A few days after getting from home Spring B’Reykjavik, our design-tour of Iceland with AIGA, I re-packed my suitcase and headed to Cornell University for a long weekend. Every year, the Cornell Hotel School hosts Hotel Ezra Cornell, a weekend long conference where students take over the school, invite industry leaders to speak about a range of topics, and spend hours on end in the kitchen creating fabulous food.

It was my first HEC since graduating from the Hotel School in 2010, but I will be a regular from now on! I want to share some highlights from the weekend. But first, a throwback.

Dean Johnson, Peggi, Molly, and Herb in 2010, at the HEC gala a few months before Molly’s graduation.

Molly in the culinary lab fall semester freshman year, 2006!

Highlights from HEC 91, March 2016

  • Keeping Up with the New Consumer Panel

  • This was my favorite panel and it featured industry leaders from AirBnB, Flatbook, Hilton Hotels, Expedia, and Capella Hotel Group. It is an interesting time for the major hotel companies as consumers are booking directly with hotels at a decreasing rate, and more and more the sharing economy is catching on, with travelers booking with Airbnb, VRBO, Flatbook, or others.
  • Interesting, what all the folks on the panel cited, is that above all else the “new consumer” is craving authentic experiences. They are sophisticated and want to be treated as individuals. They want to experience the place they travel to. They want to wake up and know they are in Tokyo or Paris or Hungary. They desire unique opportunities and discovery. They want transformative experiences – not just a clean, comfortable hotel room.
  • Horst Schulze, hotel industry legend, current chairman and CEO of Capella Hotel Group, former president and COO of the Ritz-Carlton Group who coined the motto “We are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen”
  • Schulze gave a dynamic hourlong presentation about the soul of luxury travel. He defined good, effective hospitality as offering a product or service defect free, in a timely manner, and with kindness. The kindness doesn’t have to be difficult but it is where we so often go wrong. In the hotel world, kindness differentiates hospitality from simply a sleep commodity. It is not the function that is essential, it is the soul provided by human beings.
  • Trends in the Food & Beverage Panel
  • Kat and I love to know the latest and greatest in F&B so can create terrific dining experiences for our travelers. When it comes to current F&B industry trends, I got a terrific primer from restauranteurs Drew Nieporent ’77 of Tribeca Grill and Nobu fame, Abby Murtagh ’92 who recently opened La Chine at the Waldorf Astoria in NY, and Jeff Zalaznick ’05 of NY’s taste-making restaurant group, Major Food Group.
  • Marty Weintraub, founder of aimClear®.
    Weintraub gave an absolutely fabulous crash course in psychographic targeting. He broke down the steps involved in leveraging Facebook’s Ad Manager tools to focus marketing and advertising efforts and sell to consumers using data collected about their lifestyle, habits, hobbies, and values. I found it so interesting to learn about this new and evolving area of digital marketing.

In addition to the program mentioned above (see the full schedule here), reconnecting with old friends, meeting dozens of Hotelies, and enjoying wonderful food and wine was all terrific.

Handmade pasta and Maine lobster tail paired with a Viognier from Napa Valley.

Molly with Hotel School Class of 2010 friends!

I look forward to #HEC92 and in the meantime, here at Onward Travel we’ll continue creating those unique and authentic and transformative experiences that travelers love.

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