Rachel Powell, a junior studying hospitality business, was planning to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day a little differently than most of her classmates this year. From March 15–18, Powell was set to attend the Young Hoteliers Summit in Lausanne, Switzerland, the largest student-run hospitality summit in the world, alongside Sarah Michelson, a fellow hospitality business student.
“The summit aims to bring together established professionals and aspiring leaders of the hospitality industry to share ideas and knowledge and accelerate progress in the industry,” said Jeffrey Elsworth, associate professor of hospitality business.
Powell and Michelson were selected to attend the summit as MSU delegates, chosen by the School of Hospitality Business out of 12 possible students. Carl Borchgrevink, director and John and Becky Duffey Faculty Fellow in Hospitality Business, said of their efforts, “Once again hard work, passion and determination pays off.”
In the interest of safety and social distancing amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, however, the weekend-long event was changed. The four-day in-person experience was adapted into a virtual format and held March 16–17. The virtual summit was a synchronous event on Central European Time, five hours ahead of Michigan’s Eastern time zone. Unfortunately, the time difference prevented Michelson from attending.
Powell was able to attend, and she expressed appreciation to the YHS organizers for hosting the event despite the complicated situation. “While obviously it would have been ideal to actually travel to Switzerland to attend, I applaud the YHS planning committee for pulling together a virtual summit at the last minute,” she said. “In hospitality, we often talk about how nothing can replace the human touch, but in this case, we had to make a touch screen work.”
She also explained that through a chat module, many of the keynote speakers’ lectures were sidetracked by questions about COVID-19 and the effects it will have on the hospitality industry. “It was important, as all of the [student] delegates are about to enter the hospitality industry and are stressed about the future,” Powell said.
Steve Hood, senior vice president of STR Share Center and one of the summit’s keynote speakers, devoted his lecture to the impact that global events play on hotels. He illustrated the significant drop in occupancy that hotels in affected countries are experiencing, beginning with China, then showing Italy and South Korea. He also suggested that the United States will be similarly impacted.
Hood was one of four keynote speakers who also discussed subjects such as the future of home-sharing businesses like Airbnb and changing travel and tourism patterns. Powell enjoyed the keynote speakers’ addresses, which she thought were fascinating. “I am grateful to have had some of their time to pick their brains and get a real look at what the future holds,” she said.