“Damn the wheel of the world, why must it continually turn over?” – Jack London
There is not a better sentiment to summarize our feelings as we look back on the final day of the Best Ever. This day was packed with fantastic programs, yummy food, amazing celebrations, many thanks, and heartfelt goodbyes.
The last event to be first was “Travel Brands Tap into the Experience Era” a look into how consumer priorities when travelling are primarily location focused. Our presenter, Ethan Hawkes ’07 CEO & Co-Founder of PlacePass explained that many hotel companies miss opportunities to define guest experience due to a lackluster approach toward local amenities. The opportunity waiting to be tapped is what has become the industry’s third largest market, “tourism travel” After a word about his rapidly growing startup, PlacePace which connects travelers with interesting activities to do all around the world, Hawkes handed us off to his colleague, Susan DeBottis ’07, Senior Director of Consumer Experience Strategy, Marriott International. DeBottis spoke on the motivation behind Marriott’s experience strategy as deriving from the common feeling that, “travelling is fun, but travel planning is not as fun.” Marriott’s goal is to become the world’s leading travel and hospitality company and one step toward achieving this goal is the company’s partnership with PlacePass.
We then heard from Gerry Fernandez, President & Founder, Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance about “Engaging Today’s Workforce with Cultural Intelligence.” Fernandez promoted diversity and inclusion in the workplace as a paramount driver of performance and returns. Fernandez also explained how one of the most prevalent hindrances to multicultural success in business is “unconscious bias, the tendency to judge without question, awareness, intention, or control.” The best way to remove this hindrance and achieve a more successful and diverse workforce is to capture the bias thought and refuse to allow it to categorically sort. This ability comes with practice, intentionality and engagement.
After a short break, we arrived at the focal point of our HEC program events, “Defying (and Exceeding) Expectations” our keynote address given by Will Guidara ’04, Co-owner, Make It Nice Restaurant Group which operates Eleven Madison Park, ranked #1 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2017. Guidara had us on our seat’s edge with stories of his career path and pieces of wisdom in between. Guidara’s words truly reaffirmed the identity of every hotelie and hospitality operator. In relation to the theme of the conference, Guidara emphasized the importance of creating extraordinary experiences. “Never create experiences based on what the world expects of you” he said. “People are too focused on learning the rules that they never break them.” Break rules, take risks! Do things that people would advise against. Just as importantly, create an army of people and balance intensity with a sense of playfulness. This short summary could never do justice to the inspiring eloquence and honesty of our keynote and it will behoove all to simply watch the address which can be found at https://cornell.mediasite.com/Mediasite/Play/2c9d3816a5834b338276bb858f3bf35f1d (02:25:00)
Following the keynote address, Roger Hill ’87, Chairman & CEO of The Gettys Group, and Ron Swidler, Principal of The Gettys Group, spoke about global mega-trends and their implications. The fifteen global mega trends discussed ranged from the ageless quest for fun (playsumers), the core instinct to connect with others (joyning), the search for more authentic brands (human brands), and the ever greater pervasiveness of technology (ubitech). Hill and Swidler stressed the significance of analyzing the hotel experience, from the arrival experience to the guest rooms experience, based on the perspective of those trends. Look at all the guests’ needs from the environment and service to the touchpoints.
Our final program of the final day was the Cornell Hospitality Business Plan Competition. As put by Neil Tarallo, senior lecturer at the hotel school, “Entrepreneurship isn’t really about starting a business, it’s about how entrepreneurs think and behave”. In its fifth annual opening, the Hospitality Business Plan Competition was one rife with technological innovations and groundbreaking proposals. The many ideas presented offered us a glimpse of the genius behind the minds of Cornell’s finest entrepreneurs. The two-hour event featured five business teams, each given ten minutes of presentation time followed by an additional ten minutes of Q&A from judges Diana Dobin, Greg Dollarhyde, Warren Leeds, and Harsha Chanral, each successful entrepreneurs in their own right.
The 5 teams, Campagna, a locally sourced Italian restaurant; Synwell Consulting, a cloud based solution to problems in senior living communities; Fitz, a space utilization app that partners personal trainer with hotel properties; Ynot Bike, a self-driving and navigating bicycle; and Rewardzz, an app which consolidates travel loyalty points all competed for a $25,000 prize to grow their business. Of course, it is no longer a spoiler to announce that Ynot Bike was awarded the first place prize during the Gala Banquet. Congratulations to all the teams that participated!
As the program events came to a close, we transitioned into our closing festivities which began with a pre-gala cocktail in the Atrium sponsored by the Getty’s Group. The Pre-Gala Cocktail featured a variety of drinks and light snacks, this time to be enjoyed with light jazz music. With glistening martini glasses reflected off the shiny HEC-made chandeliers above, the pre gala cocktail was a chance for faculty members and guests to kick back and discuss the eventful weekend before the dazzling Big Red Band led us into the Carrier Ballroom for the Gala Banquet.
Gala, as always was packed, but lovely. A thousand cheers for Executive Chef, Andrew Frey who absolutely wowed us with every meal this year. Gala was the perfect occasion to top off what had been the Best Ever. The volunteer parade and board member toast was a splendid way to show our gratitude and thanks to every individual who in some way contributed to the success of HEC 93.
As we danced the night away at Closing Cocktail in Terrace Restaurant which was completely transformed into a NYC rooftop bar, we released inhibitions to enjoy the current moment among old and new friends. It is with heavy hearts that we head back into the monotonous routine of daily life after this magical weekend. We will remember however, that far above Cayuga’s waters we can always find our sense of place.