In April, Hospitality Management students at ESSEC received an email from the school’s administration telling them that 2 students would have the opportunity to represent the school by participating in the HEDNA conferences in Dublin in June. I had a deeper look at the conference website and got very excited: the conferences as well as companies represented seemed very appealing to me.
You might be asking yourself, what is HEDNA? “ Founded in 1991, HEDNA (Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association) is the only global forum exclusively dedicated to the advancement of hospitality distribution through strategic collaboration and knowledge sharing. “ Their members are hospitality industry leaders and innovators from all over the world: all areas of electronic distribution including hotels, representation and management companies, GDSs (Global Distribution Systems), OTAs (Online Travel Agencies), tour operators, software and payment service providers, industry consultants, and educational institutions. Besides working groups, white papers and educational opportunities, the HEDNA association organizes two major events annually, one in the United States and the other in Europe. Electronic distribution has been an increasing interest for me since I began the program, as I understood how distribution is fundamental to an hotelier's success. From basically finding a way to sell a room night to dealing with security payment, interfaces, privacy, CRM (Customer Relationship Management), revenue management, data collection, content, SEO (Search Engine Optimization), mobile … it is rather complex! I have had the opportunity to be introduced to these concepts at Prof. Peter O’Connor's famous E-Commerce course in the IMHI program, other courses of digital marketing and during conferences (Christopher Michaud, Expedia) which triggered my interest; I wanted to go deeper on the subject!
I applied and 2 months later, here I was at the Dublin airport on a fresh Monday morning with my teammate: Thomas Amet, IMHI student also an IMHI student. The event began on Monday evening with a welcome drink, which allowed us some time to enjoy a nice walk around Dublin city center and get ready for 3 intensive days.
We were welcomed at The Croke Park Hotel. The first day focused on HEDNA University courses and working groups, the second day consisted largely of conferences, and the third day was a global wrap-up and next steps focus. At that time, we met the Dublin HEDNA organizers who introduced us to HEDNA board members including Sarah Fults, current HEDNA President and VP Distribution, MGM Resorts International. It was then time to meet all the attendees (over 250 professionals) with a first welcome drink and a perfect occasion to start networking. At such events, networking is extremely important. In fact, the association hopes that members will be able to help each other, get to know what’s new in each company and exchange best practices. During the networking, we had the chance to exchange views with and learn from very knowledgeable professionals such as Christian Meissner (Director of E-Distribution of Deutsche Hospitality), Sylvain Courtial (Senior Manager, Hotel Connectivity & Content, Amadeus) and many others.
The conference started on early Tuesday morning in the impressive Croke Park Center. We were first briefed by the organization team: our job would be to distribute microphones at the end of each conference for the Q&A session, which would thus allow us to attend all the conferences and network with conference participants. The first day was filled with content from HEDNA University offering two courses throughout the day: an “Introduction to Distribution” and a more advanced level course on "Delving into Distribution”. Besides the University courses, a large panel of working groups was organized. As I already had some knowledge of the topics delivered by the HEDNA University during IMHI classes, I decided to participate in a few working groups, such as the Hotel Analytics Working Group session. This new group is led by Matthew Goulden (Managing Director, Triometric) and David Turnbull (Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer, Snapshot). Its objective is to increase awareness and adoption of data analytic practices and tools and demonstrate how data analytics can be applied to hotel distribution. In this first session, we discussed some key aspects to focus on as follows: the cost of distribution, the market trends, some distribution supply insight, the operational performance, the data management.
The afternoon went on with a few other working groups including a great panel on OTAs and Emerging Models topic where Carlo Olejniczak (Director, Global Chains, Booking.com) Omar Farrugia (Director of Sales - Online, Corinthia Hotels), Adrian Hands (Senior Sales Director, Enterprise Accounts EMEA, TripAdvisor) and Daniel Holl (Head of Global Hotel Sales, Trivago) discussed the OTA’s value proposition in the evolving hospitality landscape.
The second day started with a nice Irish breakfast for a good refill before another intensive day. Before going into the distribution subjects, Kevin Kelly, international speaker and author of the book: The Pursuit of Xceptional Execution, gave a motivational speech highlighting what makes exceptional businesses and their leaders succeed. Then we alternated between individual conferences and panel talks on several topics such as: - A State of the Industry done by Jerome Wise, Vice President - Enterprise Clients, TravelClick - Innov8 where 8 key professionals shared their innovations in our industry in an 8-minute pitch - Artificial Intelligence, Chatbots, and Virtual Reality: How to use technology to engage with consumers in which Alex Gibson, one of our Senior Lecturers at IMHI, also spoke. Finally, we had the opportunity to learn how to pour a Guinness during the concluding event held at the Guinness factory house in Dublin with an amazing view of Dublin. After a final wrap up, it was already time to leave!
We were flying back to Paris having forged many new professional connections, new knowledge, various insights and a great way to concretize our career. Since then, we have continued to follow up on some of the working groups and are still involved in the analytics group. We would like to thank IMHI for the opportunity to take part in this conference and the HEDNA organizing and board teams, who were very friendly, didn’t hesitate to introduce us to other professionals and gave us some good tips for our future careers! From a student's perspective, the HEDNA conference was a great occasion to meet with numerous professionals, wider our knowledge and gain valuable insights of the Hospitality distribution sector.