The Future of Travel: “Experience, Experience, Experience.

The Future of Travel: “Experience, Experience, Experience. Experiences will continue to be the driving force behind a consumer’s decision when booking a vacation” with Denise Godreau of Holiday Inn Club Vacations & Candice Georgiadice

Experience, Experience, Experience. Experiences will continue to be the driving force behind a consumer’s decision-making process when booking a vacation; therefore, this point cannot be emphasized enough. Brands who fail to deliver unique, guest-centered experiences will soon be left behind. Companies will also need to integrate those experiences seamlessly through technology.

As part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Denise Godreau. Denise is the chief brand and innovation officer of Holiday Inn Club Vacations. As a member of the executive leadership team, Denise is responsible for driving cross-functional collaborative innovation in research, data mining, branding, product design, communications and digital technology to accelerate growth among new consumer segments. She has worked at Fortune 500 and startup companies in both the U.S. and abroad, developing a deep understanding of the global consumer and marketplace. Denise has a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School and a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She has won several awards throughout her career, most notably The Don Quijote Award from the Orlando Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Top 100 Diverse MBA from Diversity MBA magazine.

Thank you so much for joining us Denise! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I like to say it was a combination of diligence and destiny that has guided me through my career. I am very goal-oriented, so when I started my career, I had target companies in mind and pursued an opportunity with one of those organizations. After my first job, I instead pursued opportunities that aligned with my interests, including individuals I really respected, were located in cities I wanted to explore, or lined up with personal priorities that were important at the time.

Throughout my professional journey and various career decisions, I have been diligent in networking, learning something new and relevant in every opportunity, and stretching beyond my comfort zone. There was also destiny in being in the right place at the right time.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

When I interviewed with Baha Mar, I felt like everything went well until the very end when the CEO asked me how I felt about gaming. I responded that I thought it was polarizing, as some people enjoy it and others hate it. He then asked about the last I had been to Vegas, and I cringed inside as I said it had been many years. I knew the CEO did not like receiving that answer from a possible future CMO of a resort with a large, important casino. I tried to recover, but I had been candid and it was too late.

As I walked back to the hotel room, I kept beating myself up over how I had answered the question, especially as I looked out at the beautiful blue water. Later that evening, I was surprised to receive a call from the CEO saying he wanted me to go to Las Vegas with my husband. He requested we stay at the most beautiful and admired resort in Las Vegas, to attend its shows, restaurants and nightclubs, and play at the casino — all on his dime. Afterwards, he wanted to speak with me again. I was completely dumbfounded. In the words of my husband, “you are the only person I know that messes up an interview, and gets a fully paid vacation to Vegas!”

Needless to say, I loved my time in Vegas, and was able to convince the CEO that I could build a brand for Baha Mar that would compete with luxury resorts like the one I visited. “I knew you could do the job, but I wanted to make sure you were going to love it,” he later told me.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I once wore two different shoes to work — one brown and one navy. I learned not to get dressed in a dark closet ever again.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I have been with Holiday Inn Club Vacations for five months now, and have to say that the company’s culture is what makes it stand out. From Tom Nelson, the company’s president and CEO, to our receptionist, Elba, I have never worked with a nicer group of people.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out?” Can you share a story about that?

For me, burnout has more to do with liking my leader and job role than the actual hours I work. The more I enjoyed a job, the more I worked. When I felt “burned out,” it was typically because I was no longer working for someone I liked or was traveling too much.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are so many, but someone that sticks out is Matt Ouimet, who was my first boss at Disney. He once asked me what I needed from him, and I said, “let me show you what I can do. And if you like it, tell everyone about it.” He smiled and agreed. I owe many opportunities at Disney to the advocacy I always received from Matt and my boss after him, Linda Warren.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

There have been quite a few consumer pain points that the timeshare industry has failed to address. And, in this day and age, any consumer pain point that goes unaddressed can topple a company or an industry. In the timeshare industry, the product, sales and marketing practices must be redesigned to appeal to a larger consumer base. While I am working to reinvent many aspects of our product, it is too early to discuss specifics.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

We want to increase flexibility, while reducing complexity. That is not an easy task. We’re also working to create complete transparency, eliminate experience friction points, and build a brand that is functional and emotionally relevant.

When all companies are reading the same research and observing the same trends, everyone ends up producing similar results. The key is to find the sweet spot between a single, important consumer need and your product, then deliver it in a way that is uniquely owned by your brand. This could mean zeroing in on one differentiating factor, as opposed to the safer, “be-all-things-to-all-people” strategy. Building a memorable brand takes courage, time and money.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

In order to create brand love through experiences, leaders in the hospitality industry must completely shift their overall business strategy. Brands must accept that they are not in the business of selling rooms, but rather in the business of selling experiences that are segment specific. You cannot be all things to all people.

Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

  • Experience, Experience, Experience

Experiences will continue to be the driving force behind a consumer’s decision-making process when booking a vacation; therefore, this point cannot be emphasized enough. Brands who fail to deliver unique, guest-centered experiences will soon be left behind. Companies will also need to integrate those experiences seamlessly through technology.

  • “Just-like-home” Amenities

The travel and hospitality industry is flooded with options for consumers, so guests will seek more spacious rooms and amenities. While the standard hotel room still has an appeal to the business segment, the young solo traveler, and the luxury consumers, families and groups on vacation will seek accommodations that are more home-like and offer unique gathering spaces. Again, it will be hard for a brand to be all things to all people.

  • Like a Local

When visiting a new city or town, travelers want to feel as though they have experienced the area from a local perspective. When developing experiences, brands must be representative of the surrounding area and culture. And “hosting like a local” goes beyond design and food; it is about enabling your guests to really do what locals do.

  • Multi-Generational Travel Accommodations

With growing multi-cultural families comes an increase in multi-generational travel, as it is very common for Hispanics, African Americans and Asian Americans to travel with grandparents. Any given travel group can consist of three generations and multi-sibling groups, which means a variety of activities to keep everyone entertained and engaged must be offered.

  • Subscription-Based Pricing Models

Thanks to services like Netflix, subscription-based pricing models have become commonplace. Many travel companies now offer subscription-based models to find deals, discounted accommodations, access to one-of-a-kind experiences, or pre-paid travel options.

You are a “travel insider.” How would you describe your perfect vacation experience?

I grew up sailing to hidden coves, so I love going places that allow me to get out of urban environments and into small towns with vast natural beauty. Last summer, I rode with my husband on his motorcycle across the country and through Canada to Alaska. We fell in love with Yukon Territory. I also really enjoy Vieques and Culebra in Puerto Rico and the outer Islands of The Bahamas for the same reason.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have a daughter with Angelman Syndrome, and no matter how hard I work, I always leave the best of me for her. I think she has taught me so much that I have applied to work — to fight tirelessly for what is right, to look beyond the obvious, to never give up, to accept help and to find joy in the smallest accomplishments.

Additionally, I once used my media relations knowledge to fight the school district and get my daughter integrated into her local school. The day before mediation, a local news outlet ran a story that featured my sweet seven-year-old, and chastised the school district for not living up to the Individual with Disabilities Education Act. The support we received from our community was priceless. My daughter was accepted into her local elementary school, and middle and high schools with no problem years later. Hopefully, we made it easier for other children with special needs, as well.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to reinvent housing for people with disabilities. It is segregated and lonely. And yet, I have always found so many kind people in my journey with my daughter. I would love to see work-live-play communities that dedicate 10 percent of its living spaces to areas designed for people with cognitive and physical disabilities. In these communities, residents could work in the offices and retail spaces, and have access to medical services and recreation. This would create an environment where neighbors are happy to interact and help each other in ways that enrich all lives beyond measure.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


The Future of Travel: “Experience, Experience, Experience. was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Of Travel: “Fractional Ownership” With Dennis M.

The Future Of Travel: “Fractional Ownership” With Dennis M. Ducharme of RiverWalk Resort & Candice Georgiadis

Fractional ownership is similar to a timeshare in that owners gets to use the property for a given number of weeks per year, but different in that they also own real property, not just time. If the fractional owner can’t or doesn’t want to use any part of the nine weeks they are allocated, the resort may rent the unit and split the proceeds with the owner who has literally bought a fractional share of a residence. For the millennials, a generation accustomed to flexibility and choice in every aspect of their lives, the ability to be fractional owners speaks to their desire to create an individual balance between the time they spend in their vacation home and the money they invest. Fractional owners also get to choose the lifestyle that they like and enjoy the seasons that they want to enjoy.

As a part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dennis M. Ducharme, RRP. Dennis is President of RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, New Hampshire. A 35-year veteran of the New England hospitality industry, he is also a Development Partner with William E. (Billy) Curran of InnSeason Resorts and Pollard Brook Resort, New Hampshire’s largest purpose-built vacation ownership resort, and one of InnSeason Resorts’ signature properties. A leader in New England real estate development, including Cape Cod, he handles property acquisitions, product design and construction, lender relations, operations, asset administration, and resort information systems. Active in his business communities, he is on the Board of Directors of the North Country Center for the Arts in Lincoln and is Chairman for the Cape Cod YMCA.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I got into this industry because I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I knew at a young age that I thoroughly enjoyed both building things and providing hospitality, and it’s my entrepreneurial spirit that drives me to build hotels. I bought my first resort at auction in the early 1990’s and turned it into an outstanding property, and I haven’t stopped since.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I always had a vision for building and am happiest when I have a shovel in the ground. My latest project is RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain and in 2017 we won the ASCE New Hampshire Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award. I consider RiverWalk my greatest achievement and this award truly affirmed my legacy. The interesting thing is, I almost missed this shining moment because I didn’t even know I’d won the award until I started getting text messages of congratulations. I was in a different time zone and my phone was literally blowing up all night long!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was building Pollard Brook Resort, I brought in landscapers and asked them to plant trees that would grow very quickly around the building. Suddenly, we discovered an issue with the pool not draining properly and we had to have all the pool drains pulled out. What did we find? Tree roots were literally growing into the pool! I learned never to plant that kind of tree again. After that, and to this day, I’m very keen on knowing exactly what gets planted at my resorts.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

RiverWalk Resort offers a fractional ownership model. This model is an especially attractive prospect for avid skiers in the northeast, who want to spend as much time as they can in close proximity to the slopes, which is often cost-prohibitive for total ownership.

