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AFAR Conversations: The Evolving Role of Hotels

Casual Conversation, Cheese, and Cocktails
AFAR Conversations: The Evolving Role of Hotels
We gathered at New York’s The Omni Berkshire Place on October 25 for our latest AFAR Conversations, exploring what brands can learn from the evolving role of hotels. AFAR cofounder Joe Diaz opened up the panel discussion by reflecting on the historic role of hotels as community social hubs and incubators for innovation (plumbing, elevators, and air conditioning are among the conveniences pioneered in hotels).  

Hospitality leaders Maryam Banikarim, global CMO of Hyatt Hotels, and Ted Teng, president and CEO of Leading Hotels of the World, then shared how they’re each moving their brands forward and responding to shifting traveler priorities. Banikarim, for instance, observed that in our increasingly device-filled and uncertain world, “the ultimate luxury is being understood and feeling a human connection.”  

Scroll through our slideshow for more valuable insights and highlights from the evening.
By Lucy Flanagan, AFAR Contributor
  • 1 / 11
    Casual Conversation, Cheese, and Cocktails
    Casual Conversation, Cheese, and Cocktails
    Before the panel discussion, guests mingled and sampled hors d'oeuvres, most notably, the traditional Switzerland cheese experience, Raclette, where cheese is melted using a special oven and served over an assortment of vegetables and bread.
  • 2 / 11
    A Caffeinated Crowd
    A Caffeinated Crowd
    Espresso-filled cocktails, courtesy of sponsor illy coffee, got attendees energized for the panel discussion to come.
  • 3 / 11
    Bacon Bites and Insights
    Bacon Bites and Insights
    The Omni Berkshire Place culinary team featured a variety of passed bites including these bacon-wrapped Brussels sprouts.
  • 4 / 11
    Panel Pose
    Panel Pose
    Our panelists gathered for a quick photo before taking the stage. Pictured: Maryam Banikarim (left), global CMO for Hyatt Hotels; Joe Diaz, AFAR cofounder; and Ted Teng, president and CEO of Leading Hotels of the World.
  • 5 / 11
    The Conversation Begins
    The Conversation Begins
    Ellen Asmodeo-Giglio, AFAR EVP and CRO, introduced the esteemed panel and its setting: the recently renovated ballroom of the Omni Berkshire Place.
  • 6 / 11
    A Lively Discussion
    A Lively Discussion
    Dynamic panelists Maryam Banikarim of Hyatt and Ted Teng of Leading Hotels of the World weighed in on how the family roots of their companies influence the guest experience. Teng noted, for instance, that 85% of Leading Hotels are family owned and that such owners are more likely to hire locally based managers and to be more vested in the guest experience. “When hotel owners express authentic hospitality, that’s what makes a difference,” he said.
  • 7 / 11
    Take-Home Insights
    Take-Home Insights
    Ignacio Maza, AFAR Travel Advisory Council member and EVP of the Signature Travel Network, jotted down notes during the panel discussion. Maryam Banikarim observed, for instance, that hotels traditionally were in the product business and didn’t do experiences well. But this is changing as hotels like Hyatt focus on increasing their touch points with consumers by facilitating experiences. “It’s not easy to do—it requires sweating the details,” she said. “But with more uncertainty in the world, people are willing to trade things for experiences because you can always take your memories with you.”
  • 8 / 11
    An Engaged Audience
    An Engaged Audience
    Gala Magrina, creative director and founder of M Crown Productions, was among the guests enthralled by the panel discussion. It included personal reflections from Maryam Banikarim and Ted Teng on what attracted them to working in hospitality—and how hotels are fundamentally in a relationship business that includes fostering community and creating entry-level jobs with upward mobility.
  • 9 / 11
    Conversations After the Conversation
    Conversations After the Conversation
    That’s a wrap! After a Q&A session, the panel ended but the party continued.
  • 10 / 11
    Playful Gift Bags
    Playful Gift Bags
    Guests took home gift bags with the evening’s agenda, featuring an illustrated interpretation of hotel innovation.
  • 11 / 11
    Wrapping at Twilight
    Wrapping at Twilight
    Our evening at The Omni Berkshire Place came to a close as the skyscrapers of midtown New York began to sparkle.

    Check out more Conversations photos in our Facebook Album.