113 – TMG Hospitality Trailblazers: Alexi Khajavi

by | May 24, 2023

Join Suite Spot podcast host, Ryan Embree as he welcomes the President of Questex, Alexi Khajavi, as an official TMG Hospitality Trailblazer!

These two hospitality-focused individuals discuss some incredible travel and tourism subjects in this episode, giving viewers great insight into the industry’s current state. This episode is full of content from conversations regarding trends like staffing shortages, event & group travel, and an inside look at the inaugural launch of The Hospitality Show.

Episode Transcript

Our podcast is produced as an audio resource. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human editing and may contain errors. Before republishing quotes, we ask that you reference the audio.

Ryan Embree:
Welcome to Suite Spot, where hoteliers check in, and we check out what’s trending in hotel marketing. I’m your host, Ryan Embree. Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Suite Spot. This is your host, as always, Ryan Embree. We are gonna be continuing our TMG Hospitality Trailblazers series. We are having such fun with this series. Again, if this is the first time you’re hearing this. This series is all about those people and groups that are pushing our hospitality industry forward. We’ve had a lot of hotel management companies, some brands on this. We’re gonna take a little bit wider lens today. This is called TMG Hospitality Trailblazers. We’re gonna look at the travel industry as a whole, and I think that’s a perfect segue into an introduction to our guest, Alexi Khajavi, president Questex, hospitality, travel and wellness. Alexi, welcome to the Suite Spot.

Alexi Khajavi:
Thanks, Ryan. It’s good to be here.

Ryan Embree:
Awesome. Well, this is your first time on the Suite Spot. We always love to essentially start our episodes the exact same way because as we know in hospitality, some people are born into it. Some people just find it, you know, some people, a lot of people say, “Hey, I want to be the guy at the hotel”, or “I want to be the guy that’s making all these memories within the travel industry”. Where did your journey start and what led you to Questex?

Alexi Khajavi:
Well, you know, both my parents were big travelers, you know, so we, we were always, you know, trying to plan the next trip. So, travel’s been a part of my life, you know, since being a little child. You know, ultimately, even professionally, however, I graduated from the UC of California. I came outta that and joined, you know, a tour operator that was doing some early educational trips to Cuba. Traveled around, you know, and was, and was paid to do. So, I then got into the early tech scene in, you know, the early .com, 1997 to 2001, a tech startup called unexplored.com. And really since then, I’ve, I’ve been in travel and I’ve been in on the marketing and sales side of travel and hospitality, lived overseas multiple times, running hotels, running airlines, and then ran an, an advertising agency based off of the travel and hotel space. So we were working with destinations, we were working with hotel companies, and then was introduced to Questex back in 2014. And the event space was something I didn’t have a lot of direct experience in, but the ability to connect buyers and sellers, particularly in travel and hospitality, where face-to-face is so critical, was really the pinnacle moment for me to see that as being just an incredible culmination of my prior experiences, my love of travel, my love of hospitality, and the opportunity to bring both buyers and sellers together. And that’s really been the beauty of Questex is, is that we inform, we connect, and we’re able to do that both on the digital platform side as well as in the live engagement side. So it’s a really nice, opportunity. I’ve been doing it, you know, for the last eight years now.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah. You know, and it’s not cliche to say that, that our industry, we’ve had several of these, you know, TMG Hospitality Trailblazers that have had these mentors that have had connections that, you know, whether it’s one brand or one company and another and so forth. So you’re right, it, it’s a tight-knit community, this hospitality industry, because at the end of the day, we all have an innate love for travel, whether you’re in our industry or not. Right. People love to travel, people love that experience of traveling. And I think that brings us all close together and we’re gonna dive into that a little bit into this episode about that balance between tech and that kind of face-to-face parallels to what you’re talking about of having those events that are face-to-face, but also that digital side of things is so, so important right now. So, but before we get into kind of that today in the present and looking into the future, which we’re certainly gonna visit, I wanna move backwards because we’ve really started these episodes talking about the lessons that the hotel industry specifically had learned. But I think you bring a really unique perspective cause you’ve got that wider lens on travel, right? From airlines to hotels to events, everything in between. So, you know, what do you think the travel industry has learned over the past few years and what trends are kind of here to stay and aren’t just, you know, those things, that new normal pandemic that we, that we’ve been talking about these last few years?

