Snow covered the landscape around the Montage Deer Valley in Park City, UT, but inside, hot-buttoned topics were being discussed at the 2011 American Express Luxury Summit. Topics were insightful as they were broad, from technology and advertising to emerging luxury markets and entrepreneurship.
Dan Schulman, group president of Enterprise Growth, American Express Company, kicked the Monday session off speaking about how quickly the world is moving and changing. Fun Facts: 100 years ago, 97 percent of U.S. population was connected to agriculture in some way; now that number is 3 percent. Also, if If Facebook and Google were countries, they'd be top three in the world. Schulman also talked about why companies have trouble adapting. "It's very hard to make a change particuarly as a larger company," he said.
Meanwhile, a panel led by Nancy Novogrod, editor-in-chief of Travel + Leisure, centered on the value of entrepreneurship. Panelists were: Michael Bruno, founder and president, 1stdibs.com; Bonita Coleman Stewart, vice president, U.S. sales, Google; and Paul Brown, president, global brands and commercial services, Hilton Worldwide.
Entrepreneurship is good for the economy was the overriding sentiment. "Entrepreneuers are different from other people," said Bruno. "They are more likely to take risks." Stewart said that Google thrives on innovation and that every day Google team members are to put aside 20 percent of their day to focus on innovation. Brown said, that at Hilton, the company focuses on entrepreneurship, not so much on an individual scale, but as the collective good.
Regarding social media, Bruno said the need to participate is becoming more and more pressing. He's most focused on having communication with customers who leave messages either on message boards or via Facebook or Twitter.
For Brown, it's about "delivering the right experience." He referred to the fact that Hilton now allows its staff to be more proactive and use mediums like Twitter to engage customers. This is new for Hilton and not a direction they ever had before.
One of the more engaging sessions of the day was given by Laurence Geller, CEO of Strategic Hotel & Resorts. Geller, since he started Strategic, has been a risk taker. Victory or death is his creed. if that's the case, he may have almost offed himself at one point, with months and months of negative RevPAR until February 2010. "Luxury goes down hardest," he said, "but it comes back the fastest." Strategic owns such properties as the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel and Fairmont Scottsdale.
His strongest point was made about brands. Specifically, "the big brands are king." He said the have the edge, the sheer volume of technology, and are tough to compete with. Most likely why all his hotels are branded with big operators.
Witty as always, Geller made a point that customers have been laughing and getting "the best damn deals in the past few years." Time to shut them up, he said.