Cornell Experts Say Hospitality Expertise Is Needed for Senior Living Communities

Nov 11, 2009

Contact:  Jennifer Macera, 607.255.3101, 

Cornell Experts Say Hospitality Expertise Is Needed for Senior Living Communities

Managers and employees must build relationships with residents

Ithaca, NY, November 11, 2009 – The key to success in operating senior living communities is creating a relationship with residents. So say John Rijos, co-president and COO of Brookdale Senior Living, and Dan Madsen, president and CEO of Leisure Care. Rijos and Madsen were among the participants in the first Senior Living Roundtable, held in October 2009 at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. Chaired by Associate Professor David Sherwyn, the roundtable is one of a series developed by Cornell's Center for Hospitality Research. Rijos pointed out that success in senior living means creating a culture of more than service. Madsen agreed, explaining that this culture is about creating relationships.

While senior living communities require considerable medical expertise, the panelists said that hospitality-focused employees are best suited to serve most of residents' needs. Although the properties are not hotels, John Cobb, president and CEO of Senior Lifestyle Corporation, explained that they look and operate like hotel properties, and residents expect hotel-like services.

Cobb, Madsen, and Rijos point out that key differences between hotels and senior living communities include sales procedures and real estate ownership. Unlike hotels, it often takes eighteen months or more for a person or couple to decide to move into a senior living property. The decision is made only after a tour of the community, often with other family members. This means that all of the property's features must be on display. Also unlike hotels, senior living companies usually own and operate their facilities—and so they do not involve flipping or trophy real estate.

Looking forward, roundtable participants expect U.S. demographics to work in their favor. The message from panelists to the 190 students in attendance is that the senior living industry offers great opportunity. Rijos foresees more properties in urban settings, which will allow residents to take advantage of cities' cultural features. Even so, proximity to family is the overriding criterion for choice of a residence.

The Center for Hospitality Research roundtable series is open by invitation only, although CHR partners always have a seat at each roundtable. Other recent roundtables have investigated sustainability in the hospitality industry, social media and marketing, and finance and real estate.

About CHR Roundtables:

CHR roundtables are a meeting place for invited senior-level hospitality industry executives and Cornell faculty members. Each roundtable lasts one day and is divided into four or five sessions. Sessions begin with a short research presentation (by a Cornell faculty member, faculty from another institution, or an industry leader) that lasts five to ten minutes. Immediately following, one or two industry discussants either support or contest the researcher's hypothesis or conclusion. The conversation is then opened up to the entire roundtable for discussion. For more information on roundtables, please visit:

About The Center for Hospitality Research
A unit of the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, The Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) sponsors research designed to improve practices in the hospitality industry. Under the lead of the center's 78 corporate affiliates, experienced scholars work closely with business executives to discover new insights into strategic, managerial and operating practices. The center also publishes the award-winning hospitality journal, the Cornell Hospitality Quarterly. To learn more about the center and its projects, visit

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