Alexi Khajavi:
Well, I mean, first of all, I mean, demand is unstoppable, right? I think if anything, you know, on the early part of the pandemic, people were talking about, you know, travel would never come back. And if it did come back, would come back, you know, markedly different. And I really don’t think, you know, I mean, first of all, travel has come back. It came back in the summer of 2020. And if anything, I think it’s come back cause people realize how important it is for them to get out there, that that is a part of their lives, particularly when you’ve been locked down or you’re not able to, to go out. That really, I think, you know, there was a palpable sense on the world in the population that, you know, human connectivity, whether that’s just down the street, whether that’s having people over for dinner or whether that’s traveling 10,000 miles and experiencing new cultures, new foods, new people, new languages, that, that is a, a unquenchable thirst on humanity that a two year pandemic is not gonna change 10,000 years of human inclination to do so. So that was number one. But the reality though is if there was a correct, you know, lining in that you know, in, in that prognostication was that, it, it would come back different. And I think one of the differences is that destinations also are realizing how important travel is, but that it can’t continue in the way that it was. I mean, we went from talking about over tourism, mass tourism to talking about no tourism. And I think now what we’re trying to figure out is what is the proper type of travel for destinations, for cities, for countries in that, you know, do, do people really want to experience Venice with, you know, 50 million other people on the same day? And so I think what we’re doing now is we’re combining personal and business in a trip and in travel in a way that one I think has a unique opportunity to take the pressure off, some of these destinations. But also I think slow travel is gonna be one of the biggest trends that we’ll see coming out of this is, is that, you know, this idea that I’m gonna go and I’m gonna hit the bucket list in seven days throughout Europe and I’m gonna do the Eiffel Tower, I’m gonna do the Collosseum, you know, la la la la la that type of travel, I think, you know, has a lot of challenges in it for both the destination as well as the traveler. So I think that’s gonna be one of the bigger changes coming out of the pandemic. And I think we’re still washing through what that truly means however.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, there’s been a lot of phrases I feel like coined on this podcast. I like that slow travel and I think that speaks directly to the, the marketing that you’re doing for your destination too, right? It, it’s easy to get to those Instagramable spots that we know everyone’s gonna be interested in, but what are those one of a kind experiences they’re looking for that off the beaten path a little bit to maybe have that memory or that moment that isn’t filled with everyone around them, because they certainly haven’t been used to that these past couple years, right? They’re more likely to be, you know, with less people than, you know, surrounded by a bunch of people. And there’s a comfort level I think that also, you know, takes a little bit a while coming back as well with crowds and, and these big events, it’s quite a little balance there between that thirst for that as well and people wanting to be a part of that. But you’re right, the resiliency of the travel and hospitality industry, you couldn’t have asked for a better case study of that during these past couple years. So, and one of those balances that we talked about was that that tech and customer service, and it’s aligned cause we’re kind of forced to adopt technology a lot quicker than maybe the industry wanted to over the past couple years just because of the pandemic. I think there’s probably some benefits to that. It showed that we can roll technology out in our industry a little bit quicker than we thought we could. But you see things like the hot trend right now is ChatGPT, how can we implement that into the, the travel industry and booking experiences and things of that nature. And I think obviously that’s exciting and fun to talk about, but at the end of the day, you look at the foundation of our industry and it’s customer service, it’s face-to-face people serving people. So where do you find that balance, Alexi, of the technology and maybe exploring this, this new stuff, but also serving people and, and providing them with a once in a lifetime experience that a computer or a mobile app isn’t gonna be able to give you?

Alexi Khajavi:
The beauty of travel is that the customer journey is both, I think really well defined, but it’s long and it’s a weaving one. And I’ve always defined it as dream, plan, buy, experience and then share, and on the front end of that journey and on the tail end of that journey is really an individual human inspiration filled. So dreaming, you know, if you’re going on holiday, you’re dreaming about a type of destination, a type of experience. And so a dream is really is not something I think AI is going to replace for us because it is truly innate in being human. That is, that is tied to whether that be a belief, a pure sort of inspiration, a memory. So, you know, those things I think will always be specifically human driven. Planning and buying, I think AI and technology do a very good job of, right, and, and they make it practical. They can find you the cheapest hotel, they can find the hotel by the airport, they can find you a tour operator. I mean, that’s where technology with all of the information that’s out there can start to based off of that dream, can start to hone in and focus in on the types of practical or pragmatic or available or you know, open at the times you’ll be there. But then when you get onto the experience part of it, you mean you’re actually in the destination, you’re actually doing it. Well again, then I think it goes back to a human to human type experience. And so I think the, the bookends of travel, if you will, will always be best delivered by human beings. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Where I think technology continues to shine and will continue to outperform, is to helping us plan accordingly. Helping us find the right types of products and solutions to fulfill whether that be a dream or whether it be a meeting that you had to be in Chicago at 2:00 PM I think the, the the share part of it, you know, cause now everybody’s gotta put it on Instagram or they’ve got on social media and there’s that, there’s that bit of it as well. There’s a lot of technology that’s involved in, there’s a lot of ai, you know, people. But at the end of the day, you know, you’re posting those things for the most part yourself. So technology I think is only a tool. It’s not, it’s not the product. in fact in most technology, we’re the product technology is really merely the tool that can connect us at scale, expose us to, you know, different types of, information or, or products and solutions. The thing about I think, technology, which is really interesting about, travel is personalization. We do want to be treated and to be catered in a way that feels curated and human beings in hospitality, that that’s what makes hospitality special. But also I do think technology can do that in a way at scale that you’re seeing a lot of brands employ, which I think is a beautiful thing. I think technology, we’re just at the forefront of it. Things like ChatGPT will always be, developed in other sectors. You know, travel is not a first mover typically in technology. I actually think that’s okay. You know, I don’t think we have to be a first mover in some of these things. I think we can let other sectors perfect them and then adapt them and modify them to you know, to the hospitality’s needs. And I think that’s okay. I don’t think there’s a problem in that.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, I think the spectrum continues to grow where we have those people at the forefront wanting to implement technology and, and there’s hotels that certainly cater to that, you know, with implementation of Alexa in the hotel room, but there’s always those people that maybe come back, they’re holding that paper airplane ticket as they come in for their boarding pass. They maybe are putting their, dry cleaning, filling out that form just like they used to. So that spectrum and travel is, is so big and, and I think you’re right, we are slow to adopt, but I think that’s necessary because the traveler sometimes is a little bit slower. But it will be interesting because I don’t think, I think we’ve always played in hypotheticals of, well, how quickly could we implement this technology and, and what do you think the adoption would be from a traveler? And now that hypothetical played out a couple years ago where it was like we were almost forced to do some of these things where it’s like, I have to download the app if I don’t want to have interaction with the front desk, now I’m used to it. So it’ll be interesting to see if that, because we experience that if some of these new technologies start to get implemented a little bit faster than we’ve typically seen in our industry.

