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Highlights from the Forbes Travel Guide 2024 Summit

It used to be that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but here we are offering the scoop on what went down at the annual invitation only Forbes Travel Guide Summit last month. Attracting over 650 + hoteliers, business executives, travel advisors and other leading luxury travel professionals from more than 85+ countries, it was definitely a hotelier/hertelier hot spot!

Actress Jane Krakowski entertained at the gala dinner
Jane Krakowski entertained at the gala dinner

The content was broad, engaging and inclusive: from learning about trends in luxury travel and hotel development, the influence of AI and the growth of wellness to sustainability and insights from travel entrepreneurs. In fact, inclusion was an overarching theme, with gender parity in the speaker line up (sadly, still a rarity in travel conferences) and sessions on navigating gender diversity and women in leadership. There was also time for FUN with pickle ball, an improv skills session, and a fancy circus-themed awards gala with the hilarious Jane Krakowski (you know her from 30 Rock) followed by a rockin' after-party with a DJ that got everyone on the dance floor.

Keynote Speakers: Societal Trends Impacting Travel

Needless to say, it was an action-packed few days! After a week of ruminating, here are my top takeaways from the keynote speakers, which is by no means inclusive of all the great content.

  • The "F" word in luxury is FINE. Loved the presentation by luxury expert Daniel Langer, who has a PhD in Luxury (who knew that is a degree, it is!), is a professor at Pepperdine and NYU, and runs the luxury think tank, Equité. His key message was to put the guest at the center of the experience and shift the ordinary into extraordinary. He shared examples that showed attention to detail and care. It's not the over the top stuff, rather the little gestures that become the stories guests tell their friends. Leaving a bookmark for an avid reader, arranging a meal for a late arrival when the hotel restaurant is closed. Nobody remembers a stay that is just fine. If you don’t have a story you are not creating value, and anyone can do this with the right training that teaches how to "wow and surprise" guests.

  • Wellness needs to be embedded into your employee and guest experiences. Post-pandemic wellness and health has been elevated to new levels. Several talks addressed this from consultant Mia Kyricos to Delta's CEO Ed Bastain, and a panel moderated by Delta's SVP and Chief Health Officer, Dr. Henry Ting S.V.P. with executives of companies that use Sharecare, a digital health company that helps people manage healthcare, a partner of Forbes Travel Guide. All three panelists (Kenneth Fasola, president of the Centene Corporation; Dr. Michael Lappi, chief medical officer of Corning Incorporated; and Dr. Pascal Goldschmidt, chief medical officer of Lennar Corporation) were candid that many people are suffering with mental health and other healthcare issues. Companies realize that they need to make a broad spectrum of healthcare easy and affordable for people to access. This has the double benefit increased employee satisfaction and retention, key in today's competitive labor market.

Wellness expert Mia Kyricos Forbes Travel Guide Summit
Wellness expert Mia Kyricos

In terms of guest experiences, wellness expert Mia Kyricos noted the wellness market is now a thriving $5.6 trillion economy, with tourism accounting for more than $1 trillion of that figure. Luxury guests are seeking out experiences ranging from better sleep (yes, sleep!) to anti-ageing programming and vegan cuisine.

  • Loneliness is a growing trend that will have massive implications for travel. Skift CEO Rafat Ali spoke about rethinking luxury in the face of several demographic shifts. He shared some interesting stats: As for loneliness, in 2023 the Surgeon General warned loneliness is as bad for human health as smoking. With the potential to offer hubs for human connection, Ali noted that hotels can (and should) think of ways to create community and be more inclusive. Other emerging markets he cited: single female travelers, solo adventurists and groups seeking luxury experiences.

    • The fastest growing population in the US is 65+. People 65 and older will make up 40 % of the population by 2050 and we will see a doubling of older people. Yet, youth drives economies. 

    • The populations of more than half of Africa’s 54 nations will double – or more – by 2050, due to sustained high fertility and improving mortality rates. The continent will then be home to at least 1/4 of the world’s population, compared with less than 10% in 1950.

    • India is fastest growing market to travel to the USA.

