Moving the hospitality industry forward: Cornell Hospitality Research Summit 2012

When more than 230 hospitality industry practitioners and researchers met in October for the Cornell Hospitality Research Summit (CHRS), their common goal was to share knowledge and ideas that would help the hospitality industry continue moving forward globally. Held at the SHA and Statler Hotel, the CHRS was expressly designed by the Center for Hospitality Research (CHR) to balance input from academic researchers and industry executives, with research-based presentations, keynote panel discussions, and hands-on workshops.

"We see the CHRS as far more than two solid days of top-notch presentations, although that's exactly what happened," said CHRS Chair Rohit Verma, professor of service operations management. "More importantly, the CHRS is the basis of ongoing applications of the research and discussions held here. We are focused on the industry's future."

CHRS 2012 was also the capstone event for the twentieth anniversary of the Center for Hospitality Research. In an anniversary video, CHR advisory board members and former CHR directors explained the CHR's development as the foremost source of hospitality research.

The conference's opening keynote panel of five hospitality CEOs, representing the remarkably diverse enterprises that make up this industry, framed the industry's major issues and set a constructive tone for the entire conference. The panelists pointed out the clear connection between operations excellence and value creation, as well as the importance of capital investment to maintaining customer satisfaction. Investment in staff training is important, but that training should focus more on capabilities than on specific knowledge about the industry. Perhaps one of the industry's greatest challenges is how to offset the focus on price and location in hotel sales, especially given consumers' use of online travel agents. The panel members acknowledged the importance of brands, particularly to hotel investors and to groups that are selecting a meeting venue. At the same time the panel noted that creating real hotel differentiation is a challenging goal in the current environment.

Chaired by the school's Associate Dean Steven Carvell, the CEO panel members were Arthur Adler '78, managing director and CEO, Americas, Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels; Sebastian Escarrer, former CEO and vice chairman, and current board member of Melia Hotels; David Peckinpaugh, president, Maritz Travel Company; Ted Teng '79, president and CEO, The Leading Hotels of the World; and Adam Weissenberg '85, vice chairman, global and U.S. travel, hospitality and leisure leader, Deloitte & Touche USA.

Reflecting on the CHRS 2012 conference, Teng said: "Once again, the CHRS II was the most content-rich and refreshingly commercial-free hospitality conference. It was full of insightful conversations to stimulate ideas on how to run our businesses better. Even those who normally compete were contributing to the discussion on how to move our whole industry forward together. It was a highly energizing and motivating two days."

A panel of five deans of global hospitality programs kicked off the second day of meetings. Chaired by Kirk Kinsell, MPS '80, president, the Americas, InterContinental Hotels Group, the deans were John Bowen '70, Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, University of Houston; Kaye Chon, School of Hotel and Tourism Management, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University; Fabien Fresnel, MPS '07, Ecole hoteliere de Lausanne; Bjorn Hanson '73, Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management, New York University; and Christopher Muller, MPS '85, PhD '92, School of Hospitality Administration, Boston University.

The deans pointed to the continual change in the industry as a chief driver for revisions in their approaches to student education, which are also caused by changes in the students themselves. Even with these changes, though, basic knowledge and skills remain essential, including communication ability and an understanding of ownership and operations. Rather than react to the industry's changes, the deans hope to see educators lead innovation.

In addition to the keynote panels, the CHRS featured over 80 presentations by industry executives and academic researchers. Presenters shared some of the following insights:

  • Travelers who book hotels and restaurants on their mobile devices tend to do so at the last minute. They prefer the flexibility of deciding to stay at a place after they've arrived.
  • Research on restaurant customer preferences for technology finds a divide between what guests actually think and what the restaurant industry believes its guests think. Many guests appreciate being able to make online reservations.
  • In a downturn, meetings are an easy target for budget cuts, but the fact that people need to associate makes this a false economy.
  • Restaurants that enjoy great guest loyalty are consistently strong on four dimensions: service, hospitality, attention to detail, and revenue generation (selling).
  • Sustainability reporting is increasingly important to hotels, in part because many travelers use green standards for choosing hotels.
  • Measuring sustainability continues to be a challenge, since there are so many variables in hotel operation, even with such standards as Energy Star and ISO 14001.
  • Some hotels are not involved with social media due to management skepticism about the importance of social media, in part because the effects of social media are difficult to measure.
  • On the other hand, social media are a method for gaining feedback from guests, especially given that only about half of all guests will tell management about problems
  • Hotels can use market analysis to determine whether they are hitting the market segments that they are targeting, particularly in terms of what segments deliver higher average daily rate.

Among the media organizations covering the CHRS were CNBC, Huffington Post, and Travel Weekly. The CHR will soon issue more detailed summaries of the panel discussions and individual presentations in its conference proceedings series. The proceedings are made possible by a team of student session reporters who stayed in Ithaca during the university's fall break and volunteered to take notes during the conference.

About the Cornell Hospitality Research Summit

Designed as a unique environment that matched participation of industry and university, the Cornell Hospitality Research Summit was held on October 8 and 9, 2012, on the beautiful Cornell campus in Ithaca, NY. The CHRS was developed at the suggestion of the advisory board of the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research to create a forum for the exchange of actionable ideas and strategies for the hospitality industry and related businesses.

The Leading Hotels of the World was the Title Sponsor for CHRS 2012, and HotelNewsNow was the Platinum Sponsor. Gold Sponsors were Deloitte, Hilton Worldwide, HVS, IDeaS, J.D. Power and Associates, LRP Publications, PKF Hospitality Research, Proskauer, SAS, STR, Taj Hotels, Resorts and Palaces, and Wyndham Hotel Group. Media Sponsors were Cleverdis, eCornell, Hotel Business,, HotelOnline, HSyndicate, Lodging Hospitality, and Travel Weekly.