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Hotel Ezra Cornell faces the future, preserves the past

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Melissa Osgood

For the 92nd year, the School of Hotel Administration invites hospitality and business professionals from around the world to a cutting-edge business conference that is one of Cornell’s oldest traditions – and one entirely run by students.

Hotel Ezra Cornell, March 16-19 at Statler Hall, explores the theme “Face the Future, Preserve the Past.” The conference features panels exploring the nuances and challenges hospitality and related companies face as they adapt to change while remaining true to their founding principles and values.

A schedule of events is available online. Many of the panels take place in Statler Auditorium.

Student organizers chose this year’s theme to mark a significant moment in the school’s history: The 92nd Hotel Ezra Cornell is the first to take place since the Hotel School became part of the new Cornell SC Johnson College of Business.

“This conference is at the heart of the Hotel School, and it is business as usual for this defining tradition,” said Andrew Billiter ’17, director of communications and IT for the conference. “Events that make the Hotel School special and unique, like this conference, are going strong.”

Leading the conversation will be keynote speaker Sabato Sagaria ’97, chief restaurant officer of Union Square Hospitality Group. The group owns several iconic New York City restaurants including Union Square Café, Gramercy Tavern and Blue Smoke. Sagaria will discuss how innovation and experimentation have helped the company flourish. For example, the group’s “enlightened hospitality” philosophy encourages employees to offer friendly, perk-filled service to win customer loyalty.

His address will be preceded by remarks by Kate Walsh, interim dean of the Hotel School and E.M. Statler Professor, and Soumitra Dutta, dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business and professor of management.

Other highlights include the panel “Real Estate in the New Age,” moderated by Michael Barnello ’87, president and CEO of LaSalle Hotel Properties. A leading multi-operator real estate investment trust, LaSalle owns 46 upscale, full-service hotels, totaling 11,450 guest rooms in 13 markets. Panelists will include Suzanne Mellen ’76, senior managing director-practice leader of HVS, a consulting and valuation firm specializing in hotel, gaming and mixed-use properties worldwide. Over the course of her 40-year career, Mellen has appraised and consulted on thousands of hotels, gaming assets and related real estate.

Other guest speakers include Roger Hill ’87, chairman and CEO of The Gettys Group. He leads the development, strategy and analysis of the global firm, which specializes in hospitality interior design, consulting, branding and procurement. Hill will speak at two panels: “Building Your Brand Story” and “Virtual Reality: The Future of Hotel Design.”

At the virtual reality discussion, Hill will consider how architecture and hospitality firms are using virtual reality to allow clients to immerse themselves in “walk-through” tours of hotels, resorts and spas. VR headsets will be on hand for participants to try the experience for themselves.

Other panels include:

  • “Toward a More Sustainable Planet”;
  • “Healthy, Wealthy and Wise: Hospitality and Wellness”;
  • “The Rise of Boutiques in the Internet World”;
  • “The Secret (And Not So Secret) Upcoming Trends in Hospitality Marketing”; and
  • “Female Figures in Food and Beverage.”

As always, highlights of the conference include events in which students demonstrate their industry acumen. The annual Cornell Hospitality Business Plan Competition, held by the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship, and the Student Entrepreneurial Showcase, featuring students who have started their own companies in addition to keeping up with their academic work, both take place March 19.

The Cornell Hotel Society, the Hotel School’s alumni organization, will hold its annual meeting March 17, 4:15-5:45 p.m. The program will include:

  • Cornell Hotel Society update, by Cheryl Boyer ’87, Cornell Hotel Society president;
  • Cornell SC Johnson College of Business update, by Dean Soumitra Dutta;
  • School of Hotel Administration curriculum update, by Cathy Enz, associate dean for academic affairs and the Lewis G. Schaeneman Jr. Professor of Innovation and Dynamic Management; and
  • an interview with Interim Dean Kate Walsh, moderated by Bill Minnock ’79, Cornell Hotel Society first vice president.

The society provides a worldwide platform for professional and social networking, with 53 chapters hosting numerous events each year. It also supports the next generation of hospitality leaders and lifelong learning by funding scholarships, student activities and faculty travel.

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