By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P. Eng. (www.hotelmogel.com)
Hotel tradeshows and conventions are an excellent opportunity to keep pace with all the latest products, news and concepts in our ever-evolving industry. There are many such events happening on a year-round timetable and all around the world, so much so that you could hypothetically spend every week in another city and at another hospitality conference or symposium.
Practically, though, you hardly have the time to attend more than five of these events each year, and a ‘divide and conquer’ approach would work even better. That is, by sending various associates and senior executive team members in your place, the learnings and career development is spread across the entirety of your team so that you can all grow together as a pseudo-familial and highly ingenuous unit. And in the modern workplace, team engagement and ongoing training is a tremendous factor towards keeping your brightest employees from jumping ship, thus leaving budget for these outings is critical lest you lose your star performers.
The two most pertinent questions then are what shows to go to and who to send where. The shows worth attending will depend on your specific situation, but please recognize that it is both a privilege to go and learn as well as a burden in terms of expenses and lost productivity. As for answering the second question, to be as blunt as possible and oblivious of any internal property politics, the people who should go to these events are the ones who sign the checks – owners, asset managers, general managers, managing directors, resort managers, operations directors, directors of sales and marketing, and any other senior executive.
For niche conferences dealing with specific topics, other positions may be more appropriate for attendance, so it is a matter that must be treated on a case-by-case basis. To help explain my rationale for why the top brass should plan to go, let’s look at one example for a show that I’ve long held in high regard – HITEC.
Your first thought for an electronics convention like this is probably that you should send your IT manager so that you can let techies talk tech, trusting that your team member will adequately discern which systems and hardware will seamlessly integrate with your current operations for minimal costs. However, technology is so embedded in our guests’ daily lives these days that it is no longer a case of what’s easiest to apply and far more about what will most effectively improve the guest experience, whether it be a boost to your online interface, onsite features or customer preference tracking (otherwise known as customer relationship management or CRM).
Having a deeper understanding of how technology can now be leveraged to heighten the end-to-end guest experience – and thereby increase revenues— is now a critical skill for every senior manager. A convention is not only a good place to recruit vendors who can help in this mission, but also a time to bring your team leaders up to speed. Hence, the job of attending conferences that can educate on this matter simply cannot be delegated to those middle-rung team members who aren’t thoroughly versed in how any expenditure will serve the big picture.
This isn’t to say that a person from the IT department can’t also attend as an auxiliary support in order to ask the more technical questions, but given how inherently flexible new software and hardware are, these inquiries can often be more efficiently resolved through a series of follow-up phone calls once a top-level decision has been made as to where to devote the coming year’s resources. That’s just HITEC, and undoubtedly other conferences and conventions can be given a similar rationale for why the captains of the ship – or those who have the ambition to one day become a captain – need to attend.
One other prominent North American example worth noting is HX: The Hotel Experience (formerly the International Hotel Motel and Restaurant Show) which takes place every November in Manhattan. This tradeshow is a monster in scope, and definitely requires a ‘divide and conquer’ approach to see it all. Although exhibits here run the gamut of hard and soft goods to appliances, engineering equipment and even accessories for HR with lots to learn at each booth, due to its size you might want to go in with a wish list that takes into account the specific desires of all department heads pooled beforehand so you are not overwhelmed by the vendors that have a low relevancy to your immediate operational goals. Yet another symposium that’s high on my list is ALIS (American Lodging Investment Summit), which, by its name alone, it should be quite explicit as to who should go.
In any case, this all presupposes the fact that you have allocated budget for attending conferences including airfare, hotel rooms, rental cars and entrance fees. So maybe the first question you should ask is whether or not you can afford to go in the first place. If not, why not? Continual learning is an important aspect of your job and there’s no better place to grasp new industry concepts than at a conference or tradeshow with your peers.
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