Firstly, at RiverWalk we are all about family — owners and employees are one big family that is dedicated to catering to our guests — most of whom are families traveling together. My goal is to always give people more. In fact, one day I went to lend a hand at our onsite Seven Birches Winery, and I kept trying to pour two quarts of wine into each bottle because I just wanted to give more.

Second, it’s about community. In 2016, I won the New Hampshire Travel Person of the Year award and it was given to me in recognition of my contributions to the communities in which I have resorts. It really makes your company stand out when it’s community involvement that gets you a travel award.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

My biggest piece of advice is to create work-life balance. I’m a workaholic; I’m in the vacation business and all my colleagues are in the vacation business, yet we don’t take vacations. We are like the cobbler’s kids who don’t have shoes. So, I say: take those vacations (and come to RiverWalk Resort at Loon Mountain!).

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

That person is my business partner Billy Curran, who is CEO of InnSeason Resorts, which we co-own (InnSeason manages RiverWalk). We are opposites like Thelma and Louise, but we have the same vision for hospitality. Billy is the consummate sales person and I am the builder — I build it and Billy sells it, so you could say that I’m the Yin to his Yang.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

The western White Mountains of New Hampshire, in particular, have seen rising interest among young families who enjoy year- round activities from fall foliage and winter skiing to spring hiking and summer fun. Bringing fractional ownership to the region meets a demand is on the upswing. According to the American Resort Development Association, over 20 million Americans have invested in fractional ownership, which is one of the factors contributing to the growth of the vacation home market overall.

For millennials, who grew up enjoying family vacations in New England, it’s often nostalgia to re-create fond memories that is bringing them back to the area. New England travel stats tell the story. For example, in New Hampshire, where tourism is the state’s second largest industry, vacationers generate more than $5 billion of economic activity per year and a recently-reported yearly snapshot showed a 4.7 percent increase in number of visitors annually.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

Fractional ownership is similar to a timeshare in that owners gets to use the property for a given number of weeks per year, but different in that they also own real property, not just time. If the fractional owner can’t or doesn’t want to use any part of the nine weeks they are allocated, the resort may rent the unit and split the proceeds with the owner who has literally bought a fractional share of a residence.

For the millennials, a generation accustomed to flexibility and choice in every aspect of their lives, the ability to be fractional owners speaks to their desire to create an individual balance between the time they spend in their vacation home and the money they invest. Fractional owners also get to choose the lifestyle that they like and enjoy the seasons that they want to enjoy.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

With the millennial generation driving the increase in first home ownership, the next wave to watch is what will happen in the market for vacation home ownership, especially in New England. One of the emerging trends for second homebuyers is fractional ownership of vacation properties. The fractional — or deeded — ownership, offered by resort properties comes at a lower price-of-entry, for starters.

Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

  • Flexible ownership models such as fractional ownership
  • Multi-generational travel accommodations, from studios to three-bedroom condos such as those available at Riverwalk Resort
  • Regional destinations offering a range of activities, exemplified by the Loon Mountain area of New Hampshire
  • Expanded service that make time spent at the property feel like true vacations, with zero responsibilities for upkeep
  • Increased attention to onsite experiences and amenities. For example, amenities at RiverWalk Resort include a winery production and tasting room, a full-service day spa and an Italian restaurant

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

My perfect vacation is the one that I don’t have time to take! Seriously though, it’s the vacation that allows me to relax and rest but still be able to work when I want to — being on an island in the middle of the ocean, but accessible for when someone wants to reach me. I appreciate luxury, great food and fine wine, so I “go big or go home.” I go where I can do what I want: sometimes it’s just taking a Monday off at my home on Cape Cod, sometimes it’s a weekend in Park City and sometimes it’s a day or two at RiverWalk because it’s my home away from my home.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m a strong believer in being active in the communities my businesses serve. I am on the Board of Directors of the North Country Center for the Arts in Lincoln and is Chairman for the Cape Cod YMCA.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have a soft spot for people with disabilities because my son is disabled. My son, now an adult, has inspired me his entire life and I’m gratified to have been able to raise significant funds to help those who have disabilities get out and do what they want to do and live full and rewarding lives, whether that is learning to ski or having their own home.


The Future Of Travel: “Fractional Ownership” With Dennis M. was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future of Travel: “Individualized and local, along with the consistency provided by a brand”…

The Future of Travel: “Individualized and local, along with the consistency provided by a brand” With David Duncan, President of First Hospitality Group & Candice Georgiadis

Back in the 1950’s the hotel business was very decentralized. Virtually every motel/hotel was stand alone and local. Holiday Inn was born to bring consistency to the guest experience and that trend of consistency went on for decades. In some instances, it went so far that a hotel room in Paris looked the same as in New York or Los Angeles. This gave way to the creation or reinvigoration of the boutique/individual hotel experience that travelers, especially appreciate. The brand companies have joined in and established soft brands that allow for some level of consistency, but flexibility to return the experience to a local one again and yet also provide participation in the valuable guest reward/points program.

As a part of my series on “The future of travel”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Duncan. David is President of First Hospitality Group, Inc. (FHG). David is a real estate investor and hotel operator who is passionate about developing unique real estate investments and hotel operating environments that delight guests and investors alike. He brings over 25 years of global operating experience managing high performing teams as a President, CFO and Managing Director in both public and private organizations and has been involved in over $10B of real estate and capital market transactions. David joined FHG from JC Resorts, an owner/operator of coastal resort and golf properties, located in La Jolla, CA. Prior to that he was President of Denihan Hospitality Group, a private real estate owner and hotel operator which he expanded from 6 hotels in New York City into a nationally recognized hotel operator with 14 hotels operating throughout the U.S.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

20 years ago, I found out I would be the proud father of triplets and I was ill prepared. I was working a million hours a week to make partner in firm but wasn’t passionate about the work , but it felt productive. I was faced with a choice of taking the conservative route — keep shouldering forward in that business or take a risk — change jobs to a business that I found more interesting and would better align with my interests. I decided that if I was going to need to spend time away from my kids — it better be for something I loved, not just a job that paid the bills. I went into the real estate business and ultimately the hotel end of that business, which I’ve loved. I sometimes look back and think I was crazy to make a change so dramatic when triplets were on the way, but it was the best decision I ever made. I love my kids and I love what I do.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

As a young professional, I moved from my hometown where I knew virtually everyone, to Los Angeles, where I didn’t know a single person. Developing a social circle was an important priority as I was just starting out, so I attended a happy hour with a small group of young professionals. Within minutes, I asked the group “so when is Cinco de Mayo?” When I realized how painfully obvious the answer was, I was mortified. I had a choice to shrink up or just play it out. Thankfully, I chose the latter. I learned from this funny situation early on to be culturally savvy and know how to laugh at yourself.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

First Hospitality Group strives to make sure that every member of our company takes complete ownership of their work. Don’t go through life passively witnessing it, but rather show up, make an impact, show love, emotion, curiosity, and passion — those qualities are contagious.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

Pick an industry that you love and don’t settle until you find it. In the early part of my career, I chose public accounting because I needed a job. I stuck with it for a long time because that’s what I thought was expected of me. Not until I allowed myself to go into something that was really interesting to me did I truly begin to flourish. From my experience, it’s true what they say — if you love what you do its really not work at all.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I had a boss that taught me the value of selfless leadership. I shared with her that I had an opportunity at another firm. She reviewed the letter and gave me the most selfless advice I’d ever received, “you can’t afford not to take the job — it has much more potential than your current path. I know it’s a risk, but I wouldn’t blame you if you want to take it. In fact, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll invite you back here.” Essentially, she was encouraging me to go for it because she had my back. She was truly looking out for what was best for me and it changed the way I’ve mentored and led people ever since. If you say you care for your people — act on it in a selfless way.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

Back in the 1950’s the hotel business was very decentralized. Virtually every motel/hotel was stand alone and local. Holiday Inn was born to bring consistency to the guest experience and that trend of consistency went on for decades. In some instances, it went so far that a hotel room in Paris looked the same as in New York or Los Angeles. This gave way to the creation or reinvigoration of the boutique/individual hotel experience that travelers, especially appreciate. The brand companies have joined in and established soft brands that allow for some level of consistency, but flexibility to return the experience to a local one again and yet also provide participation in the valuable guest reward/points program.

At First Hospitality Group, we are keenly focused on this trend. We develop interesting hotels, by way of using soft brands, or even hard brands, but also provide interesting restaurant and bar options on property so guests experience the best of both worlds. A high-quality hotel with consistency in key areas but a local experience with quality restaurants and bars that are included in the development. An example of this is we have a rooftop restaurant and bar, 8UP, in Louisville on top of a Hilton Garden Inn. 8UP is one of the only rooftops in Louisville with views overlooking the city complemented by superior service and a wonderful food + beverage program. First Hospitality Group continues to push the boundaries on keeping it local within the framework provided by the brands.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

A pain point is bland fatigue and a solution is delivering a quality product by adding local flourishes to bring the town to life. Mary the experience with a connection to the neighborhood and always make sure your teams are truly hospitable. To paraphrase Maya Angelou: People may not remember what you said but they will remember how you made them feel.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

There are over 5,000,000 hotel rooms in the United States today. Think about how many of those are desperately boring and the guest experience isn’t memorable.

Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

From First Hospitality Group’s perspective, the overarching theme is continued individualization of the travel experience over the next 5–10 years. As a response to customer demand, the industry is adding choices and will continue to do so. There will be an even greater increase of brand offerings. Expansion of brands such as soft brands allows hotel developers to provide more local content, local flavor, and more variability to satisfy the local customer demand. We’ll continue to see an increase in specialization in food & beverage offerings.

Additionally, an extension of this local focus and individualized food & beverage offerings to satisfy local culture and preferences. From a hotelier’s perspective, we’re adding exciting rooftop bar and restaurant venues. For example, 8UP on top of the Hilton Garden Inn in Louisville. 10 years ago, the food and beverage offering at a Hilton Garden Inn would be simple, now it’s an exciting new venue with a distinctive culinary and beverage program. First Hospitality Group is actively pivoting our development and expansion efforts to focus on more soft brand hotel properties.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

My approach isn’t for everyone. I like to blindly go places with little to no plan. Walk, ride a bike or rent a car and see how the experience unfolds. Often, the people you come across are wonderful and the resulting experiences are unique.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I truly have not done enough. As an example, every day I try to show gratitude and usually fall short.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Exercise your gratitude muscle every day.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Is it too lame to admit that you’ll have to ask my kids?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us.


The Future of Travel: “Individualized and local, along with the consistency provided by a brand”… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

How to Use Instagram To Dramatically Improve Your Business: “Share what’s coming — “hype culture”…

How to Use Instagram To Dramatically Improve Your Business: “Share what’s coming — “hype culture” is incredibly important to connect with your audience” With Catherine Cason & Candice Georgiadis

Share what’s coming — “hype culture” is incredibly important to connecting with your audience and getting them excited about what’s coming so your launches can be successful. I use Instagram stories often to tease new launches, hint at new collaborations, and get people excited!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Catherine Cason. Catherine is the San Francisco based entrepreneur behind the fine jewelry brand Gem Breakfast. Her fun, female-first, approachable brand has garnered the love of many. It also did over six-figures in its first year of business and has more than 40,000 followers on instagram.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It all started with a small idea I tested. I pulled together a collection of 10 rings from 10 different designers. We showed a behind the scenes of the rings being made and asked people on Instagram for design feedback. When we launched, we sold 8 out of the 10 rings in 30 days and did over $30,000 in sales in a month. I was like — okay this is a store! And that’s how Gem Breakfast was officially born.

Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about Social Media Marketing?

Gem Breakfast has more than 220,000 Instagram followers across multiple accounts. I’ve grown two of these accounts into the tens of thousands of followers, replicating my success not once but twice. But I’m most proud of my success building my business. I started Gem Breakfast with zero initial investment and an Instagram account. I had no money for ads, fancy branding, or influencers, but I had Instagram!

I launched a small collection of jewelry for sale on my website and promoted it day and night. I used Instagram to connect with fellow jewelry lovers and it worked — rings sold! Now it is not uncommon for me to sell a $5,000 diamond ring within minutes of posting it to my community on Instagram.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

I think selling diamonds and fine jewelry via Instagram is pretty interesting in and of itself. It’s amazing how fast a five-figure transaction can happen, sometimes it’s shocking! Even for more unique merchandise, someone can decide to buy it and pay in a matter of minutes after just seeing a photo online. It’s always a bit of an adrenaline rush when that happens!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was working with a local diamond wholesaler to find a diamond for my client. Let’s call him Marty. Some diamond wholesalers run their operations with military-like precision, but Marty is not one of them. He has probably been in the business for more than 40 years and if you wiped your hand across his desk you’ll pick up roughly 30 carats of loose diamonds and $250,000. Despite this — Marty says he has never lost a diamond. So one day I go in to see Marty and pick up a diamond for my client. He can’t find it right away and is busy (long line of clients). We agree I’ll come back the next day. I come back the next day and he looks around again still can’t find the stone we promised to my client. At this point, I’m calling my client making up reasons why I don’t have the diamond to stall. I go back the next day and he still can’t find the diamond.

Now Marty feels terrible. I told my client about the diamond and he can’t find it, so he calls his friend and after much arguing gets him to overnight a new diamond for me. He feels so bad, that he gives it me at below his cost. So basically, we go this really, really nice diamond that was way less than my client’s budget. She has no idea but I just passed on the cost savings to her — the ring came out amazing and I couldn’t be prouder of it.

But it’s always funny to think about the fact that she got a great deal because the orginal diamond got lost! And the lesson is to always take care of your clients. Marty took care of me and I passed the savings along and it was a great deal for everyone (I’ve gone back to Marty many times since then).

Which social media platform have you found to be most effective to use to increase business revenues? Can you share a story from your experience?

I am definitely a huge fan of Instagram. There just isn’t a place where you can so authentically connect with people and engage on a daily basis. That said, I don’t think Pinterest really gets recognized for how helpful it can be for driving free site traffic. A Pinterest strategy is very easy to put together, it’s cost effective, and requires much less daily maintenance due to the availability of scheduling aps. And it drives free ongoing site traffic from people interested in your category — what’s not love?

Let’s talk about Instagram specifically, now. Can you share 6 ways to leverage Instagram to dramatically improve your business? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Share what’s coming — “hype culture” is incredibly important to connecting with your audience and getting them excited about what’s coming so your launches can be successful. I use Instagram stories often to tease new launches, hint at new collaborations, and get people excited!
  2. Gain valuable insights — the poll feature is not just for, “do you like this, yay or nay?”! Use it to get more detailed insights! We polled our audience on jewelry topics they wanted to learn about and a used that to create and course calendar for in-person classes in our San Francisco showroom.
  3. Get behind the scenes — people are naturally curious and love to see the behind the scenes of a running a business. Don’t be afraid to show the real stuff, the running around, sourcing, packaging, meeting with customers, etc.
  4. Talk to people — it’s going down on the DM, sounds cute but it’s real. I sell four and figure diamond rings all via Instagram DM, on basically a daily basis. It’s an easy, fast way for people to ask questions, gather information and make sales!
  5. Network — Instagram can feel more approachable than a cold email or call. I have met other business owners I now work with, suppliers, and new friends with a simple “hey” in the DM.
  6. Product education — IGTV is a great way to do longer format product education for that part of your audience that is super engaged and wants to learn more!

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I already have my Diamond Tribe! It started out as a little way for my Gem Breakfast community to create a shared identity, but it means so much for me. It can be hard at times being a newcomer in a fairly established, traditionally closed-minded industry, but my community keeps me going. I say “Diamond Tribe” but it’s really just an a way of saying that together we are stronger together than we are apart.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

We love breakfast at Gem Breakfast — pun intended! I would love to have to breakfast and diamonds for breakfast with Sara Blakely. Her personal entrepreneurial journey — how she built Spanx — is super inspiring and she has bucked a lot of the convention around building companies. And yet her persona is still so down to earth, warm, and inspiring. I really think she is a great role model for all businesswomen!

Thank you so much for these great insights. This was very enlightening!


How to Use Instagram To Dramatically Improve Your Business: “Share what’s coming — “hype culture”… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Of Travel: “A focus on experiences and more meaningful memories” With Mike Flaskey, CEO…

The Future Of Travel: “A focus on experiences and more meaningful memories” With Mike Flaskey, CEO of Diamond Resorts & Candice Georgiadice

We’ve recognized that travelers’ desires are changing and we’re developing these innovative products to meet their needs. People want experiences and more meaningful memories.

As part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Flaskey, CEO of Diamond Resorts. Mike has more than 20 years of senior leadership experience in public and privately held companies, with a key focus on growth-oriented companies within the vacation ownership industry. He previously held the position of executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer for Diamond Resorts from 2014 to 2016, and executive vice president of sales and marketing, North America for Diamond Resorts from 2010 to 2014. Throughout Flaskey’s tenure at Diamond Resorts, the company has achieved unprecedented growth both organically and through strategic acquisition integration.

Thank you so much for joining us Mike. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I honestly thought I would end up playing baseball my whole life. That was my goal, anyway. After graduating from Limestone College in Gaffney, South Carolina with a physical education degree, I went back to my hometown in North Carolina to coach my high school baseball team. I then worked as a professional scout for the Montreal Expos and still thought about maybe one day signing to play in the big league. While that didn’t happen, my father-in-law, who worked in vacation ownership for years, recognized that many of the skills I learned through coaching and baseball would apply to this industry. I look back now and think about how blessed I was to have the opportunities I did. There are many things that I learned on the athletic field that I apply every day in my current role.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We have the best team members and continue to attract top talent because of our thriving company culture that not only inspires, but rewards innovation. With products like our Events of a Lifetime experiential vacation platform, our team is continuously moving the needle and solidifying Diamond as a leader in the vacation ownership industry. When we launched Events of a Lifetime in 2013, we held just a handful of special events in select markets. Last year, we held more than 3,000, including nearly 100 private concerts with our Diamond Celebrity ambassadors such as Dan + Shay, Cole Swindell, Lee Brice and Lee Ann Womack. We have nearly two dozen Diamond Celebrity ambassadors ranging from country music stars to baseball legends and golf professionals, and what they do is hold exclusive events for our members to create once-in-a-lifetime vacation experiences. For example, last fall country singer-songwriter Lauren Alaina performed a sold out show at Madison Square Garden in New York one night and the next evening she was in Orlando meeting and performing for about 150 of our members. That’s an intimate experience our members can only get with Diamond.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

At Diamond Resorts, we always remind our members to break from their routines and take time out for the people and things that matter most in life. As a vacation company, it’s so important that we don’t forget that ourselves. I make it a point to remind our team members to schedule their vacations and enjoy their time away. We say vacations aren’t a luxury — they’re a necessity. Use vacations as your time to relax, recharge and reconnect.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I had the privilege of playing for baseball Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry during my time at Limestone College, and one thing he did was take the time to get to know of all his players as individuals. He would understand them on a personal level to see beyond their baseball abilities and recognize what made them so great as individuals. That really stuck with me and is something I apply every day in my role. It is crucial for leaders to take the time to recognize their team members and understand them, so you can help them succeed. I am so grateful Gaylord showed me that so early on in my career.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

As millennial travel behavior has redefined the traditional vacation experience, we’ve revised how we market and cater to this generation. Over the past several years, we’ve observed an increase in our millennial membership, leading us to subsequently test a new 10-year product, “Introductions”, that affords members greater flexibility.

