April 6, 2009

Hotel Ezra Cornell Dons Vegas Theme

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What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas; however, that was not the case this weekend as various leaders of the hospitality industry parted from Sin City to impart their insights to students during the 84th annual Hotel Ezra Cornell. For two eventful days and three hedonic nights, students of the School of Hotel Administration hosted HEC, a yearly educational conference showcasing the skills and talents of the students as they temporarily assumed management of Statler Hotel.
The conference kicked off Thursday with “An Evening at Club HEC.” The Las Vegas-themed conference provided students opportunities to “demonstrate their knowledge by planning and executing a weekend full of culinary delights, innovative service and impressive speakers,” according to HEC’s website.
Guests were invited to try their luck at Blackjack and Poker in “Hotel Ezra Casino,” which was one of numerous events during the conference.
“This year the keynote speeches were the highlight,” said HEC guest Sid Vaikunta ’91, assistant general manager of Suncoast Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. “But I saw a lot of people having fun at the casino night, losing play money of course.”
According to Kira Gailey ’09, managing director of HEC, over 400 students participated in the planning of the conference. Among these were 17 board directors, 85 function managers, and hundreds of volunteers. The conference welcomed over 250 guests despite the economic downturn.
Among these guests were influential industry leaders such as Isadore Sharp, chairman, founder and CEO of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, and Gary Loveman, chairman, CEO and president of Harrah’s Entertainment. Both Sharp and Loveman spoke to large audiences of prospective hoteliers.
“[Sharp] developed the luxury segment of the hospitality industry as we know it today,” Gailey said. “He doesn’t do a lot of speaking, apparently, so we’re really glad to have him here.”
Sharp, with his expertise in luxury accommodations and experience with fluctuating economies, advised and consoled graduating students.
“Isadore Sharp made a really great comment that recessions have happened before … After September 11, people were afraid to travel and the hospitality industry was hit pretty hard, but slowly, people started to travel again,” said Kyi Gyaw ’09, design director of HEC. “The recession is a phase that will pass.”
As a center of the hospitality industry and a popular tourist destination, Las Vegas was a good model to learn from because of its sensitivity to the economy, according to Gailey.
“It’s a good experience to see what is happening in the real world. We have to realize we’re not immune to [the recession],” Gailey said.
In previous years, HEC was allotted $150,000. However, this year the board of directors HEC emphasized creativity, conservation and sustainability in the planning and execution of HEC to meet the budget limit of $100,000.
According to Gailey, alternative ingredients for food and décor werecleverly, which chosen helped to keep total costs below $100,000. For instance, the menu for the opening reception featured “pigs in a blanket,” “grown-up fish and chips,” and “pb&j,” a gourmet reinterpretation of a classic lunchtime staple. Nevertheless, guests were impressed.
“The genuine hospitality was ever-present and overcame budget cuts,” Vaikunta said.
Given $9,000, the design team transformed the atmosphere of Statler to channel the glamour of 1970s Vegas. Function Manager Amber Answine ’11 spent Spring Break cutting and gilding logs to use as décor, and function managers Lei Zhou ’09 and Megan Xue ’10 constructed a chandelier from plastic bottles in lieu of more traditional and expensive materials.
“It was a lot of fun to see what people came up with. I’m really proud of my function managers … I think [they] really thought outside-of-the-box and did a great job recreating Las Vegas in a non-stereotypical way,” Gyaw said.
The eventful weekend culminated late Saturday night in the “Breakfast at Midnight” closing event. HEC left students with memories of the festivities as well as valuable experience in hotel operations.
“It was exciting to have all of these industry leaders come to Cornell,” Gyaw said. “How often do you get to have Gary Loveman and Isadore Sharp coming to your hotel?”