Timothy Hentschel ’01, cofounder and CEO of HotelPlanner, has been honored with the 2018 Cornell Hospitality Innovator Award for his industry leading success in the online travel market — an achievement he credits to his personal resilience.
“This award means quite a bit to me. As someone who was adopted and moved around all of the time, the hotel school and my fraternity brothers were like family,” Hentschel said in an interview with The Sun.
Hentschel will formally accept the award on June 5 at the 10th Annual Cornell Hospitality Icon and Innovator Awards gala.
Hentschel established his company HotelPlanner in 2003 with his business partner and chief operating officer, John Price. Over the last 15 years, the company has grown into the world’s largest online group travel provider.
According to Hentschel, his success didn’t come overnight.
It took HotelPlanner a few years to break even, but Hentschel combined his hotel school background and a concentration in micro-computing to continue working towards his travel-tech ambitions.
“Entrepreneurship is 20 hours a day. That’s how it gets started in the first year,” Hentschel said. “Everybody expects you to fail. And that’s what makes it even harder. And if you don’t believe in yourself then you will fail. But any kind of adversity turns into an opportunity if you just fight through it.”
Hentschel said he focused on keeping costs down, creating innovative automated systems and optimizing profit margins. The Hawaii native worked around the clock for the first couple of years, offering clients 24/7 phone support from his apartment.
He experienced an unhealthy weight gain and no pay for the countless clocked hours but “knew it was brilliant.”
“We were the first in the space. I knew it was needed and I knew we could do it better than anyone else,” he said. “I had the Cornell education, I had the family background in sales from my family’s hotels and group travel tours. I had ultimate confidence in myself.”
HotelPlanner now partners with many of the emerging platforms that inspired Hentschel’s enterprise, like Priceline and Expedia.
Ironically, Hentschel rejected Priceline’s attempt to buy HotelPlanner in 2006. “It was obviously the right decision because just a few years later we started working with Travelocity and Orbitz and Hotels.com,” Hentschel said. “We’ve grown into this massive behemoth of a company.”
After 15 years, several travel agencies in the United States use HotelPlanner for group bookings, according to Hentschel. The company is completely employee-owned and is forecasted to continue growing with new travel apps and virtual assistance.
HotelPlanner also offers group travel technology expertise to over 4.2 million group event planners located in offices in Florida, London, Hong Kong and Las Vegas.
Hentschel felt that receiving this award was like “being recognized by [his] family.”
“When Kate, the Dean of the Hotel School, brought me up on stage and announced that I was the innovator, I looked out on a room of just all smiling faces. All the guys that I’ve known for 17 years,” Hentschel said of the moment he received the news at the American Lodging Investment Summit in Los Angeles.
“It’s so much pride to look out there and see those guys. It says something to [my class] around 2001 and I’m so happy to represent them,” he said.