Our Events of a Lifetime platform remains incredibly popular, and we continue to enhance it every year, adding new concerts, private events and celebrity ambassadors. It’s unmatched in the industry. This year, we also created a new golf tournament, the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions, as our premiere event with opportunities for members to meet LPGA champions and celebrities. We recognize the importance of innovation and are quick to adapt to meet the changing desires of our members and guests. In addition, we also understand that how we deliver these experiences matters. This past year, we looked at different venues, including House of Blues in Orlando and The Foundry at SLS Las Vegas, to provide our members with an even better, unique concert experience.

This year, we also launched a new monthly payment plan program to allow some of our members to pay their annual maintenance fees in monthly installments instead of one lump sum, which is the industry standard. The maintenance fee bills come out in December, around the holidays, and we realized it can be tough for members to pay the fees all at once. We piloted the program with a group in 2018 and received positive feedback, so we are excited to see how many members take advantage of it this year.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

We’ve recognized that travelers’ desires are changing and we’re developing these innovative products to meet their needs. People want experiences and more meaningful memories. Our Events of a Lifetime platform offers both of those, and our teams are constantly searching for ways to enhance the platform and ensure we’re keeping up with what consumers want.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

Our goal with testing these new membership products and experiential programs is to appeal to the next generation of buyers. We’re disrupting the outdated idea that a timeshare is a week in the same unit at the same time each year. We are making vacation ownership fun and doing that by showcasing benefits beyond just resort stays.

Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

  1. Adding more exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime vacation experiences. Our concerts are a perfect example of this, as they’re experiences you can’t get anywhere else.
  2. Increasing exceptional customer service. Customer service is a top priority for our team members, and we are careful to add personal touches whenever possible, such as sending a bottle of champagne to a couple on an anniversary trip or leaving a handwritten note for guests celebrating a birthday.
  3. Incorporating technology throughout the travel process. We’re testing online concierge services that let members book excursions through our Diamond app and mobile check out, so guests don’t have to talk with someone if they don’t want to.
  4. Offering a variety of ways to travel. Our members can use their vacation ownership points for an adventure to Mount Everest or to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. They can also book traditional resort stays, cruises or flights on select airlines. We’re expanding how members can see and experience more on vacation.
  5. Expanding destination options. We’re always looking for new partnerships to expand our network of vacation destinations, so our members can see more of the world.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

People sometimes think that a “perfect vacation” has to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, but that’s not always true. What makes a vacation perfect are the lifelong memories you make. Whether you’re at a favorite resort that you visit every year or exploring somewhere new, if you’re relaxing and reconnecting with what matters most to you, that will always be the best experience.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Giving back is one of the key tenets of our brand. It is what makes our company so special and what helps strengthen our Diamond family culture of helping one another and the communities we call home. We regularly offer volunteer opportunities for team members and support local organizations. Charity is also a main pillar of our annual golf tournament, which was an official LPGA Tour event in 2019. Since we launched the tournament in 2013, we’ve raised more than $3.1 million. I’m so proud that our teams continue to make charity a priority — not just during the golf tournament — but all year long.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Spreading the word that vacations aren’t a luxury — they’re a necessity, and making sure everyone has an opportunity to take time away for what really matters in life.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


The Future Of Travel: “A focus on experiences and more meaningful memories” With Mike Flaskey, CEO… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future of Travel: “Robo-assistance, robot room deliveries, and smart entertainment hubs” With…

The Future of Travel: “Robo-assistance, robot room deliveries, and smart entertainment hubs” With Isabelle Matter of YOTEL

We are a tech-focused hospitality brand inspired by first-class travel, taking those elements of luxury and incorporating them into sleeker, smarter spaces. It’s an “everything you need, nothing you don’t” approach for the modern traveller, with each hotel uniquely tailored to its neighborhood. For comfort aspects of technology, we provide fully adjustable SmartBeds, heated towel racks, and mood lighting, with the goal of maximizing the guests’ relaxation. YOTEL NY features robo-assistance at the check-in process, with a Yobot taking guests’ bags, while YOTEL Boston has a YO2D2 robot make room deliveries. Entertainment-wise, the newest YOTEL rooms have SmartHubs, where travelers can dock their phones and play any of their own app content through our HD TVs or premium sound system, allowing them a break from laptops and other devices. And to ensure committed guests don’t deviate from home exercise routines — or for those who want to give something new a spin — we offer Peloton bikes at YOTEL NY.

As a part of my series on “The future of travel”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Isabelle Matter The General Manager of YOTEL San Francisco. Isabelle is a hospitality professional with over 20 years of hotel and travel industry experience, working with companies like Hilton, Joie De Virvre and for the past two years YOTEL. She has spent the majority of her career in the lifestyle and boutique hotel space and has always enjoyed bringing an entrepreneurial approach to the art of hospitality. Highly focused on the customer experience, Isabelle works toward creating meaningful connections with customers and associates alike. Isabelle studied at Unilex College, College Saint Andre, and the Conservatory of Ballet. Her personal motto is “work hard, give freely, be kind, and be the best that you can be”.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in France, in a food and wine region (the Alsace region), where we take every opportunity to celebrate life and gather around good food, good wine, and good people. I come from a family of chefs, my father was a Michelin star restaurateur and hotelier, and I was lucky enough to explore and be exposed to a world that speaks to the soul in a universal language. The opportunity to serve, and to perhaps make a little difference in someone’s day, along with a liking for adventure is what has been the most meaningful for me in the world of hospitality.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There have been so many through the years, but what comes to mind most is opening YOTEL San Francisco this February.

Launching a brand new hotel is a unique experience, and I have many fond stories from this journey already. What a great feeling to be involved in a project from the beginning, put the pieces of the puzzle together and finally see it all coming to life! But more importantly is bringing a team of people together and truly working towards the same goal.

Every morning, most hotels will do a stand-up meeting with the leadership team to talk about whatever is going on that day, goals and priorities, etc. We had this same meeting every day for a year during our pre-opening time, when we were still working out of a remote office as the hotel was being built. Throughout the months a new face would join the team here and there, until finally the day came when I looked around the circle at our morning meeting and realized we had a full group of leaders ready to open the hotel. I can’t explain that feeling, but it was a special moment for me.

We don’t often get to experience starting from scratch, and while it can be full of challenges, it is also extremely rewarding to get to build something together.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of my first hospitality jobs was working in the front office planning department for Club Mediterrannee. I was so excited, but there was a lot to be trained on. During one of my early shifts, I was learning how to check a guest in and how to introduce guests to the week’s resort activities upon their arrival. After watching the person that was training me do it a few times, I felt confident enough to try it out for myself. It just so happened that on my first guest interaction, I was checking in a regular that had been coming to the resort for years. I was nervous, so I didn’t catch on that the guest was a regular and told him a bunch of information he already knew, spending time reviewing the map of the property — little did I know, he knew it like the back of his hand!.

My main takeaway from that first experience is still relevant to the world of hospitality, and always will be — you have to listen to your guests, to your customers; they’ll tell you what they want. In today’s world, customization is key to the guest experience. When you listen to what your customers want and tailor the experience to those wants, you make the travel experience that much more memorable. That’s how you built a loyal customer base.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

YOTEL has always been focused on innovation and efficiency, It’s apparent in everything we do, from our design to our programming. Earlier this decade, we were one of the first hotels to use automated kiosks to allow guests to check in, dramatically speeding up a simple, but additional, process for travelers who may be weary from their long flights. When done properly, kiosks can drop check-in times to one minute — we’re providing a customer service difference-maker as soon as the guests enter the lobby. Weintegrated super-fast, free Wi-Fi and dedicated co-working space before the trend bubbled in the hospitality space, because we know guests value efficiency and time as key determinants of their experience.

It’s these details that make YOTEL stand out and allow us to continue to improve our brand and our product with every new property that opens.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

Travel, for work or on your downtime. The nature of our profession is to create comfortable and convenient “home-away-from-homes.” Without occasionally getting our own 30,000-foot views and experiencing other cultures, we might not have the greatest inspiration to practice what we preach.

I used to work for a company that had a sabbatical program (one month off every three years) for their employees, which allowed people to recharge and created great synergies, making sure that things were covered in their absence.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

Yes, a good friend of mine, who I worked with and for, who has become a mentor over the years. This is someone I can go to with almost anything on my mind, someone I trust, and care for. We learn together, learn from one another and we laugh a lot. Laughter is the best medicine, especially in the more stressful times in this industry. After all, we’re making people’s lives better through travel and new experiences, so there’s a lot of be happy about.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

We are a tech-focused hospitality brand inspired by first-class travel, taking those elements of luxury and incorporating them into sleeker, smarter spaces. It’s an “everything you need, nothing you don’t” approach for the modern traveller, with each hotel uniquely tailored to its neighborhood.

