview with ABC,Matthew Weihs shares his journey as well as details of the upcoming hotel&avaition conference, AVIA-DEV which will be held in Rwanda:
Can you please introduce yourself and Bench Events to us?
I’m the Managing Director of Bench Events – I focus on the development of new business opportunities and sales for Bench Events and our partners, whilst also supporting the direction of the business and providing commercial support for new product launches. I founded and launched the African Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF) in 2011 and in 2013 launched the Morocco Tourism Investment Forum (MTIF) - an invitation only event for the industry. I’m also the Director of the African chapter of Destination Develop, a full service destination service, focused on supporting African destinations profile and take to market their investment propositions through a range of media services.
Bench Events can proudly claim to be the leading event organiser for the hotel investment community. Almost twenty years ago a group of industry professionals got together with the aim of building a conference that would support the industry. Jonathan Worsley, Chairman of Bench Events, was one of those who was working for CBRE and led the development of IHIF, The International Hotel Investment Forum. This event now attracts over 2000 investors, owners, financiers, hotel operators and advisory firms. Over the years the portfolio has expanded as we respond to the needs of our customers – leading us to the new frontier of Africa.
AHIF is one of your flagship events, can you tell us how this began?
It came from canvassing and listening to our customers who were keen to find an event on the continent. It was pretty clear the excitement from the industry when it came to the African market – the problem was always about navigating the market and finding the relevant partners. There was a genuine need by both international and African industries to meet and learn from each other. The real challenge was always going to be how to launch and make it happen.
How would describe the outcomes, from hosting AHIF in recent years?
AHIF has already established itself as the meeting place for the industry. For this I am truly proud and honoured to have had a hand in it. The African market is fragmented and very hard to navigate as a consequence. It’s taken 5 years of hard work to get it to where it is today but I feel we are on the cusp of something quite significant. It’s flattering when our customers praise us for a job well done but the reality is that, without their efforts, this wouldn’t have been such a success. We have now achieved a critical mass where individuals, on their travels around the continent, are suggesting to potential partners to come to AHIF. This in turn has a knock on effect across many of the local markets as the word of mouth spreads. With 24 African countries represented, over 500 delegates and 37 sponsors this year the event seems to be shaping the industry, providing a much needed profile boost and laying the foundations for many of the future deals across Africa.
It is heartening to see that after only 5 years we are now in a position to host two AHIF events in 2016. Firstly, Togo in April and the Rwanda in October. This is significant because it addresses some of the challenges faced when hosting conferences in Africa. Being such a diverse and vast continent and with questionable connectivity between countries it makes it difficult to attract customers unless you’re regional. Now we are in West and East Africa we hope to see even more deals done!
Soon AVIA DEV. A new initiative will take place, how different is this event going to be?
AVIADEV is another step in our progress as an event company in Africa. I am delighted that we shall be launching this conference alongside AHIF in 2016. One of the challenges of doing an investment event for hotels is that many of the barriers to entry are caught up in the wider infrastructure. You cannot host a hotel conference without being acutely aware of rail, road and of course airport infrastructure. However, we also want to address connectivity – it is our belief that with greater connectivity and accessibility it will directly fuel travel and tourism.
On the one hand AVIADEV will be another piece of the jigsaw of infrastructure investment opportunities. Bringing airport developments in touch with the investment community and hotel operators to do the deals. On the other, it will directly promote contact between the airlines and the airport to talk route developments – this will, in turn, educate the hotel development teams of the future flight plans.
For us moving into the airline sector is a natural progression and, once again, stems from listening to our customers. However, the concept of hosting such events back to back and integrating the audiences is a world first and Africans should be proud that it is happening on their soil.
What is challenges in the hotel and aviation industry will this event address?
The key challenge is aviation infrastructure investment and development. We are proud to be working with InterVISTAS, a world leading aviation consultancy who will be hosting a workshop covering the nuances of route development in Africa. WiedemannConsultants GmbH are airport city specialists and will also be running a workshop onsite. Hotels are a huge part of airport city developments, so this was a natural subject to address at the inaugural AviaDev Africa. Ultimately we aim to be the place where new air routes are determined, hotel development plans are developed in conjunction with the aviation community to drive forward tourism in Africa.
What can participants, new and old, expect from the maiden edition Avia Dev.?
Great networking… As this will be the first time this has ever happened it will be the first time that the hotel developers and investors can spend time talking to airport authorities or an airline can communicate their plans to the hotel industry. It’s imperative that we make it easier for the industry to come together because it will only provide further evidence and data to support investment and knock down barriers to entry.
Are there any positive impacts on the hotel and aviation industry Bench Events would like to share?
We’ve seen an abundance of hotel operators moving into Africa. The market has so much potential and, although there is talk of challenges in markets due to their reliance on single resources, it has spurned an interest into diversifying and travel and tourism has become a real focus for many countries. Travel and tourism are great ways to break down perceptions and the more people can come to Africa the more understood it will become. Having hotels is critical to that infrastructure and reflects a growing curiosity and needs of the traveller. Bringing the airline industry is the new addition to the party – the impact, in my opinion, will only make our work more far reaching.