  • Midlife is not a crisis but rather a chrysalis, a time for new beginnings, and this is good news for travel providers. Chip Conley, former hotelier, advisor to AirBNB, and best-selling author, shared highlights from his new book, Learning to Love Mid-Life: 12 Reasons Why Life Gets Better with Age and the implications for travel providers. There is about to be a surge of people, "wanting to reimagine and repurpose themselves in their 40s, 50s and 60s, and do it as part of a travel experience." He echoed the importance of creating community and connections for travelers as the "ultimate marketing strategy."

  • Hotel transactions were down 50% in 2023, but the market is expected to pick up.  Robert Webster, president of CBRE Hotels Institutional Group, and John Harper, CBRE’s senior vice president, shared data that group business is strengthening and business travel is back to 2019 levels. International demand has increased but unevenly, better on east coast than west coast. They concluded, it's an "irrational market" that may continue to surprise, but the trend is upward.

There was also an incredibly moving keynote by Dean Crowe, CEO of the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research, Forbes Travel Guide's charitable partner. She shared that cancer is the top killer of children in America, yet only 4 percent of research dollars goes towards kids. Since inception, Rally has raised more than $29 million and helped nearly 1,600 families, how wonderful is that?!

Discovery Sessions: Deeper Dives Into Themes Impacting Travel

In addition to the keynotes, there were 13 different "Discovery Sessions" running concurrently over the two days. As I was moderating one of the sessions, I did not get to sit in on very many of these, but all the topics generated buzz: from "Prospecting on Purpose" to "Thinking Like an Entrepreneur" and "Attracting Top Talent" to "Navigating Gender Diversity," there was so much to learn.

5 Key Themes from the Women in Leadership Panel

Despite being in the same time slot as: "The Role of AI in Travel & Hospitality Innovation"––a very hot topic––we had a great turn-out for "Women in Leadership – Cultivating the Next Generation of Hoteliers."!! And rightly so, as I was joined a terrific panel: Shannon McCallum, Vice President of Hotel Operations, Resorts World Las Vegas; Anne Golden, VP Operations, UK & North America and General Manager, Pan Pacific London; Erica Whitaker, Director of Partner Relations, Gifted Travel Network; Brian McHugh, Vice President Brand Operations, Luxury Brands.

Women in Leadership Panel: Emily Goldfischer, Shannon McCallum, Brian McHugh, Erica Whitaker, Anne Golden
Women in Leadership Panel: Emily Goldfischer, Shannon McCallum, Brian McHugh, Erica Whitaker, Anne Golden

With their depth and variety of experiences, there were several themes that emerged from the conversation.

  • Unconscious bias is real and still very much happening. On the topic of hidden barriers, Anne shared that as her hotel manager is male, whenever they go into meetings with new people, it is always assumed he is the boss. Shannon echoed that sentiment, over her career, even when she has been the more senior leader, there have been times where she is not invited to meetings or client outings. Erica noted that they have made an effort to focus on skills to remove bias from their hiring process.

  • Male allies are essential. One of the reasons Brian was asked to be on the panel! It is crucial for men to be part of the conversation, share their perspective and offer support. Brian shared stories of female leaders who made a huge difference in his career, of witnessing bias against women and ways he has helped mentor and sponsor women.

  • Flexibility is key to long-term retention of women. Working for a female-founded business, Erica shared there is a "culture of trust and understanding," if she needs to go to school or take her child to the doctor, it is never an issue. Brian spoke about a senior manager on his team with Bulgari Hotels, "Her kids are young right now, in 15 hours a week she can accomplish so much. We add hours when needed or when she wants. We have worked together for many years, this is a perfect arrangement."

  • Mentorship and sponsorship are important for development of the next generation. Everyone agreed structured programs have the greatest impact in moving women up the ladder.

  • Diversity isn't just good for society, it is very good for business. Year after year, McKinsey research concludes that companies in the top 25% for ethnic and cultural diversity were 36% more profitable than those in the bottom quarter, and when women are well represented in the C-suite, profits can be almost 50% higher. A reminder to keep the commercial case for diversity at the forefront!

All in all, a meaningful few days in Vegas that I am still thinking about!! Thank you for the opportunity, Forbes Travel Guide.


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