For comfort aspects of technology, we provide fully adjustable SmartBeds, heated towel racks, and mood lighting, with the goal of maximizing the guests’ relaxation. YOTEL NY features robo-assistance at the check-in process, with a Yobot taking guests’ bags, while YOTEL Boston has a YO2D2 robot make room deliveries.

Entertainment-wise, the newest YOTEL rooms have SmartHubs, where travelers can dock their phones and play any of their own app content through our HD TVs or premium sound system, allowing them a break from laptops and other devices. And to ensure committed guests don’t deviate from home exercise routines — or for those who want to give something new a spin — we offer Peloton bikes at YOTEL NY.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

We know that our guests value time, efficiency and experience, so every innovation we introduce needs to address one of those three points. We want to make the hotel stay a little more welcoming — imagine finding a Peloton when you’re expecting an elliptical or an old treadmill, and then grabbing a warm towel after your post workout shower ahead of a morning meeting. We want that feeling to extend to all aspects of the guest stay at YOTEL.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

The industry as a whole is moving in this direction, but we consider ourselves front runners in the movement. Travelers these days have a different set of expectations and needs than travelers five, ten or 15 years ago, and we like to think that as we continue to revolutionize our product and listen to our guests, we’ll continue to stay ahead of the curve and be a disruptor in the hotel space.

Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

1. Major hotel chains will eventually follow our lead and kiosks will become the primary method of hotel check-in, with friendly humans available to perform concierge-like tasks.

2. In busy cities, hotels would be wise to partner with ride-sharing companies and establish themselves as convenient pick-up points, in lieu of old-fashioned shuttles.

3. If they haven’t already, hotels should make everything available via an app, from a question-answering concierge to your final bill.

4. Public spaces will become increasingly necessary — not just the traditional hotel bar, but innovative, multi-functional spaces that allow guests to work, meet, play and socialize.

5. Localized experience will become more relevant and valuable, in lieu of a traditional concierge experience. Travelers want to explore like locals, and authentic, insider travel tips and content will become a major differentiator for hospitality brands.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

For me, it has to be something adventurous. The right amount of nature and people, comfortable but simple, full of discoveries and relaxing. Travel is about expanding your horizons, your mind, and your experiences..

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Anyone working in hospitality will tell you that we change lives, it’s a key reason for doing what we do. Sharing experiences, mentoring team members, using opportunities to make someone’s day by making them feel like a VIP are the main things that come to mind for me. I truly believe we have the opportunity to make people’s day better, it’s one of the best parts of this job.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

That’s a great question. I would start a massive buddy program, where people can help one another, be here for one another, providing advice and friendship, that can be passed on over and over again. Mentorship is key in any field, especially in ours, but it’s not always about getting work advice. I think, collectively, we can do and be so much more!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

To connect with me on LinkedIn, you can find me here. For the latest on anything YOTEL I would recommend following our main handle Instagram handle for the brand, @yotel.


The Future of Travel: “Robo-assistance, robot room deliveries, and smart entertainment hubs” With… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future of Travel: “Integrating Art As a Feature, Not An Accessory, of Hotel Design” With…

The Future of Travel: “Integrating Art As a Feature, Not An Accessory, of Hotel Design” With Vickie Alani

We are also committed to integrating art into all of our projects, not as an accessory at the end, but as a feature that is built into the very foundation of each design. We also think on a much larger scale with art. For instance, rather than installing a curated selection of artworks in a lobby that align with a theme, we may think of how to create a unique, visually captivating ceiling that defines the space in a completely new way. We want the art to be central to the design instead of a superficial add-on to completely transform the typical experience you might have, say, checking into a hotel.

As a part of my series on “The future of travel”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vickie Alani. Vickie is a Principal at Boston-based design firm CBT and has over 30 years of experience in architectural and interior design projects of all scales. As a leader of the firm’s Hospitality & Multifamily Residential Design practice, Vickie approaches her work with the fluidity and interconnectivity with which people live today, and is a frequent contributor to the larger discourse on changing residential trends and how to design for an evolving culture. A strong advocate for holistic design strategies, her leadership has led to the creation of engaging, dynamic projects all over the world, and has helped pave the way for the future of interior and architectural design.

Thank you so much for joining us Vickie! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thank you for having me! Let’s just say that my career path has not been linear. I went to the Rhode Island School of Design to study painting and, as my art evolved, my paintings kept growing in scale and form. I realized that I wanted to leverage the colors and textures in my art to create and shape space, which inspired my transition into interior design and architecture. After I received my B.F.A. in Painting and Architecture, I entered the design field, and I am now a Principal at CBT specializing in Hospitality and Multifamily Residential projects.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There have been so many that it’s hard to pick just one. My journey to CBT was interesting in that it was similar to how I found myself studying architecture — everything really fell into place all at once. I had been leading the Multifamily Design practice at another firm for many years and was interested in a change. Just as I recognized that, I received a call from CBT offering a leadership position with their Hospitality and Multifamily Residential practices.

In hindsight, it seems like it was written in the stars for me to join CBT, but in that moment it felt like it came from out of nowhere. I’m lucky enough to have been able to do what I truly love for years now and I feel like I am right where I’m supposed to be, which I suppose is a testament to being open to opportunities and following your gut.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career I was participating in a walkthrough at a construction site, which finished up a little earlier than scheduled. I had some spare time, so I took it upon myself to do a little exploring. Little did I know, the crew had just poured carpet adhesive in one of the main rooms. As soon as my foot hit the floor, I went down into as deep of a split as I could manage. I learned a few things that day: carpet adhesive is incredibly slippery; it is impossible to remove; and if you walk into a room of construction workers after sliding around in it, everyone will know what just happened.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The most remarkable thing about CBT is how collaborative the environment is. I work in a space where a colleague of mine two desks to my left may be creating a master plan for an island in Abu Dhabi, while another right behind me may be creating an interior design scheme for a local hotel renovation. This may take place all while a unit designer ten feet away is brainstorming ways to improve numerous living environments for a large-scale residential campus. There is no such thing as siloing practice areas in our office. We’re always pushing to make our projects as innovative and interactive as possible, and we use each other to reach new conclusions and experience new breakthroughs every day.

There’s also a diversity of ages on each floor, with younger associates advocating for the newest design tools that can help take projects to the next level. I can’t think of a single time where anything has been rejected: everyone embraces each project’s unique challenges and dives into the possibilities that our teamwork produces. We’re always asking ourselves, “How can we be better?”

For example, we were invited to participate in an Urban Design competition to redesign an entire island in the Middle East. Though I’m not technically a part of the Urban Design team, I was engaged to offer a new perspective for the design. Stepping away from the tactical aspects of its scheme, I was charged with making sure the design would curate a new lifestyle for the city through ensuring that the housing, hotels, retail and office elements encouraged health and activity. It wasn’t just about how to program the island, but how to create a unique environment where people will want to work, live and play. The strategic interplay between our practice areas led to an amazing design, and we were ultimately selected to lead this amazing project.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

The travel and hospitality industry is all about experiences. So, the biggest tip I can offer is to keep having experiences: stay curious, continue to explore, constantly look around and always ask questions. Engage the world with a sense of wonder, because you never know when inspiration will strike.

Along those lines, I make a point to retreat from the built environment every now and then to reset my brain. Every year, I take a trip to Acadia National Park to hike and enjoy the beach. Soaking up the natural beauty of the world around you not only provides a chance to unwind and cleanse your mind, but may also spark inspiration for an element of your next project that could take it over the edge.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I feel like such a cliché, but my parents have always been and will always be my biggest support system. As immigrants, they traveled from Iraq to three different countries before settling here, learning different languages, adapting to different cultures and working harder than anyone else I’ve ever met to achieve success. They always encouraged me and my siblings, believing in our potential and instilling us with such tremendous faith. My father once seriously asked me if I wanted to be President! Nothing was beyond the bounds of their hope and confidence in my future, and I have carried that with me throughout my career.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

Our team is doing a few things that are set to redefine the hospitality industry as we know it. As designers, we are always exploring and forecasting trends, pulling from what we’re hearing and seeing in each of our practice areas, and infusing it into the hospitality sector. Digging deep into trends allows us to identify the underlying design qualities that are attractive to users, which our team can then creatively integrate into our designs to make them timeless. We never want to react to the “of-the-moment” color or texture, but rather proactively use the psychology behind each theme and element to make our projects long-lasting.

We are also committed to integrating art into all of our projects, not as an accessory at the end, but as a feature that is built into the very foundation of each design. We also think on a much larger scale with art. For instance, rather than installing a curated selection of artworks in a lobby that align with a theme, we may think of how to create a unique, visually captivating ceiling that defines the space in a completely new way. We want the art to be central to the design instead of a superficial add-on to completely transform the typical experience you might have, say, checking into a hotel.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

There is so much design turnover in hospitality. By conducting trend forecasting exercises we are able to generate timeless, innovative designs that are thoughtful and intentional. Furniture and carpeting may need the occasional refreshing, but our designs are orchestrated to ensure that every space never feels outdated and always provides an exceptional travel experience.

Building off that, we are big believers in defining space through differentiators. When you go on vacation you want to be immersed in a completely new environment with rare experiences you can’t get at home. If you walk into a lobby or stay in a hotel room that has an aesthetic that is exclusive to that location, your experience is going to be completely defined by that respect of distinction. We’re creating designs that make it easier for travelers to enjoy, remember, and appreciate their trips.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

I see the disruption occurring in three different ways. First, I hope that this will make all our projects greener. My firm’s true belief is that the most eco-friendly strategy is good design. The process of demolishing and reconstructing buildings can be wasteful and harmful to the environment, so investing in quality designs that withstand the test of time and preserving existing structures when possible are the best ways to have a positive impact.

