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ILC 2018 Takeaways: Cut Buzz Words, Embrace Positive Friction and a New Hospitality Business Model

The 2018 Independent Lodging Congress was jam packed with leaders in the hospitality industry. And our biggest take-aways challenge traditional ways of thinking. Visionaries in the indie hotel and restaurant space are pushing against the grain in originality, rhetoric, methods of hiring and taking a stand on social issues. Here’s a bit of what we learned.

In Hospitality, forget buzz words!

Bashar Wali, President of Provenance Hotels, gave a crowd-pleasing talk titled ‘WTF.’ Essentially, this is a tale of all the terrible moments we’ve encountered at hotels that leave us saying ‘WTF?’

Bashar Wali, President of Provenance Hotels, at ILC 2018

“It’s the tiny things that cost you very little, if anything, that make the biggest difference.” Not sweaty cheese and untouched wine in a guestroom at 11pm.

And cut it with the buzzwords! “Authentic people never say they’re authentic,” Bashar points out, “they just are.”  We are Local. We are Makers. We are Creators. We are Disruptive. We are Boutique. All meaningless words. Act it, don’t say it.

‘Do what you love and the rest will follow’

Ace Hotels were originally created for the creator and their friends. After all, Founder Alex Calderwood lived by the phrase ‘Do what you love and the rest will follow.’ Brad Wilson has carried on that mentality as well. “A lot of what we created is what we like,” Wilson says.

For new hotelier Katherine Lo, Founder + President of Eaton Workshop, her personal ethos drives the hotel brand. And she’s okay with that. Kat went to school for film-making and anthropology. Her 20s were spent in activism. Then she started working for her father’s business, Langham Hospitality Group. Just two weeks before the Congress, Eaton Workshop D.C. opened.

Lili Marcus, Editor at CNN Travel, and Kat Lo, President of Eaton Workshop

When asked about any doubt she has received, Kat chooses to look at the bigger picture. “There are investors and people who are skeptical but I hope to prove that this model can be successful, make a difference in the world, have a lot of integrity and true to itself,” she notes.

Positive Friction

Josh Wyatt, Formerly the co-founder of Generator Hostels, hones in on this idea of positive friction. He notes that it’s necessary to push yourself as well as investors to get creative with the box you’re given. Easier said than done, of course.

Amar Lalvani of Standard International,  which owns Bunkhouse, The Standard and One Night, looks to hire outside of the hotel industry for a fresh perspective. Hotels are a very insular business, where a person starts at the bottom, is promoted to GM and slowly rises to the top of the chain. “We try to cultivate interesting people,” Lalvani says. “We intentionally make it hard on ourselves in order to make things better. For example, our Chief Creative Officer is from Playboy and Grinder. Why is he a Chief Creative Officer for a hotel company? Because he brings more from culture outside of the industry to us.”

Lalvani acknowledges that this method can be hard to integrate which makes scaling quite difficult. Larger hotel companies are okay with the old way of hiring because its easier to manage. But to stand out, one needs a little friction.

Amar Lalvani of Standard International, Josh Wyatt, and Brad Wilson of Ace Hotels.
Amar Lalvani (Standard Int.), Josh Wyatt, Brad Wilson (Ace Hotels) and Andrew Benioff (Llenrock Realty Partners)

A Business Model: People. Planet. Profit.

That positive friction translates into industry initiatives as well. ILC confronted some social and environmental issues this year, showcasing speakers who are truly making a difference for Good.

We recognized Katherine Lo with our ‘Start Something Award’ for her commitment to creating a hotel brand which also serves as a progressive platform. In her talk with Lilit Marcus, Editor at CNN Travel, Kat notes her belief in the power of business to change the world and make things better. “Even though it is a hotel,” Lo said, “we are subverting the notion of a hotel to do that.”

Ben Pundole of EDITION Hotels dialed in via video chat from Abu Dhabi for his panel – an ILC first. Pundole also accepted our first INDIE Rebel award for his initiative Stay Plastic Free.

A favorite INDIEtalk was given by Jane Charles, Founder of Stolenyouth.org, who addressed the important issue of child sex trafficking and what our industry can do to help stop it.

Partner OUTSIDE your Industry

Strategic partnerships are important in any industry. Sometimes, it’s hard for hoteliers to think outside of the box when it comes to pairing up. It’s the mixture of magic, excitement and the necessary binding formalities.

Peter Bittenbender, CEO of multi-media hip-hop company Mass Appeal, and John Seymour, CEO of Sweet Chick, know all about that.

‘To see someone who actually believes in what you’re doing is a major factor,’ Seymour says in the story of his first interaction with Bittenbender.

Dan Ryan of Beachwood Custom, John Seymour of Sweet Chick and Peter Bittenbender of Mass Appeal.
Dan Ryan (Beachwood Custom), John Seymour (Sweet Chick) and Peter Bittenbender (Mass Appeal)

“We’re both in the world of Hip-Hop and urban culture,” says Bittenbender, “and I’ll tell everybody in this room that it’s the most important part of U.S. culture now.” And he’s right. Hip-Hop has been the number one form of music streamed globally for the past two years in a row. There’s no sign of that going away.

He refers to David Chang’s NY Momofoku restaurant: “They were playing hip-hop. The room was probably 40 people, maybe 10 of them were actually fans of that type of music. But the vibe was right.” And that’s also an appealing part of Sweet Chick: the hip vibe is there but it’s still inviting and inclusive. An ethos both companies share.

Each of our attendees hopefully walked away with something prolific this year. Whether it was a new connection, business model, or inspiring thought, we hope these takeaways are not forgotten before ILC 2019.

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