In Hospitality

It’s always exhilarating to go to an industry conference, isn’t it? For me, attending the Skift Global Forum last week was a refreshing way to connect with other hotel and travel leaders who share my same passions. It goes far beyond keeping up with the latest news, trends and forecasts. Hearing from and interacting with other industry professionals face-to-face, I felt inspired and challenged, and my love for this wonderful business of ours was reinvigorated.

Over the two-plus-day conference, nearly 40 presentations, panel discussions and interviews touched on an incredible range of issues facing the industry today. From the elephant in the room (a.k.a. the Marriott-Starwood merger) to next generation travel tech. From reinventing old-school brands to surviving as a start-up. And everything in between. Of course, the buzz phrase of the moment—personalization in the hospitality industry—frequently claimed center stage.

But what struck me most was how these seemingly unconnected topics all came down to a singular, more profound concept…HUMANITY.

Care (with a shot of caffeine)

Niki Leondakis, CEO of Two Roads Hospitality, spoke about the next generation lifestyle brand. Her simple and straightforward advice for boutique hotels bobbing along in a sea of sameness? Listen to your customers’ personal needs and deliver on them.


Niki Leondakis speaks at #SkiftForum2016

The CEO illustrated this with her “pleasantly unhelpful” experience as a guest in a competitor’s hotel. Their on-site restaurant hadn’t opened yet, so she asked a front desk clerk if she could get a cup of coffee. The response? She’d have to wait another nine minutes until the restaurant opened. If management had trained and empowered their staff to truly listen to and care for guests, this could have been a pleasantly helpful experience.

Skip the stereotypes

Donald Arnold, CEO of Carnival Corp., shared his moving experience as a passenger on the first U.S. cruise to Cuba: “Cubans were lined up on the banks as we pulled into port, hundreds and hundreds of Cubans, just waiting to hug and kiss us when we got off. It was such an emotional thing. It brings us together. The essence of travel is that you discover how alike you are, no matter how different the place you go. In fact, you learn to celebrate the differences, instead of fearing or avoiding them.”

That empathy is vital to reach across groups that are divided in these complicated and controversial times. It’s also key to winning over the 98% of travelers who don’t cruise. Donald explained, “The bottom line is that people are seeking their own personal travel experience. The real challenge for us is to get each individual the travel experience they’re looking for. Even millennials are all not exactly the same.”

No place like home…in the clouds

When Ben Smith, President of Air Canada, took a seat on the Skift Global Forum stage to discuss creating a home in the sky for every passenger, he explained how the airline removed its traditional first-class section to give long-haul business travelers what they really want—lay-flat beds for comfortable sleep during flights.

He also tapped into a key element of human nature—how people really don’t like surprises. Air Canada’s passengers can always rely on the fact that the service they enjoy flying from Toronto to Shanghai will be the same they can expect from Vancouver to Hong Kong.

Curating a community

With hoteliers nervously witnessing Airbnb’s explosive growth, Amar Lalvani, CEO & Managing Partner of Standard International, and Liz Lambert, Co-Founder of Bunkhouse, shared the stage to chat about building a hotel brand in the sharing economy age.

The two industry leaders reminded attendees that boutique hotels have a distinctive advantage over home-sharing properties—the sense of community that comes from having public spaces where people (not just guests, but locals too!) genuinely want to gather and connect with each other.

Heartfelt hospitality

Speaking of Airbnb, Chip Conley, their Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy, was at the conference to talk about the hospitality mindset for changing guest desires. Coming from a boutique hotel background (as founder and still owner of 14 Joie de Vivre hotels), he is uniquely qualified to offer perspectives from both sides—sharing what hotels can learn from Airbnb, and vice versa.

Quoting famed restaurateur Danny Meyer, Conley said, “Service is defined as a technique that’s offered, usually from a manual. It’s from the head. Hospitality is something that gives the person who receives it a feeling, and it usually comes from the heart. It’s generosity of spirit that comes from the heart. It’s an open-heart approach to the service as you welcome people into your homes.”

We’re all connected

Five of the most impactful minutes of the conference was brought to us by Momondo Group’s video, The DNA Journey. I don’t want to let loose with any spoilers, but you will want to have tissues handy while you watch it.

I hope this blog inspires you to bring the human touch to your marketing. Here at Dana, we pride ourselves on telling meaningful stories that resonate with travelers and move them to action.

Contact me today at or 609.466.9187 ext. 117 to learn how our award-winning storytelling approach can guide your brand to its happily ever after.

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