At the beginning of a new year and decade, property’s leading lights reveal their hopes, expectations and resolutions for 2020 in the second of a two-part special.
Build-to-rent fund director, PfP Capital
I hope that 2020 is the year that our industry can get a handle on all the elements of ESG as more than buzzwords and actually embed them into business strategies.
I still see too many organisations viewing sustainability and social impact as discretionary or ‘soft’ when actually, as shown by the terrible fires in Australia, tackling climate change and inequality is of critical importance to all of us. Investors are asking increasingly probing questions around ESG and I expect that will only increase in 2020.
The same applies to diversity and inclusion but there’s been a real sea-change in how the industry approaches that across gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and social background – not just because of the negative press or #MeToo, but because a number of industry leaders have recognised that to recruit and retain the best talent you really do have to cast the net wider!
Resolutions: I don’t tend to make resolutions – I’ve got enough plates spinning without that pressure – but 2020 might be the year I give in to the bike mafia and finally have a proper go at cycling!
Chair, Planning and Transportation Committee, City of London Corporation
The biggest challenge for the City is ensuring that our continued growth is sustainable and aligned to our efforts to make development across the Square Mile net-zero-carbon in future.
We met this challenge with vigour in 2019, and my hope is that we will up our efforts in 2020. The City Corporation has a bold vision for a clean and green Square Mile – and improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions from our building stock is a key part of this.
Urban gardens aren’t just an architecture fad in the City. We are actively encouraging the greening of roofs and walls in the City, to create healthy, ecologically responsible buildings. I want to make the City work for all. That means being bold and ambitious.
The mandate to do that is clear: the City Plan and Transport Strategy. Both of these plans set out pioneering new approaches to managing growth and issues such as sustainability and safety. By placing a greater emphasis on pavement space and prioritisation of pedestrians, and delivering world-class public realm, they will also help to improve air quality and reduce congestion and noise.
Despite challenging times, London continues to be a magnet for renowned names and significant investment. London has fundamental strengths that are unrivalled by many of our counterparts. People come here not just for business, but also for our cultural offer, our heritage and our open spaces. So in spite of hurdles ahead, I expect London, and specifically the Square Mile, to continue to succeed and attract big names and players in 2020.
Resolutions: 2019 was a year of innovation for planning and transport in the City, from the UK’s first wind guidelines to a 15mph speed limit on Square Mile streets and car-free lunchtimes. We launched our radical and much-lauded transport strategy and the City Plan is about to be finalised, setting out how we are going to deliver a sustainable development plan to 2036 to create space for businesses to grow.
My resolution as chair of the planning and transportation committee at the City Corporation is to stay innovative and inspired. I want to ensure that we continue to be at the vanguard of a pioneering approach to planning and transport in the City.
Chief executive and founder, Native
We hope the EU and UK swiftly sort out a future trading relationship to heal the Brexit wounds and that the quiet voice of the majority of Scots who value Scotland’s place in the UK is heard.
We hope we can still hire and retain dynamic talent to drive the growth of Native’s business. Currently, 95% of Native’s aparthotel staff are EU nationals and they need as close as possible to free movement between Britain and Europe.
We also hope government delivers on its infrastructure promises and that corporates and consumers continue to recognise the sustainability and lifestyle benefits that staying in a Native aparthotel offers.
We expect widespread investment in technology that enables mobile as the primary means of interacting with the hotel throughout all stages of a stay. Choosing additional technologies will be trickier, as we believe that personal service will always trump technology and a light switch will always outperform a touchscreen.
However, half of Gen Z and millennials consider how ‘Instagrammable’ their destination will be when booking. The guarantee of taking a beautiful holiday photo is a prerequisite for 25.8% of them – without, of course, neglecting the basics of comfort, service and cleanliness.
Resolutions: To consolidate Native’s position as the number-one boutique aparthotel brand with a presence in every major UK city. I’d like to see us build our presence in mainland Europe and for Native to build on the success we had last year in building our operating and contracted pipeline.
