One of the characteristics that the ESSEC IMHI Center of Excellence in Hospitality, Food and Travel prides itself on, is its ability to bring together multiple and powerful players in the hospitality industry to initiate debates or prompt industry related discussions. On the 6th of May, the Center certainly lived up to its reputation. The 2nd annual IMHI Forum brought together 29 partner companies, instigated three different round table discussions and provided the current MBA in Hospitality Management IMHI students with the opportunity to meet industry leaders and discuss their future career prospects.
Moderated by Professor Peter O’Connor, the first Round Table focused on the topic of ‘Careers in Hospitality Distribution’. Joined on stage by Cynthia Castillo, Head of Customer Program & Relationship Management at Amadeus and two IMHI graduates, Julie Cheneau, Director Market Management at Expedia and Etienne Faisandier Group Director of Revenue Management at Movenpick Hotels , the discussion centered around their passion for the hospitality industry and advice for students interested in a career in revenue management.
As a position in revenue management heavily focuses on numbers, do you need numerical skills to be able to work in this function? Julie mentioned that analytical skills are highly necessary however you also have to have the ability to be critical and find meaning in the numbers. Expedia are looking for people with a vision, who can adapt to the company, want to learn and are motivated. Cynthia expanded on this by mentioning that to be successful in the role, the candidate must have both hard and soft skills to be flexible and be able to make sense out of the information. Etienne emphasized that the ability to think outside of the box and willingness to go the extra mile are attractive attributes to have. The pace of change is speeding up and you have to be able to keep up! Ask yourself the question, what can you bring to the company?
The second Round Table was dedicated to the topic of ‘Luxury Hospitality Management’ and was moderated by Denis Morisset. The guest speakers were Franka Holtmann, General Manager at Hôtel Le Meurice, Jean Faivre, AVP Operations Western and Southern Europe Hilton and Michael Boroian, President at Sterling International. All speakers swiftly agreed that the luxury industry is experiencing a period of transition. The market has changed with more emerging markets being interested in luxury and people becoming more impatient. Franka commented openly that you have to work harder than ever to deserve your guests. Hotels must go back to the basics with an emphasis being put on service. Everything is about the customer, it is that simple said Michael. It is also due to this that people from the luxury hospitality industry succeed when put in charge of other luxury brands. They know the customer as they have met them, spoken to them regularly and have had to solve many problems that have arisen with a smile! They are internationally oriented because they work with people from all over the world and have cultural sensitivity. Jean also stated that luxury customers have shifted their focus on being someone and experiencing things rather than having things. The industry must be agile in order to understand how the retail industry works.
Is it a challenge to find people to work in the luxury hospitality industry? Jean raised a very good point when he mentioned that you do not have to be born into luxury to be able to work in luxury. Hilton Worldwide is interested in people who are warm and passionate. Franka strongly agreed and also noted that she hires people on their passion as luxury is a state of mind. Jean believes that there are many opportunities for ambitious young people and thinks that their success in the company depends on the recruitment policy and how they are integrated into the company. Denis Morisset also offered a very valuable piece of advice to the students, travel and see the world. This will help you know the customer and become culturally sensitive.
The third and final Round Table was on the topic of ‘Innovation and Value Creation’ moderated by Professor Nicolas Graf with Yves Lacheret, Senior Vice President Entrepreneurship Advocacy at Accor, Michael Levie, Board member at SnapShot GmbH & co-founder of CitizenM and Xavier Destribats, President Europe, Executive Operations at Kempinski in the discussion panel. Innovation seems to be the buzzword of today, everyone is talking about it and attempting to inspire their employees to be more innovative. Yves said that innovation is any bright idea that can add value for instance by generating a new product or service. Michael quickly stepped in to add that people tend to confuse innovation with new creation however that is not always the case. Innovation is so important that Kempinski have spent the last 4 years heavily investing in it. Accor are also attempting to boost their innovation by working with companies outside of the group and especially with start-ups to come up with new ideas.
So how can you foster creativity and innovation? According to Xavier, you can’t put people in a room for a couple of hours and expect them to be innovative, this is why having an innovation department will not automatically lead to success. Everyone should be involved in the process and staff should be encouraged to be innovative by being constantly open to new things and experiences. All speakers agree that empowerment is an important factor. Most individuals want to belong to an organization which means having the passion to get up every morning and to do your best. They also want to participate and be recognized for their contribution. Michael stated that the hospitality industry has become very good at following the guests instead of innovating and also at making excuses as to why things have gone wrong. He says that instead of making excuses, you should understand why things went wrong and try to fix them. You can’t innovate and create new services if you can’t get the basics right. Michael also followed on by mentioning that organizations need to share their values when recruiting, training and create an environment where those values live. People will produce better ideas which are more likely to be successful in this way.
Thank you to all the guest speakers, the companies who participated throughout the day, the students, the alumni and staff who organized the event. The day provided everyone with a unique opportunity to get an insight into the current trends of the hospitality industry and what is in stall for the future.