The EMBA class of Ecole htelire de Lausanne (EHL) had the opportunity to meet with Gerard J. Inzerillo, CEO of Forbes Travel Guide and a lifestyle visionary, during a roundtable discussion on January 30. Gregarious, charismatic and with an infectious passion for the industry, Mr Inzerillo regaled the class describing his considerable experience in the industry spanning 50 years. He also took the time to present his views on the current state of tourism and hospitality, and what he foresees will happen within the next five to ten years. In his address to the students, he identified three trends in the industry that present great opportunities and challenges going forward.
Mr Inzerillo has always admired EHL as a beacon of hospitality, generating the great innkeepers of Europe and of the world. He first visited EHL in 1981 and was struck by the intertwining of practical service training and hospitality philosophy. On his latest stop at the school, he was particularly excited to meet with the EMBA class and witness the Ònext generation of leaders in human connectivity by service.Ó Deeply inspired by Buddhist philosophy, he believes that Òeach generation, they are born anew, especially when devoting a career to service.Ó
Born in Brooklyn and of Sicilian descent, Mr Inzerillo comes from a family of five generations of bakers. He started working as a busboy in catering halls and hotels in New York at age 13 in order to help his family pay the bills, and in a way he has never left. Growing up, his family always claimed he would rather be at the hotel than home. For Mr Inzerillo, the gratifying act of engaging with guests catapulted his lifelong career and slowly turned into a fully-fledged philosophy on hospitality.
In his mind, it has always been clear that dedicating one’s life to service is a noble pursuit. If you expend all of your energy into servicing you may have one or two good years, Mr Inzerillo said, but if your guests are the source of your energy, you will have a more fulfilling career. Only two questions have guided his 50 years of experience: ÒAre my guests happy?Ó And Òare my colleagues happy?Ó To Mr Inzerillo, employee culture is central to ensuring excellent customer service, and this culture needs to be based on the golden rule of dignity, respect, self-esteem and proper training. Owners need to continuously invest in their teams, or else this culture won’t sustain itself.
The three trends he identified are as follows: firstly, there has been a spike in revenues from tourism in the past few years, which will continue to grow. The industry is booming and there is lots of enthusiasm. While there are many changes occurring in the industry, such as the rise of disruptive OTAs, the lesson to be learned here is that we need to know how to ride the waves of uncertainty without panicking, and we will find success.
Secondly, Mr Inzerillo stated that it has never been more difficult to own or operate a hotel, because a lot of hotel ownership happens for the wrong reasons now. The financial pressure on ROI has become too high, and there is too much of a focus on economically engineering earnings rather than on emotional connectivity with guests. Hence, there is a need for accountability in this hyper-competitive market.
Lastly, he reminded the students that guests in the internet age can see everything. More than ever there is a need for brand integrity. There is a dangerous gap and disconnect nowadays between what is being promised and what is being offered for high-end hotels. There is great confusion and complaints not in one-, two- or three-star markets (as they are transactional markets), but in four- and five-star markets because there is a lack of accountability for luxury hotels. Innkeepers need to keep their promise and deliver on that promise; there needs to be meritocracy of integrity, he said.
In looking at the different types of hotels on offer, Mr Inzerillo talked about the ways in which one- and two-star hotels are the most profitable and have the greatest market growth, with four- and five-star hotels close behind. Three-star hotels are the ones that are in a more ambiguous position, as that market finds itself in limbo between transactional hotels and luxury hotels.
As CEO of Forbes Travel Guide, Mr Inzerillo is very focused on meritocracy and integrity. Indeed, the ambitious plans for Forbes Travel Guide and its rating system reflect these values. He aspires to be in 100 countries by 2018, and his staff is physically on property assisting and serving 70 to 100 hotels per week. To this day, there are only 174 hotels that have received the coveted Five-Star award from Forbes Travel Guide, and they’ve had to work hard to earn them.
Yet Mr Inzerillo firmly claims that the rating isn’t only about luxury, it is about merit and credibility. In order to receive five Stars, there needs to be synergy between: (1) commitment to a level of need satisfaction and (2) alignment between ownership and guest satisfaction.
So how are hotels rated? The company’s time-tested rating algorithm is based on two main criteria: quality of service counts for 75 per cent and the remaining 25 per cent on the facilities. While these percentages might surprise some, Mr Inzerillo illustrates that square footage of a bathroom is not equated to emotional connectivity with guests, and this service-to-facility orientation is a departure from Forbes Travel Guide’s former algorithm of 70 per cent service and 30 per cent facility.ÊÊ
For Mr Inzerillo, hospitality is – and more importantly needs to be – all about human and emotional connections. He is as passionate about the industry today as he was 50 years ago. Ultimately, he says, we all want to feel welcome: the tiny seed carries the promise of a tree.
By Elena Goldblatt, EMBA student
Ecole htelire de Lausanne