Traditionally, Hotel Ezra Cornell (HEC) centers on an industry theme that ties together its student-run, weekend-long hospitality conference.
This year, the students refocused the event instead on HEC’s mission: showcasing hospitality education through student leadership. “Our goal was for each aspect of the weekend to highlight student talent in the most genuine way possible. HEC is such a unique event, with students at the core of what differentiates it from other hospitality conferences,” said managing director Chad Wemischner ’13.
HEC, an annual tradition since 1925, took place April 4-7 at the Statler Hotel. More than 150 students at the School of Hotel Administration (SHA) had worked since last fall to pull off the conference for leaders of the hospitality industry. Comprising educational seminars, leisure activities, and food and beverage events, the weekend strikes a balance between education and entertainment. During the weekend, SHA students practiced skills they have learned in the classroom and showcased their talents to industry professionals.
The importance of being able to think on his feet was the biggest lesson for conference director Sam Eisenman ’13. “So many things will change at just a moment’s notice and you have to be able to go with it, make it work and not show any signs of stress,” he said.
Ted Teng ’79, president and CEO of The Leading Hotels of the World, opened the weekend with a talk about innovation in the hospitality industry and delivering superior customer service. Teng also brought his executive board to Ithaca for their annual meeting at the conference. HEC partnered with Cornell’s Survey Research Institute to host a talk by Nate Silver, statistician and author of the New York Times political blog FiveThirtyEight, on how to improve predicting power.
Other events highlighted industry trends and innovations. A discussion on women in hospitality leadership included panelists Lisa Holladay, Ritz-Carlton’s vice president of brand and guest experience. The panel “Emerging Markets Development: Building Business Deals Abroad” brought together speakers including Jim Abrahamson, CEO of Interstate Hotels and Resorts, and Mark Woodworth ’77, president of PKF Hospitality Research.
The conference also featured tastings of extra virgin olive oils and wines, dinners based on the natural world and the work of artist M.C. Escher, a student business plan competition and research showcase, and visits to local makers of craft beers and cheeses.
In keeping the focus on students, the HEC board made some “radical changes” to the hiring process to create experiential learning opportunities for the student managers, said communications director Aanchal Suri ’14. “We tried to make HEC more open and approachable for any and all students who had an interest in being a part of the oldest Hotelie tradition. The goal was to allow students who have varied interests to find their space and get an opportunity to expand their skills through the HEC experience,” Suri said.
The board also worked hard throughout the year to engage students in creative ways that allowed them to showcase their talents and interests to their peers, said Wemischner. “For example, we hosted a pancake party to celebrate the end of the fall semester, which, beyond bringing smiles to many faces, allowed our food and beverage teams to practice their skills,” he said.
One of the greatest challenges was simply finding time to sleep, said Eisenman. “You give 110 percent to ensure that everything you have put so much time and effort into throughout the year goes smoothly and that you put together ‘the best ever’ for our guests,” he said.