The Hospitality Show offered a mix of great insights and lessons to take home

More than 3,500 attendees came together at the first-ever Hospitality Show at The Venetian Conference Center & Expo in Las Vegas June 27-29.

The Show featured keynote speakers and discussions among hospitality veterans within and adjacent to the hospitality industry, covering topics such as what travelers now expect from the industry, how hoteliers can stay vigilant in the $70-billion human trafficking industry, thoughtful leadership tips from retired U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McRaven and more.

Business Across the Globe Post-Pandemic

Steve Hill, CEO and president of Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority, and Geoff Ballotti, CEO and president of Wyndham Hotels & Resorts, sat down with Alex Alt, executive vice president and general manager of Oracle Hospitality and Oracle Retail, to talk about all things hospitality post-Covid and its effect on employees and travelers.

Although for many, the pandemic is now a thing in the near and memorable past, the effects, both personally and professionally, are still felt. This is why Ballotti said something he and Wyndham are still focused on is employee mental health and well-being, as it continues to be one of the highest areas of concern.

Read MoreWhy In-Person Events Came Back in a Big Way Post-Pandemic

“There’s a lot of discussion about the guest experience and changes in guest behaviors but I would say the colleague experience has got to be front and center,” Ballotti said. “The pandemic had a different impact on virtually every individual in the world and that’s true for all our colleagues, so we’re paying really close attention to the needs they have, which have changed and evolved and continue to change and evolve.”

“There’s a lot of discussion about the guest experience and changes in guest behaviors but I would say the colleague experience has got to be front and center.”

–  Geoff Ballotti, CEO and president, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts

 As the ways hotels operate have changed in the last few years, so has the role of each hospitality employee, Ballotti said. “F&B operates very differently than it did pre-pandemic, we’ve clustered a lot of positions. It’s both good—we’re learning new things—but it can be more pressure and more challenging learning new areas of the hotel business, so one of the things that’s almost universally on my mind is just being sure we’re doing what we can do to care for our colleagues and make sure they’re holistically doing well, not just physically but also mentally.”

Seeking Company Success? Ask These Three Questions

woman speaking on stage
Kat Cole, Photo: Joseph Donato

Kat Cole is COO and president of Athletic Greens and the youngest person to ever appear on CBS’ Undercover Boss but her journey to co-leading one of the fastest-growing nutrition and health brands on the market hasn’t been without lessons to learn. In her keynote, Cole shared the story about how she led Cinnabon as its former president from a company with year-over-year sales declines to a company with a revamped sales model that ultimately led to its revival.

Within six months of working as president for Cinnabon, Cole was already making ambitious changes to the company’s operation. Cinnabon is a 99% franchisee company that stations most of its business in malls and airports, and during the Great Recession of 2008, when traffic slowed to most public spaces, a couple of activities that almost immediately come to a halt are shopping and traveling.

Cinnabon suffered greatly as a result. Upon starting her new role at Cinnabon, Cole experienced the operation of the brand, from working at the front as a cashier and making cinnamon rolls to traveling with the truck drivers. Although the roles of each were different, she posed these three questions to each of them.

  • What should we stop doing?
  • What can we start doing?
  • If you were me, what would you be doing differently to make the business better?

 Sometimes when questions are posed in a certain way, they can be difficult to answer, so she asked the first two differently, the first was framed as, “What are employees/customers throwing away?” And the second as, “Tell me when you say ‘no’ to customers/guests.” These three questions helped her develop an understanding of out-of-date practices the company held onto, whether because of tradition or ignorance of consumer behavior trends.

Future of Hospitality Recruitment

five people on stage talking
Photo: Joseph Donato

“If you are not familiar with Gen Z, they are a different kind of individual,” said Ashli Johnson, executive director at Howard University School of Business Marriott-Sorenson Center for Hospitality Leadership, during the session “Where Hospitality Talent Will Emerge in the Future,” which included Ben Erwin, president and CEO of Encore; Daniel del Olmo, president of hotels and restaurants for Sage Hospitality Group; and Larry Cuculoc, president and CEO of BWH Hotels; and was moderated by Anna Blue, president of AHLA Foundation.

