HEC 93 Day 3 Recap

“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.

HEC 93 Day 2 Recap

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.

HEC 93: Recap Day 1

The time honored tradition and columniation of a year of hard work is finally here! The first day of the 93rd Hotel Ezra Cornell was a buzz of guest registrations, hotelie reunions, and final touches leading to a successful welcome under the Design Team’s paper and cardboard stars.

Although the focal points of Thursday’s activities began in the evening with Cocktail in the Atrium, HEC’s true kickoff began in the Statler Hotel with a glimpse at the future. The first event of the afternoon was the Student Entrepreneurship Showcase highlighting the new and innovative projects founded by current and past Cornell Students. Several student startups were on display at the exhibition, featuring products across a wide range of industries. Of course, the majority of entrepreneurial projects dealt with the hospitality sphere including Rewardzzz, a universal points exchange system, and Milesahead, a luxury travel concierge service. In addition, the exhibition included food product and environmental sustainability concepts. We look forward to hopefully hearing more from some of these groups on Saturday at the Cornell Hospitality Business Plan Competition.

While the Showcase was engaging, the true HEC magic began at Opening Cocktail, which in many ways resembled a cocktail itself—a blend of flavors and colors mixing, mingling, and swirling around in a kind of dance. While alumni, faculty, guests, and industry leaders caught up and reminisced on the days of hospitality past, current students were hard at work ensuring smooth and polished service. The specialty drinks of the evening, courtesy of our Beverage Team included a sweet, crisp Pomme Blanc and a bold, tangy Cu Sour.

The highlight of the event was certainly Dean Walsh’s welcome and the exchange of the coveted “Statler Key” from the hands of General Manager, Richard Adie to those of HEC General Manager, Jaimie Kim. Mr. Adie described Kim as the embodiment of “grace under pressure” which she demonstrated through eloquent and inspiring words of welcome. Kim touched on the motivation behind this year’s HEC explaining, “A Sense of Place will explore the shift from an age of information to an era of experience by finding what connects guests to the strong identity, character, and authenticity of a place.” Kim further warmed our hearts in extending the hospitality only a hotelie could in concluding with, “We hope during your short stay at our home, whether it is your first time, or one of many times, you find “A Sense of Place” with us.”

The evening concluded with a packed Student Experience Dinner at Terrace Restaurant. The event was filled with a sense of anticipation and excitement for the weekend to come. The room was bustling with students, as those who had participated in the day’s events and those preparing for upcoming events came together to share in the HEC student experience and interact with HEC guests. The menu was comfort itself, including southern country favorites like chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and cobbler with ice cream. Each warmed our hearts and bellies as we communed over a successful evening and looked to the successful weekend to come which is sure to be the Best Ever!