Chief executive, Donati Immobiliare
My hope is for a better global outlook and a more hopeful future. 2019 scraped the bottom of the barrel in many ways, and my wish for the year is for the world to come out of the geopolitical doldrums it’s been languishing in.
Unfortunately, the year hasn’t had the best of starts, with the devastating bushfires in Australia highlighting our global climate change plight, while Donald Trump does his best to singlehandedly plunge us into World War III to distract from his impeachment and win approval for this year’s elections.
Thankfully, we can at least now see a somewhat clearer outcome to the Brexit impasse. I expect 2020 to be another turbulent year, albeit one with a bit of light at the end of the tunnel… and hopefully the global recession that many are forecasting won’t materialise just yet.
Resolutions: To do better! 2019 was a year of great change and brought me plenty of personal and professional satisfaction, but I do feel there is space for a bit more structure and discipline, given the ambitious objectives I have set myself this year!
UK managing director, VTS
In 2019, the biggest endorsement for VTS was our clients investing and believing in our business. This demonstrated industry support for our vision and our ability to scale alongside the largest global players.
Partnerships enable proptech and property companies to have a seat at the same table. If 2019 was the year real estate companies endorsed proptech with adoption and investment, 2020 will be the year we start seeing what these partnerships can really do. I expect to see the continued transformation of commercial real estate into a more modern, technology-enabled industry.
Where there are challenges, there are also opportunities. Those who embrace this mentality and are open to partnership and collaboration will be best placed to capitalise. Tenant-centricity will continue as a growing trend into 2020 as occupiers have even more influence.
My main expectation ties into my hope that collaboration will continue to be crucial to the future of real estate as partnerships drive innovation within the industry forward.
Resolutions: To listen more. Now that there is greater emphasis on collaboration and real estate has shown a clear investment in tech and innovation, the next step is for the proptech companies to truly pay attention to the feedback from the industry. Then we must work with our partners to get there. Collaboration and open communication are key to this.
I hope to see greater acceptance of tech in property. The sector has lagged behind but we are starting to see a shift. We now digitally manage 80m sq ft of real estate in the UK and Ireland.
I predict mergers between some of the big names in the proptech sector and that we will see two or three of the major tenant engagement companies close in the UK. I don’t anticipate much change in our clients’ stances and think their gradual adoption of Locale will continue, which will help us grow both inside and outside the UK. Consistency will be key both in terms of team and performance, and as the property world begins to embrace tech fully in line with tenant needs, we’ll need to be aware of that.
Resolutions: Having grown the firm since 2005 and taken an active role in most aspects of the business, I’m keen to take a more strategic role now I have a larger and expert team. I’m keen to expand our footprint to schemes outside the UK, such as into the European and US markets.
Managing director, property and international, Whitbread
I’m full of hope for 2020. A more upbeat UK economy is likely to lead to greater confidence in UK business in particular, which will be good news for Premier Inn and other hotel operators.
I’m also hopeful for the success of Premier Inn’s expansion abroad – especially in Germany, where I spent a lot of time in 2019 – and in Ireland, where we are growing rapidly.
I’m expecting a very busy year for Premier Inn in the UK and abroad. In the UK, we’re on track to open more than 3,000 new Premier Inn and hub by Premier Inn rooms by our financial year-end in February – and expect to do the same in 2020-21. In Germany, Premier Inn’s presence is going to rocket as we take control of a portfolio of hotels from a competitor and continue with our organic expansion.
Resolutions: My personal resolution in 2019 was to travel less. As I write this from Dubai airport, following meetings with colleagues in the Middle East, I’m not sure I achieved it. I’m hopeful I will reduce my air miles in 2020.
Professionally, I set out in 2019 to achieve greater diversity and gender balance in my team – both in the UK and Germany – and in the property sector overall. We made good progress in 2019 but given the scale of the challenge I’m going to keep the goal at the very top of my list for 2020.
2020 vision: predictions for the year ahead
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2020 vision: predictions for the year ahead (part 10)