During the discussion, the four talked about the best methods and practices to use to attract new talent. The traditional forms of recruitment don’t work the same as they once did, in a time when prospective employees had less access to information about a company and less concerns about a company’s culture. With this no longer being the case, tactics to recruit new talent needs to be different.

“What’s working best are relationships and experiences,” Johnson said. “What we’ve been seeing work well…in our school of business, where most of our hospitality interest is, is recruiters spending a lot of time on campus, [students] want to know what your company is about, what you’re about. Most candidates buy into the recruiter before they buy into anything else.” As for experiences, Johnson said organizations are offering opportunities for students to engage prior to getting the position, helping them understand the organization and what kind of impact they will have in their role.

Read MoreGen Z Meeting Professionals Navigate Industry Challenges and Hope for Future

Olmo said Sage has adapted to the ever-changing structure of the hospitality industry in a couple of ways. The first has been partnering with Instawork, a technology company that allows companies to find employees on the fly and provide workers with a more flexible schedule. “We fill last-minute positions in 20 minutes. It’s been really helpful,” he said. In keeping with flexibility, Olmo said the general manager in Denver piloted the four-day week there. “What we found was it was not just a great way to retain talent…but it was also a great way to attract talent. Essentially, we’re helping optimize the work-life balance of our team members,” adding that he actually prefers it to be termed as “work-life presence.”

Additionally, Sage has teamed up with the University of Denver and the African Community Center to hire and train refugees for the hospitality industry. “It’s a remarkable program,” Olmo said. “You have hospitality students that are training refugees, they’re learning English and training them on basic hospitality skills, and then we get to hire them.” He said this year they’ve hired about 30 refugees.

To recruit young talent, you don’t need to only look toward hospitality schools, the hospitality industry casts a big net. Cuculoc emphasized just how wide the range of positions in hospitality really is. “We do have colleges that focus on hospitality,” he said, “but when you think about our industry, it’s not just about front desk personnel. Someone can major in marketing, people can focus on sales, we have accountants, culinary, recreational experts, engineers and HR personnel. We have to recognize that we need to reach out across industries and across that talent pool.”

 Johnson said, ultimately, the next generation is looking for a match. “Not in terms of fit. A ‘match’ meaning ‘what was sold in the recruitment process has to match when I get [to the job],’” she said. “[Gen Z is] heavily resourced, they’re on Glassdoor, they’re sending private messages to folks who work at your organization.

“They are doing research independently on your organization to ensure what you’ve sold them throughout the interview is actually going to match. Once they’re on the job, six, 12, 24 months in and they’re experience doesn’t match what they were sold in the recruitment process, that’s when you start to lose them. The feel like they’ve been sold a dream.”

Leadership and Hard Work

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Admiral William H. McRaven, Photo: Joseph Donato

William H. McRaven is a retired U.S. Navy admiral and author who has written about facing uncertainty and overcoming adversity, drawn from his own experiences serving 37 years in the U.S. Navy. After his keynote, which consisted of these themes and a story about how he and his team captured Saddam Hussein during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, he followed up with a brief discussion and offered a couple of insights about leadership.

 Character, McRaven said, is the single most important thing for any leader in any organization. He said he didn’t need to think very hard about the first lesson of his new book, “Wisdom of the Bullfrog: Leadership Made Simple,” titled Death Before Dishonor. “I debated whether I was going to use that term, because it’s a little bit caustic,” he said. “It’s maybe a little bit over the top. But I thought it was important to recognize that throughout history people of character, people of honor, people of integrity have recognized that it is so important that they’re prepared to die rather than compromise their honor…If you’re not talking to talk and walking the walk, they’re going to know, they’re going to notice.”

 McRaven said there are a lot of things that make a good leader, but the one quality he said will make you successful is hard work. “You get there early, you work hard, you stay late. You come in on the weekends, you do whatever you have to do to earn the respect of the people you’re working for, to make the company you’re working for better.”