Additionally, our spaces are all about space-making rather than functionality, which is where many of the hospitality projects I see fall flat. They’re set up in terms of logistics — where to put the front desk, the concierge, the elevator — rather than creating an amazing and exciting environment. The functional aspects come naturally. It’s the extra step of asking how we can make people say ‘wow’ when they walk in that matters.

This third disruption is the most dramatic, and something that my colleagues and I have been working toward for years now. Hotels as a concept offer the perfect environment for most activities, such as experiencing food and drink, learning, relaxing and gathering. Hotels therefore can serve as a “city square,” or a meeting space for entire communities. We work diligently to open our hospitality projects up to the surrounding neighborhoods and make them inviting to the public. Think about it: an empty lobby is a huge missed opportunity. Adding a lounge or coffee bar makes the lobby attractive to businesspeople, vacationers and pedestrians in the area, thereby generating revenue for the hotel and adding a local flavor to the space that visitors can enjoy. It adds an extra placemaking element that drives both financial and experiential success.

Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

  1. Hotel design will be much more experiential. Aside from a unique and comfortable place to sleep, they will offer bespoke experiences that take their guests’ stays to the next level. For example, hotels in Arizona will provide custom programming like guided hiking tours that bring you through the desert to see special floral cacti. These types of exclusive experiences will make every guest feel like they had the best hotel stay ever.
  2. Hotels will embrace their locations more. Long gone are the days of corporate standards applied to a 700-hotel portfolio. Each edition will have a design flavor and feel that you can’t find anywhere else.
  3. Hotels will be more active. People want to be active, and they want to stay in places that support an active lifestyle with fully-functional gyms and sports centers.
  4. Merchandising will continue to grow. Hospitality companies will partner with brands to create unique products for guests to purchase as mementos for their time at that hotel. Let’s use the cacti tour as an example: perhaps there’s a certain hat, sock or shoe offered as part of the experience. Beyond the comfy slippers and robes, these products will serve as reminders not only of the stay, but of the innovative experiences each guest enjoyed on their trip.
  5. Food will become a focal point. Evolving from the days of one master chef in a single hotel restaurant, hotels will now offer hundreds of options that reflect alternative dietary needs, local specialties, street food, comfort classics and more. We’d love to see an open lobby concept with several food boutiques so that guests can try something new every day and forge new memories by experiencing different cuisines.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

I am a very intentional traveler and will do a ton of research before a trip so I can scope out the best art, food, and entertainment in each city.

If I’ve heard of a unique exhibit or section of street art, I’ll make a point to visit it so that I can experience it for myself or, if I get restaurant recommendations, I’ll always seek them out to try something different. I also make sure to check out recently-completed buildings or developments: they always show me something new and different that piques my interest and keeps me learning.

Aside from active exploration, it’s always important for me to find some time to relax, hear the things a new city offers, leisurely enjoy local flavors and just breathe a little bit differently.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As the recipient of so much goodness it’s always been important to me to give back. I mentor a lot of women in the industry both inside and outside of my firm — not only is it personally fulfilling, but I’ve found that individuals discovering what they love and what makes them happy removes a lot of negativity from the world.

I’d also say that the work I do brings goodness into the world, specifically through the incorporation of art into public spaces and the creation of spaces for communities to exist and thrive. I think a lot about how buildings sit within their communities, and how my team and I can implement a strategy that encourages different types of casual social collisions that could result in the formation of a new friendship or the adoption of a new perspective. Intentionally designing to bring people together in different pockets throughout a city adds a layer of community togetherness that has a palpable impact on the way a city lives.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Given where my parents and I are from, harmony and peace for the world are always on my mind. People can so easily take their personal tranquility for granted, so I’d love to start a movement to spread and promote peace across the world in any way they can. For me, that would mean designing buildings that spill out into community spaces so that everyone can see and interact with each other and realize how alike they are. It also means adding as much art as possible into accessible spaces to bring individuals together in mutual appreciation and understanding. My movement would help bring out the humanity in all of us, stripping away the differences and helping us all appreciate each other a little bit more. That’s how peace happens.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on Instagram at @raghadvalani, and keep up with all of the amazing work being done by my firm at @cbtarchitects. I’m also on LinkedIn, and you can follow CBT there as well.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


The Future of Travel: “Integrating Art As a Feature, Not An Accessory, of Hotel Design” With… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future of Travel: “Why stay in a hotel when you can have a place like home?”

The Future of Travel: “Why stay in a hotel when you can have a place like home?” With Jason Fudin CEO of WhyHotel

We expect to raise people’s expectations for what high-quality accommodations look like and how much they cost. It starts with our name — WhyHotel. Because why stay in a hotel when you can have a place like home? The name is meant to pose a question that challenges the value of a hotel room when guests could instead stay in a product like ours. We expect to continue to push the boundaries of “flexible” real estate and work on products that have an even greater impact on the value chain. Real estate will become more dynamic with a robust set of customers that can change as markets and individual customer preferences change.

As a part of my series on “The future of travel”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Fudin. Jason is the CEO and Co-Founder of WhyHotel. Prior to WhyHotel, Jason was the Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Vornado Realty Trust where he worked on large asset repositioning and developing innovative commercial real estate concepts for the organization. Over his career, Jason has managed commercial real estate development projects valued at over $2 billion and has worked in development, acquisitions, and capital markets. He has his B.Eng. in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Management from McGill University and his M.S. in Finance and Real Estate from American University.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

WhyHotel’s story began, as many stories do, with a couple of people bent on improving what they knew best. In our case, it was newly built high-rise buildings in city centers. At the time, I was working as an executive at Vornado Realty, and my co-founder, Bao Vuong, was working as an executive at PN Hoffman.

In my role at Vornado, I was tasked with taking an inward look at our assets and identifying opportunities for improvement. After an afternoon of whiteboarding, the idea for WhyHotel was born. We realized there’s an underlying inefficiency to how newly constructed apartment buildings are delivered to market, so we set out to take advantage of this “timing inefficiency” by temporarily operating a spacious, innovative, and “like-home” hospitality experience out of the vacancy of brand-new luxury apartment buildings.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I suppose it depends on what you mean by “interesting”. Early on in my career I attempted to have a dance off with MC Hammer at a black-tie gala, only MC Hammer refused to dance back…

I think the most interesting career moment for me came when a high-rise apartment construction project I was working on got green-lit to move forward in 2012, but ended up overperforming when it opened in 2016 because Uber had changed the perceived value of the building’s location. Essentially, Uber made a more desirable entertainment area only a $9 ride away so we were able to charge more in rents. It crystallized for me how the impact and speed of technology is completely misaligned with the timing and decision making of building skyscrapers. This further drove home the importance of having flexible real estate assets.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career at a large publicly traded company I was pulled aside by a couple of my supervisors and told that my style for “professional dress” didn’t match the standard “uniform” of dark suits, white/blue shirts, and plain ties. I was more of a pastel shirt, loose tie, rolled up sleeve kind of guy. I took the hint (they were just trying to help me) and dressed the part. Now that I run a company, I have my individuality back (no more pastel shirts — thank God). We empower people to be themselves at WhyHotel (including how they dress themselves as adults — go figure)

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We have a product that would appeal to pretty much any traveler. Brand-new, luxury, full-size apartments in city centers that are operated by a 24/7 onsite hotel staff and at a price that is less than a tired Marriott or Hilton. We have had the pleasure of hosting groups on vacations, Mon-Thur business travelers that now have a “home away from home”, and the families of patients who are undergoing treatment in nearby hospitals. We get to have a positive impact on all of our guests!

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
Focus on what you do best and, when the time is right, bet on yourself. Surround yourself with people you respect and enjoy working with. Build out a diverse professional network of people you enjoy helping. Most importantly, don’t lose sight of your personal life in your quest to build a career. My relationships with my wife and son are the most important thing I have. Every once and a while, sleep in on a weekend!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
The reality is that anyone who is fortunate enough to be able to grow into a role like mine at WhyHotel, has been lifted up by hundreds of people along the way (both personally and professionally). I can think of one person who had an incredibly outsized impact on my career, Toby Millman. When I was early in my career as a real estate development analyst, I had taken on a tremendous workload and set of responsibilities (senior manager level work) as my employer searched for an executive to take over my projects. When they finally hired someone, Toby, I prepared to hand over all of my work over to him at the end of his first month on the job. At the end of that month he said to me “it has been a pleasure to work with you and I can see your potential here is huge. Instead of taking over your projects, I’d like to empower you to continue to take on more and do bigger things. Think of me as your resource and think of these high-rise developments as yours to ‘own’ and manage”. This catapulted my career and Toby is now a good friend and was one of the first investors to back us!

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?
The core innovation at WhyHotel is bringing flexibility to the most inflexible asset ever, high-rise real estate, by blurring the line between hospitality and home. WhyHotel is a tech-enabled hospitality management company that operates fully staffed, pop-up hotels out of the vacancy of newly built, luxury apartment buildings — creating significant “found money” for developers by offering superior, differentiated hospitality experiences for customers.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?
WhyHotel came out of personal pain points as both a real estate developer and as a traveler.

As real estate developers, my-cofounder and I were faced with inefficiency in every new high-rise development. Newly constructed high-rise apartment buildings open completely empty and take a year or two to fill up with residents (highly inefficient and very costly to operate).

As people with young families, we have experienced the mismatch of hotel rooms to those traveling with kids. As a Mon-Thurs. business traveler with IBM (early in his career), my co-founder, Bao Vuong, experienced living life from a hotel room.

