Hospitality 'un-conference' sparks innovation

At the 2014 Cornell Hospitality Research Summit (CHRS), nearly 300 experts from the industry and academia came together to discuss “The Future of Service Innovation: The New Science of People, Organizations, Data and Technology,” Oct. 12-14 on campus.

“We asked moderators and presenters to step away from the comfort of a traditional, formal, PowerPoint-dependent presentation to be creative or to more fully explore a devil’s advocacy style to question the positions of others, said Cathy Enz, the Lewis G. Schaeneman Jr. Professor of Innovation and Dynamic Management and co-chair of this year’s research summit. “We wanted to be innovative and experimental in both the theme of the conference and the way in which we shared information at the conference.”

The summit featured more than 70 sessions and four keynote panels focused on people, organizations, data and technology. Presentation topics included how online reviews, the use of mobile devices and social media continue to change the service experience; how companies can set themselves apart through authentic organizational cultures, strong value systems and unique customer experiences; and how the industry will continue to adapt to new technologies and big data.

Speakers and audience members shared ideas through real-time polling via text message, point-counterpoint debates, Q&A sessions and a Jeopardy-style round of questions.

“We are proud that CHRS attracts top industry executives and academics who take time out of their busy schedules to come and engage in a dialogue about the future of hospitality,” said Rohit Verma, the Singapore Tourism Board Distinguished Professor in Asian Hospitality Management, professor of service operations management at the School of Hotel Administration and CHRS co-chair. “We designed every element of the conference to spark meaningful conversations and debates and encourage interaction between attendees.”

The exchange of ideas didn’t stop when the formal sessions did. Questions and quotes were posted on signs during breaks. Even the conference meals served as conversation-starters with the Statler Hotel staff carrying the innovation theme into all the food and beverages. Mobile-savvy guests shared ideas on the #CHRS14 social media wall. Not surprisingly, traditional face-to-face networking was still central to the conference experience.

“CHRS is all about making connections, and our guests always find many areas for collaboration. Many future research projects and industry partnerships are born at CHRS,” said Verma.

CHRS also honored several innovative ideas currently being used in the hospitality industry. The Hospitality Exemplary Practice Award went to the Lemon Tree Hotel Co. for its companywide inclusion program and to VOC Systems for software that allows hotel guests to instant message hotel management about service problems or successes.

Launched in 2010, CHRS is held every other October at the School of Hotel Administration. This year attendees came from 22 countries. Seventy percent of participants were from the hospitality industry, and 30 percent were academics.

Ashlee McGandy is a staff writer at the School of Hotel Administration.

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