Attracting executives and leaders in the hospitality management from all over the country, the 77th annual Hotel Ezra Cornell (HEC) featured the finest in food, leisure activities, and educational programs for its over 100 guests.
Students in the School of Hotel Administration hosted the event, which began last Thursday and ended yesterday.
This year’s program featured a greater emphasis on educational programs than previous years. The first full day, Friday, included four major presentations by distinguished leaders in their fields.
In the morning, Cornell professors Dr. Alfred Kahn, political economics, and Joel Sibley, history, started the day with “The State of the Economy and the Political Climate for 2002.” Next, professional speaker Lenora Billings-Harris, a specialist on workforce diversity, offered an interactive session called “Diversity within a Globalized Workforce.”
Jonathan Tisch, chair and CEO of Loews Hotels, gave a presentation entitled, “The Industry After 9/11.” Tisch also chairs the Travel Business Roundtable (TBR), a lobbying organization for the travel and tourism industry, and “New York Rising,” a task force established by NYC & Co. to stabilize and rebuild the city’s tourism sector.
Tisch talked about his experience in the hotel management field and in dealing with national leaders following the attacks of Sept. 11th to boost the struggling industry.
“The events of last fall dramatically caused downturn that will have an impact for years to come,” said Tisch. “Individuals who lived very far away from us decided to change our way of life. They used the travel industry to accomplish this.”
Following Sept.11th, Tisch met with numerous government leaders in Washington, including Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and President Bush’s chief of staff Karl Rove. Tisch and the TBR went to convince them to give aid to areas of the travel industry, especially airlines, and to stress the importance of the tourism sector in the economy.
“Immediately, the TBR went to Washington to help bail out the airline industry. America was paralyzed and we had to get the public working with the private sector,” Tisch said.
According to Tisch, the travel and tourism industry is the first, second, or third largest industry in 28 states.
“It is said that cities unite America. I would like to expand on that and say that it is the travel and tourism industry that unites our cities.”
The declining economy has also had a significant impact on travel and tourism, according to Tisch.
“This industry is not just about the largest names in the industry. This is also about the moms and pops,” said Tisch, asserting that all levels of the industry have been hurt by Sept. 11th.
“The recovery is coming. We are cautiously optimistic that the recovery will continue. The travel industry has always lagged behind other sectors,” Tisch added.
Most damaging, according to Tisch, is the major decline in the visits of international travelers, who spend nearly six times their domestic counterparts. America has also slipped to the number three position of countries most visited by international travelers, falling behind France and Spain.
Tisch went on to discuss his own hotel chain and his management policy. Loews Hotels is a luxury hotel chain currently consisting of 17 hotels in major cities around the U.S., with another scheduled to open in a few months.
“We are tiny compared to some of the major players in the industry,” said Tisch, whose father started the company over 50 years ago. “We will never be the size of our competitors, but we do have a niche in the marketplace.”
Tisch also explained the four major partnerships that he believes are essential for a successful hotel chain: hotel management in cooperation with its shareholders, guests, employees, and communities.
“Nothing matters more to us than that our guests are taken care of,” he said.
Later in the afternoon, Charlotte Bogardus, founder and CEO of Gazelle Systems, gave the lecture, “Knowing is Growing: Customer Relationship Management Applications for Restaurants.”
In between the various presentations were refreshment breaks and networking gatherings where students and industry leaders could interact.
Throughout the day, several executives, industry leaders, and students offered their impressions of the weekend, especially the shift to more emphasis on educational programs.
“We had some discussion this morning about the need to reorient HEC to become more of an industry function,” said Robert Britton, managing director of advertising and marketing planning for American Airlines.
“People will always come back,” added Britton, who has been to thirteen consecutive previous HECs. “This weekend offers an opportunity to gather together under the guidance of probably the best hospitality management school in the country.”
Lenora Billings-Harris, who spoke earlier in the day, reflected on her presentation about diversity in the workplace.
“We talked about how sometimes people in this industry are uncomfortable with the issue of diversity. I hope that I helped the audience to understand that diversity is much more than just ethnicity,” said Billings-Harris.
She also explained how the overall HEC experience, her first, has been for the visitors.
“Since I arrived, the hotel students have spoiled me completely,” said Billings-Harris. “It’s more like a business conference in that it raises everyone’s level of education, but they have done a much better job with combing that with networking opportunities.”
Arjun Baljee is a senior in the School of Hotel Administration who constructed a display in Student Faculty Showcase. Baljee’s project was the result of a design challenge in one of his classes to design a complete hotel room within only 140 square feet. He offered his opinion on how the weekend affects students and visitors.
“This is a great, fun weekend because you get to meet the alumni, and for the alumni it is basically something of a reunion.”
Friday ended with the annual awards banquet for students and faculty. On Saturday, guests were treated to a variety of activities at Cornell and in the Ithaca area, such as jogging excursions, winery tours, and trips to the Johnson Museum of Art and Cornell athletic events.
Archived article by Mackenzie Damon