Our product solves all of these pain points through found efficiency and a hospitality product laser-focused on our customers.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
We expect to raise people’s expectations for what high-quality accommodations look like and how much they cost. It starts with our name — WhyHotel. Because why stay in a hotel when you can have a place like home? The name is meant to pose a question that challenges the value of a hotel room when guests could instead stay in a product like ours.

We expect to continue to push the boundaries of “flexible” real estate and work on products that have an even greater impact on the value chain. Real estate will become more dynamic with a robust set of customers that can change as markets and individual customer preferences change.

Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

1) Bringing flexibility to the otherwise completely inflexible asset of real estate (Airbnb got this right)

2) Better matching the end product to the consumer need (WeWork identified this in office)

3) The integration of technology and the physical space (think Latch)

4) Creating experiences that are personalized (hospitality that knows YOU)

5) Traditionally, real estate assets have been built for a single use, but the market is changing, consumer perception of short-term rentals is changing, and we are already seeing hospitality product and multifamily product offering a very similar guest/resident experience (WhyHotel is leading this effort to blur the line between hospitality and home)

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”? One that you daydream about for years afterward!

For me, that vacation was at Glen Clova in Scotland. It was my girlfriend (now wife) and my first long vacation and it was spent in the rolling hills of Northern Scotland in a quaint cabin at the foot of a mountain with a Loch on top. There was an onsite restaurant that served incredible fish and chips and steak pie. When a vacation can bring together emotional connection, great experiences, and great food you can’t miss. At WhyHotel, we aim to provide the perfect backdrop for others to discover their “perfect vacation”.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
It is still early days at WhyHotel, but the most rewarding way we have been able to have a positive impact on the world is by first having a positive impact on our guests. We have been with them and supported them in difficult times (emergency hospital visits for their family members, visiting for funerals at Arlington Cemetery, unexpected tragedy at home while they were vacationing with us, etc.). We have been with them in the best of times (the birth of a first grandkid, weddings, graduations, etc.). We hope this is just the start of what we can do to have a positive impact on the cities and communities we are a part of.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement to celebrate human’s capacity for kindness. We are inherently empathetic creatures and being reminded of that might inspire kindness to become contagious!


The Future of Travel: “Why stay in a hotel when you can have a place like home?” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future of Travel: “Inspire joy with the human touch” With Abigail Tan-Giroud of St Giles…

The Future of Travel: “Inspire joy with the human touch” With Abigail Tan-Giroud of St Giles Hotels & Candice Georgiadis

The new industry status quo is to embrace the newest technology, to be Avante Garde, if you will; however, in doing so are we losing sight of our guests and what they really want? I like to disrupt a little by keeping the guest experience central through the lens of hospitality in its truest form always.

As a part of my series on “The future of travel” I had the pleasure of interviewing Abigail Tan-Giroud. Abigail is not your average hotelier, because apart from being born into a renowned hospitality family and having deep roots for the industry, in her spare time you may find her flying a helicopter, playing the electric guitar, boxing at 6am, or doing some form of sport, riding a motorcycle, completing Tough Mudder, or most likely, eating. . Growing up in Penang, Malaysia, Abigail gained exposure to the hotel and real estate industry at a very young age — her grandfather and uncle ran one of Malaysia’s real estate dynasties and her father is now the managing director of the publicly listed IGB Corporation, the parent company of St Giles Hotels Group, which owns nine hotels and growing worldwide with over 6,000 rooms globally under separate brands. Abigail entered the family business during summer breaks from school as an apprentice and joined the St Giles Hotels team as Director of Corporate Affairs and Strategic Investments in 2009, involved with the purchase of two New York properties and assisting with negotiations and transition preparations. In 2014, she became St Giles Hotels’ Head of UK, Europe and North America and in 2018 was promoted to Chief Executive Officer. In this role, Abigail oversees the New York property, The Tuscany — A St Giles Signature Hotel — as well as the London hotels, St Giles Heathrow and St Giles London. In London, she is also part of the core team for the development of a mixed-use development project on a 1.81 acre in the Southwark area, slated to open by 2020 with a 400-room four-star hotel, luxury residences, retail, a medical center and office towers. She is also responsible for sourcing new business development opportunities and is the driving force behind the culture development of the St Giles Hotels brand. Abigail holds an undergraduate degree in business management, and a master’s degree with Distinction in international management and innovation from the University of Exeter.

Thank you so much for joining us Abigail. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Hospitality has been in my family for three generations — you can say it is in my genes. When I was a young girl, I would walk into a hotel and the first thing I would do is take a deep breath in and sigh with excitement and joy and say to myself…”Hotel.” Instead of spending all my time enjoying the facilities, I would also be in the back-office asking the staff what they were doing (in the naive way of an eight-year-old girl), asking them what games they had and how long I could keep them for. I would walk down the room corridors spying on the housekeeping trolleys and housekeepers, trying to see what was in them, as well as seeing what I could take! I still have the same love affair with hotels that I had at that young age. Walking into one of our hotels in the St Giles portfolio still inspires the same feeling of excitement and joy as then. I often do some of the same things! (Well, probably just not asking about the games or what I can take.) I love the way a hotel lives and breathes and becomes a place for people to gather and shape memories.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The beauty of this industry is that there is a new and interesting story every day, so it is really hard to pick one.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I tried to be helpful by shadowing our engineering team, and I thought I would attempt to change a leaking faucet. Well, water — like from a fire hydrant — shot out across the bathroom and my attempt to push the faucet back in only made it worse, drenching myself and the engineer team in the process.

Lesson learned: Turn off the water at the main source FIRST, and, leave it to the experts.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

We are individuals that define the brand, not the brand defining who the team should be and how to behave.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

Always take time for yourself to relax and unplug without feeling guilty. Not embracing “Me Time” can decrease productivity for you and your team. Lay out all the projects in front of you and prioritize them, so that you can have everything where you can “see” it and not feel anxious about remembering what to do. I feel it is also very important to have your “champions” at your side — those friends and colleagues who can support and advise you through difficult decisions and give you an honest second or third opinion.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are many people to whom I am grateful in my career so far. The first would be to my Uncle Steve who was my teacher, mentor and someone who would give me the (proverbial) kick when I needed it. He showed me the ropes, threw me in the deep end and made sure to be there to help me if I needed it. He ensured that my growth was exponential, while at the same time giving me the independence to lead and learn.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

What lies at the core of every initiative that we drive at St Giles Hotels is placing the guest experience central. It is important for our guests to experience authentic hospitality — the human connection. In 2019, St Giles Hotels will be launching its first portfolio-wide loyalty program, and it is very important to us that this program is relevant to our loyal guests — which is why our first step is to better understand our guests and know about their expectations. We don’t want to have a loyalty program just to have one, but rather we want to create a rewarding experience that will continue to inspire loyalty. Alongside our loyalty program, St Giles Hotels is also launching a new program called “Inspired Joy,” where we are empowering our staff to surprise and delight our guests with unexpected moments of inspired service. Surprises include: a selection of 30 or more spontaneous prize giveaways to intuitively recognizing when an extra step can transform a guest experience to a joyful lasting memory. I believe this puts the human connection central to the guest experience. And central to the culture of St Giles Hotels is also to make a positive impact in society. Our foundation, entitled “Hotels with Heart” is our way of doing that. However, it is not a separate CSR program as it lies at the core of the culture of our brand and is lived by each employee. Our team is comprised of volunteers, activists, fundraisers, sponsors and mentors. We make them the advocates of change, and at the same time give them the opportunity to grow organically through teaching and helping others.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

As an industry, I believe we sometime lose sight of the most important factor of hospitality — the human touch. Hotels should really serve as a “home away from home” for our guests, as they choose us to fill the place of their home when they are traveling — all of which is why at St Giles Hotels, our guests are seen as part of the St Giles Family. We aim to always create a place that is welcoming to guests and delivers a fulfilling and inspiring experience, while remaining connected with our guests. Whenever we incorporate new innovations and technology, it is always with the goal to make it easier for our guests to connect with the St Giles team. With Hotels with Heart, the pain point we are trying to address is youth homelessness and how we can be at the center of the race to alleviate this global problem. This, I believe, also has the opportunity to create lifetime hoteliers from those who have been given opportunities where it once in their lives has seemed bleak.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

The new industry status quo is to embrace the newest technology, to be Avante Garde, if you will; however, in doing so are we losing sight of our guests and what they really want? I like to disrupt a little by keeping the guest experience central through the lens of hospitality in its truest form always.

Can you share examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

In addition to keeping the guest central and fostering a strong connection for a better understanding of how to deliver hospitality to guests, here are some additional examples:

1. Convenience is an Amenity — Today’s modern guest enjoys the convenience of traveling with their digital daily comforts — streaming movie services, multiple devices, car share apps, food delivery apps, etc. Premium high-speed WiFi service and accessible USB charging stations are a must. In addition, at The Tuscany — St Giles Signature Hotel in New York City — guests enjoy the use of a complimentary handy smartphone, which offers unlimited domestic and international calls (selected countries); free roaming around the city, while allowing for direct access to the guest service team; and, a curated NYC travel guide to experience the city.

2. Location-inspired Design and Experience — The modern traveler seeks the authentic local experience when visiting any destination. At St Giles Hotels, we aim to give guests a sense of that local experience inside the hotel with locally-inspired design. No two St Giles Hotels’ properties are alike — each is uniquely designed to reflect and connect with its locality. It might be an architectural feature that harkens to a storied history (such as: St Giles London with its building being one of London’s most famous brutalist buildings; and, The Tank Stream — A St Giles Hotels — with its name and building linked to the history of Sydney, the first British settlement in the city; or, an unexpected view that frames local iconic structures, such as the stunning views of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings from most of our rooms and suites at The Tuscany, including the Penthouse which offers 360-degree views of both these famed NYC icons. The Tuscany also offers a taste of the local with curated mini bars including healthy, guilt-free items from New York and surrounding areas.

