HB on the scene: CEOs talk about work, technology

NEW YORK — As the hospitality industry continues to backtrack from the COVID-19 pandemic, NYU’s 43rd annual conference on investing in the international hotel industry has returned to an in-person event at the New York Marriott Marquis here.

The “The CEOs Check in: A View From The Top” session, moderated by Sara Eisen, presenter of “Closing Bell”, CNBC, offered information on a variety of topics from a panel of industry leaders, including Keith Barr, CEO, IHG Hotels & Resorts; Sébastien M. Bazin, Chairman and CEO, Accor; Anthony Capuano, CEO of Marriott International; David Kong, Past President / CEO, BWH Hotel Group; and Christopher J. Nassetta, President / CEO, Hilton.

Not surprisingly, the labor shortage, which continues to be a big issue for the industry, has been a topic of discussion.

Capuano said it’s important to let potential employees know that hospitality is always a great career option. “For decades, the employment space as a whole viewed travel and tourism as a haven of industries,” he said. “They could create a lot of jobs. They could build long careers. And when you look at the job losses the industry has faced over the past two years, that confidence has been shaken. It’s incumbent on us and everyone in the room to talk about how this is a great set of industries, how easy it is to build a really productive career, but we have a lot of work to do.

Kong pointed out that a significant number of people have left the hospitality industry – and for many different reasons. “All the people of the COVID effect made them rethink a lot of things,” he said. “Some people just got used to working from home and don’t want to go back to the office. In the hospitality industry, you have to report for work in a hotel, with the exception of a few select positions. This is going to be a problem for us in the future.

Asked about significant technological advancements, Bazin said too much time was wasted talking about technology. “We are not a technology company,” he said. “We happen to be human capital, the hospitality industry. We come to the hotel to have a good time, have fun, meet someone else to discover a culture, a natural environment and come back richer. Of course, we make sure that the technology exists before the stay, after the stay and a transparent process to enter the room. I accept this.

While Nassetta agrees that the hospitality industry is about people, he sees technology as a way to improve the experience for everyone. “Delivering great experiences to our customers will always be about people and how you deliver them to people,” he said. “Having said that, where I don’t agree is – and we’ve spent a lot of time and money like others – technology is going to matter and we tend to look at it at the bottom. within our company as the “phygital” part of our business, this is how we connect the physical and the digital in a way that takes the friction out of the experience and creates a little more fun. [We are] using technology so that we can create an efficiency that allows our people to do a better job by personalizing the experience and doing it in ways that technology can enable us to effectively personalize en masse, in our case 200 million people a year.

When it comes to reaching customers, Barr predicted a shift in the way businesses will do it. “With the exception of live sports, you are going to see more deaths with traditional media,” he said. “For years and years, we’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying big, over-the-line media campaigns and showing them on TV, and those are going to be gone. We learned that during COVID everyone was taken out. No one was buying media. You know what? The request still came often than not. It has become more and more targeted and personalized for you. I think you are going to see this trend continuing.

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