We were up with the sun on the second day of the 93rd Annual HEC. Guests and speakers enjoyed breakfast at Taverna Banfi and migrated to the Statler auditorium for the Official Welcome Address given by the Dean of the Hotel School, Kate Walsh. Dean Walsh referred again to our exploration of “A Sense of Place” and reminded us that much of the identity, character, and authenticity which define a place can be found in the Hotel School. “This year’s HEC is all about creating the future by going to the heart of what matters, authentic experience.” Dean Walsh touched on the exciting lineup of events and spoke of the strengthening relationship between the Hotel School and its partners in the S.C. Johnson College of Business which turns 1 this year. Walsh parted with words of gratitude and yielded the floor to Interim Dean of the JCB, Joe Thomas. Dean Thomas spoke of the immense success of the Hotel School and importance of HEC, “HEC brings together three things that make the Hotel School the best in the world, the hardworking students, the passionate alumni, and the industry connections.”
With a round of applause, the auditorium transitioned into the first panel of the day, “The Global Hospitality Landscape: An Around the World Review.” A group of industry leaders from London, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Mexico City touched on every topic effecting the hospitality industry today from challenges in recruiting and maintaining top talent to the necessity for infrastructure investment; environmental sustainability with the rise of global climate change and safety concerns among travelers. A full stream of the panel can be found at https://cornell.mediasite.com/…/1d61017eb3be4f22b74933beb29…
The day then transitioned into a talk by Mark Wutke, President & COO of European luxury skincare brand, BABOR Cosmetics. Wutke spoke about the beauty and skincare industry, and about “The Beauty of Authentic Experiences on Hospitality.” Above all, he emphasized BABOR’s mission to empower women to be ambitious and determined, in a world where self-image is so important: “We are convinced that when a woman feels beautiful in her own skin, she is more confident, positive, active, and happy.”
We then crunched the numbers with Jan Freitag ’97, the Senior VP of Smith Travel Research to get a “Sense of Stats.” Freitag explained that the industry is still experiencing unprecedented performance with a sustained national occupancy of 66%. While the general state of the industry is optimistic, STR predicts slowed RevPAR growth in the next two years consistent with the assumption that the market is due for a correction following almost eight years of consistent growth. However, Freitag assured us that he believes, “We are going to be fine for the foreseeable future.” The presentation also included a discussion of a decrease in overall pipeline boom, an increase in developing the limited service “bed and bath for a buck and a half”, and the importance of focusing on ADR to drive RevPAR growth. Freitag closed with a mention of the “big bad wolf”, Airbnb which has launched a hotel room feature on their “walled garden” app that Freitag believes will prove advantageous for the hotel industry.
The afternoon saw breakout sessions focused on experience with presentations by Elizabeth Mullins, VP of Disney Hotels and Resorts and Ana Brant, Director of Global Guest Experience & Innovation for Dorchester. Mullins spoke about the importance of crafting and telling a compelling and immersive story that transports a guest into an experience. Disney accomplishes this authorship of experience through personalization, storytelling, and remaining true to the magic.
The remainder of the day was spent with our fermented, distilled, bottled, and brewed friends. Two tastings took place in the late afternoon. The first, “Drink Like You Eat: The Bar Reimagineered” hosted by Adam Seger ‘91, Executive Bartender and Sommelier focused on mixed drinks that not only stand on their own, but compliment an entire dining experience. The second event, “Food & Wine Pairings: A Global Perspective,” hosted by Jack Mason ’11, Master Sommelier and Chef Lynne Gigliotti, Restaurant Consultant, walked through the basic principles of wine tasting as defined by the Court of Master Sommeliers. The primary focus was placed on balance and “the importance of a synergistic pairing.” Mason offered a few helpful wine tips like, “what grows together, goes together.” The tasting started with an ever versatile glass of French, Pierre Peters, Blanc de blancs champagne served with preserved lemons and ended with a taste of Piedmont, Italy and a glass of Moscato D’Asti. Many wine regions were represented throughout the pairing and the expertise of Mason and Chef Gigliotti reached a level to which we all aspire.
After a long awaited break and a pick-me-up at “We’ve Got Coffee Down Cold” hosted by Starbucks, the guests, volunteers, faculty, and alumni closed out the evening at the Networking Dinner Sponsored by Leading Hotels of the World. This event saw a complete transformation of the Statler library and lounge from learning space to open air bar marked by elegant lighting and sleek décor. It was a delight to end a long day doing what hotelies do best, socializing. It was among old friends, new acquaintances, delicious food, and a beautiful backdrop that we found our sense of place on day 2, a place to be together.