3. United to Be Sustainable Citizens — There is a convergence, a meeting of the minds per se, with today’s guests and hoteliers. Both are more committed to being responsible and sustainable citizens to positively impact their local communities, the places they visit, and the planet. St Giles Hotels commitment as a sustainable and responsible global citizen is reflected in:

4. Hotels With Heart Foundation, which lies at the core of the St Giles Hotels’ culture and values and poses the question — What can we do to positively impact the vulnerable in our community? To be more involved in our communities? To impact causes that matter to our team and our guests?

5. #CitizenG — St Giles Hotels’ sustainable program launched in 2018 supports the company’s mission and promises to be more “green,” by making environmentally friendly decisions across its properties with the goal of eliminating single-use plastic and reducing water and energy use in three years.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

My husband and I enjoy long moments of Zen, unplugged from all technology with interruptions from food, food and some more food, followed by an adrenaline rush from a triple black ski run or a motorcycle ride …then back to more food.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

One of my proudest achievements is bringing to life our foundation, Hotels with Heart. I rarely say, “I did such & such,” as I value how much we achieve as a team here at St Giles Hotels, but I am very proud that I was able to bring the vision I had of creating a foundation that positively impacts the communities where our hotels are located, which is how the vision for Hotels with Heart was born. Since then, as a team, we have developed Hotels with Heart into a program that positively impacts our communities. Through the foundation, our staff together has raised money and participated in community activities with the focus of aiding the vulnerable around the world.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

You never know what an idea can trigger. Inspire Joy in one person each day.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

@AbigailTan_StGiles https://www.instagram.com/abigailtan_stgiles


The Future of Travel: “Inspire joy with the human touch” With Abigail Tan-Giroud of St Giles… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

The Future Of Travel: “Hair service in your hotel and gym” With Erika Wasser of Glam+Go & Candice…

The Future Of Travel: “Hair service in your hotel and gym” With Erika Wasser of Glam+Go & Candice Georgiadice

More often than not, business travelers need to look their best while they’re on the go, which can be tricky in a hotel room…especially if you’re not inclined to check your bag and bring your full bathroom cabinet with you. By being co-located in hotels, we serve not just the discerning guests, give the hotel a service option that adds value for them, as well as serve the local community.

As part of my series about “exciting developments in the travel industry over the next five years”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erika Wasser, a former TV host for HGTV and standup comedian turned beauty entrepreneur. Inspired by the efficiency and quality of the green room glam experience she received before going on camera, she grew frustrated with typical lengthy blowout experience offered by traditional salons and blow dry bars, which often left her choosing between working out and other activities — there simply wasn’t enough time in the day! In 2015, she pitched the concept of a two chair blow dry salon that specializes in blowouts in 30 minutes or less to her first partner to be right where women need hair services the most. The first Glam+Go opened just 35 days later. Under Erika’s leadership, Glam+Go has grown to 14 locations in four cities with iconic partners such as Fairmont, the Gansevoort Group, Shore Club, Equinox, exhale & more, as well as two standalone flagship locations (full-service salons).

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I began my career in TV, both behind and in front of the camera. When I was between shows, I really missed the green room glam experience of sitting down and being in front of the camera 30 minutes later. I’m completely incapable of doing my own hair, so relying on salons and traditional blow dry bars — which had inconsistent results and often took up a huge portion of my day — just wasn’t working. I knew I couldn’t be the only woman who felt this way, so I pitched the concept of a pop up blow dry bar salon at the Upper East Side exhale Spa (where I was working out at the time). Glam+Go opened 35 days later.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Every day has been an interesting story since we first opened our doors! I think one of the more interesting things to happen was in our early days…At the time, we were nothing more than a roll-away cart, a blow dryer and a clipboard within a locker room when out of the blue, Good Morning America called. They wanted to include us in a segment (amazing!), but asked if we had a website. As you might imagine, given that our process involved a clipboard at that time, we certainly didn’t have a website. Long story short: a friend, a bottle of chardonnay and an all-nighter later, we had a website and were able to be placed in the segment. That clip helped us scale our business

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We provide a service that women need — efficient, high quality hair services at an approachable price — right where they need it when they’re on the go: in their hotels and in their gyms. One of the first times I realized we had something special was when we opened our Santa Monica Fairmont location; I was out in LA for work and ran into one of our NY regulars at the salon! As a frequent traveler, it’s a perfect service for her, and the fact that she sought out our new location for her trip meant so much. These days I love getting to know our members (many of them subscribe to our unlimited blowout membership, which is transferable between all our locations) as we all travel around the US!

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

Recognize that you can’t do everything yourself and that you can’t do everything in a day. Operating and managing a business takes time, and while you want to resolve any issues efficiently, you need to be realistic. Also, occasionally calling it quits for a 4:00 p.m. glass of Fleur de Praire rosé can be one of the most healing things for your mental well being!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I am indebted to my dad for his impact on Glam+Go — he is brilliant and has amazing business experience, so we talk daily about everything from new concepts to operational issues. While we don’t always agree, his insight is invaluable.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the travel and hospitality industries?

While our original business model primarily targeted busy women on the go — and we very much still cater to her — our business has really evolved to better serve the traveler by being co-located in hospitality properties like Fairmont (we actually just opened our 2nd location with Fairmont in the beautiful Fairmont Georgetown in Washington, DC), Shore Club and Dream. More often than not, business travelers need to look their best while they’re on the go, which can be tricky in a hotel room…especially if you’re not inclined to check your bag and bring your full bathroom cabinet with you. By being co-located in hotels, we serve not just the discerning guests, give the hotel a service option that adds value for them, as well as serve the local community.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing this innovation?

With the rise of remote working, email on our phones, 24/7 accessibility and so on, people are busier than ever. No one has the kind of time to go to a blow dry bar for an hour and a half just to get ready for a big presentation, an event or even just to get ready for work. With our Express Blowouts, which take just 15 minutes starting on dry hair and our Signature Blowouts, which is a traditional wash-and-blow in 30 minutes or less for most hair types,

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

While there’s certainly a time and a place for a glass of champagne and reading a magazine while you wait at a salon, our efficiency-driven model has already helped us capture market share and helped us double the size of our business to 14 locations in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, DC last year. Our model pushes the salon industry forward by focusing on quality and efficiency and pushes the hospitality industry forward by offering a great service for guests.

Can you share 5 examples of how travel and hospitality companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to travel?

  • Express services: Whether traveling for business or leisure, most people don’t want to spend a ton of time to look their best while they’re away from home. Whether it’s rushing to a party or presenting at a conference, travelers want to look their best — quickly.
  • Niche offerings: Hotels aren’t just competing with each other anymore, they’re now contending with home shares like Airbnb. Hotels can stand out by offering more specialized and interesting amenities and services to entice travelers.
  • Marrying quality and efficiency: “efficient” and “high quality” don’t need to be mutually exclusive — in fact, they coexist really successfully! Instead of marking up prices and only offering quality as a luxury commodity, figure out how to achieve efficiency and quality at an approachable price to reach more customers.
  • In-room amenities: These days, people really want convenience. In addition to offering unique and accessible services, make them available right in their rooms so there’s zero extra time or effort needed. This is why we offer in room services at all our hotel partner properties.
  • More accessible pricing: Onsite price gouging has to go — the idea of “the hotel surcharge” for highly inflated prices doesn’t work anymore. With apps like Seamless that can replace room service, or “find dry cleaners near me” on Google, travelers have more access than ever to get what they want at a better price, so hotels have to become more competitive.

You are a “travel insider”. How would you describe your “perfect vacation experience”?

I travel so much for work, so often times I’m in beautiful hotels and locations but don’t get to totally unwind. A perfect vacation for me is a beach, a glass of wine and my dog Harry without any interruptions!

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We’ve always leveraged our position at Glam+Go for good. Every year, we partner with local charities to serve food to the homeless at the holidays. We also try to open our doors to and show support for disenfranchised groups whenever we can. I personally have my own missions, but as a female started and owned company we employ over 95% women at Glam+Go. One of the things we take very seriously is our team’s enrichment and access to opportunities.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My “pet project” (no pun intended) is a non-profit called Harry’s House. As a dog owner/animal lover, it’s really upsetting to know that being an animal owner/lover keeps those in need out of shelters, shared housing, low income housing, soup kitchens and career fairs. In more extreme cases, especially for women who experience domestic abuse, because there are few places to turn with an animal in tow, so they end up staying in abusive situations because they fear for the life of their cat or dog. In many states in the US, bringing an animal to a kennel is immediate abandonment (some have a 30 day grace period). But I’d like to create a safe space for animal owners who are seeking help and or rehabilitation. A place to watch an animal for up to 30 days if someone received a job opportunity, or needed temporary public housing where they didn’t want to choose between a roof and abandoning their animal. In addition to a “day care” and basic vet facility, we would offer a small amount of temporary housing for victims of abuse that cannot be separated from their pet just yet while offering career placement workshops, mentorship and help with resume building/form filling out (I don’t know if you’ve ever applied for anything with the government but the forms are brutal and confusing). We’re still in very early stages, but I’m really excited to bring this concept to life.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on Instagram at @WorldOfWasser and Glam+Go at @GlamAndGo_!


The Future Of Travel: “Hair service in your hotel and gym” With Erika Wasser of Glam+Go & Candice… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.