CHR Roundtables Analyze Boutique Hotels, Sustainability, and the Intersection of Hospitality and Healthcare Management

With the support of its industry partners, the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research produces a series of industry roundtables throughout the year. The most recent set of CHR roundtables have focused on design issues related to boutique hotels, the hospitality industry’s continued push toward sustainability, and, for the first time, the connection between hospitality and healthcare.

“Our roundtable series is a critical element of our research program, because it creates a two-way channel for critical exchanges of information,” said Professor Rohit Verma, CHR executive director. “Industry practitioners share issues that our research fellows can study, and our faculty present the findings of their recent research.”

The 2011 CHR Hospitality Design Roundtable, chaired by Professor Richard Penner, drew some two dozen industry executives, designers, operators, consultants, and researchers to focus on boutique hotels, with investigations of what customers want in a boutique property and how they react to boutique hotels. Moreover, given the substantial expansion of this product category roundtable participants engaged in a lively discussion of how to define a boutique property. Roundtable participants observed that the term “boutique hotel” is becoming increasingly common in the industry. Many of the participants agreed that the term “boutique” implies hotels that focus on small size and personal attention.

Senior Lecturer Stephani Robson presented a brief summary of J. D. Power and Associates guest satisfaction data for design-centric hotel brands, which included the finding that guests believe that design-centric brands are less safe than more traditional hotels and that employees at design-centric hotels are less courteous or skilled in their work.

Senior Lecturer Bill Carroll presented information about the growing importance of small meetings to hotels and introduced the question of how boutique hotels, given their more intimate and personalized approach, might capitalize on this market without becoming a generic business-oriented property. Participants offered ideas that seemed to fit the boutique hotel concept, such as clusters of small meeting spaces organized around an interactive social lounge, thus blurring the lines between function space and other public areas. Technology may be essential to allow both the meeting spaces and the social space to be equally productive.

A late-October Sustainability Roundtable continued a critical discussion of trends and challenges. Building on previous sustainability roundtables, this meeting identified both strategies for advancing sustainability programs and barriers to accomplishing “green” goals. Participants identified the following three key barriers to the industry’s implementation of sustainability programs: (1) education and communication, (2) the failure to treat sustainability as a business issue, and (3) the contrasting focus of operations (short term) and the brand (long term).

Despite the challenges, international hotel brands are moving forward on sustainability initiatives, many of which improve efficiency and save money in the long run. Moreover, corporate clients have begun to ask for evidence of sustainability practices at hotels that they patronize. Thus, as expressed by David Jerome, senior vice president of corporate responsibility for InterContinental Hotels Group, there’s a lot of room for error because sustainability is still new. He pointed to three common myths about sustainability: (1) sustainability is expensive; (2) guests don’t care; and (3) we can wait to implement green policies. He emphasized that none of those is true.

One particular problem for hotels seeking to be more efficient is that there are no common measurement standards. Should one measure per occupied room, per room-night, or per square floor area? Engaging guests in sustainability processes is also a challenge, although the sense of the group was to consistently provide guests with the option to behave sustainably, and eventually each practice will become an industry norm.

Students are encouraged to attend all roundtables, and this year’s sustainability session featured a competition in which students presented sustainability ideas. Student teams created their own hypothetical hotel firm and then developed sustainability policies and practices for that “firm.” Following the student teams’ presentations, roundtable participants voted for two winning student teams.

The winning team, “KCI Hotels,” invented a company with four hotel brands and addressed a common industry issue, lack of coordination between owners, operators, and the brand. Their proposed policy was to align sustainability policies among all three parties, including incentives for achieving sustainability goals. The KCI Hotels team, which won a $2,000 first prize, comprised Ilana Edelman ’12, Kimberly Schlossberg ’13, and Chad Wemischner ’13. The runners up were Karim Abouelnaga ’13, Gabriel Kennedy ’13, and Brennan Spreitzer ’13, who created the “Helix Hotel Group” and won $1,000. Their concept of community integration would draw together all stakeholders in sustainability efforts, including using renewable resources for hotel design and adhering to Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Guidelines for sustainable operation.

The fall roundtable season comes to a close with this week’s Healthcare and Hospitality Roundtable, which has brought 30 practitioners and researchers from these two industries to Cornell to examine common ground and to cross-pollinate management strategies. The roundtable will start with a keynote address, “Going Radical,” by Gerard van Grinsven, president and CEO of Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. He will also lead one of the discussion sessions, on implementing hospitality best practices in a healthcare organization. Information will also flow both ways between the two industries, as CHR executive director Rohit Verma will join Brooke Hollis, executive director of the Sloan Program in Health Administration at Cornell in examining what hospitality can learn from healthcare and what healthcare can learn from hospitality.