Alexi Khajavi:
Well, I think it’s also, to your point, it’s a matter of choice. As long as you give the customer a choice, whether they want to go up to the front counter and talk to a human, or they wanna do it on the app or via, you know, their phone, on a website or whatever it may be, then I think, you know, you, you’ve opened the option of choice for that traveler to engage with, you know, the, the brand, whether that be digitally or through sort of old school, you know, human to human interaction. I think that is the route to go.

Ryan Embree:
Yes, absolutely open it up. We want to be as inclusive and inviting to any and all travel as possible to have the experience because everyone’s experience of a perfect stay or a perfect trip is so different that spectrum is just as big as those preferences there. So, great point there. Alexi, let’s, let’s go on to group and event travel. And this is, you know, right up your sector and I, I saw recently that Questex announced some record attendance in Q1 of 2023. That is welcome news for the travel industry. How do you see event and group travel playing out the rest of the year and into the future?

Alexi Khajavi:
It’s an interesting one, right? Because, one you’ve got, again, the pandemic just absolutely took a beating on the events in my space. And, you know, we were shut down for a year and a half, right? I mean, we were not able to do events, but we, we did our first event in the summer of, I’m sorry, in the spring of 2021. And, you know, since then it’s been, it’s been month after month of just increasing attendance, increasing engagement. And we have this year we’ve outperformed 2019 on many of our events. So the numbers are back. And what we’re seeing is a couple things which we think are really interesting. One is where we are what we call a tier one or tier two event, meaning you are the flagship event in that respective sector. Again, could be hotel investment, could be bars and restaurants, could be procurement in travel. And we have fortunately across travel, hospitality and wellness, we’ve got tier one events in each of those respective markets as well as in wellness. Those tier one events, those tier two events are doing very well, even compared to 2019. And it’s because everybody, same thing happened, you know, in the financial crisis in 2008, 2009, 2010 is that if you went to 2010 events last year, you’re going to go to five or three this year. You just simply limit, you start to trade down to the number of events you, that you go to, you travel less, but you go to those that matter. So, you know, in the markets that we, we’ve got those top tier events we’re doing very well. The second one, which I think is really interesting is that, you know, remote working is changed the landscape, right? So many people are doing it. New York where our HQ is Mondays and Fridays are quiet, particularly in Midtown. And that’s just because most offices, most folks aren’t coming in on those days. And then you have people that don’t come in at all. You have businesses that are hiring for talent, not based off of location. So our events and others in the space are becoming defacto meeting points, not just between the buyers and sellers in that particular market, but of the actual companies that attend our events themselves, they’re using our events as opportunities to engage with each other and get face-to-face with colleagues that they’ve only met virtually. And that’s, that’s a really interesting development that didn’t exist before, right? So we see that as an opportunity. We don’t know how long it will last, but I don’t get the sense that people are gonna be rushing back to the office, you know, next year no matter how much employers including ourselves, you know, love it when our people are in the office. So we end up using our own events, in fact to put colleagues together that haven’t had the chance to meet face-to-face. So our events are doing very well, particularly in the hospitality space where deals get done in a face-to-face environment. You know, we are face-to-face. We talked about, you know, technology’s impact and can that replace, you know, the human component. And the reality is no is, I mean, we’re a, we’re a people powered industry and the B2B side of it, the back end of deals being done and connecting buyers and sellers, those buyers and sellers do want to get together face-to-face. And we are very much seeing that across hospitality, travel and wellness that our newsletters are doing well, our research is doing well, our virtual events still, you know, in pockets do well, but people are deeply yearning to get together face-to-face. And our events are benefiting from that.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah. And, and the travel that I’ve been doing, you know, in the hospitality industry, there just seems to be a different vibe when you get into these events. There’s an energy there doesn’t seem like status quo anymore. But I love what you said about, you know, businesses using opportunities and, and events to get everyone together. And it makes me think, you know, with a marketing background, I mean this is a great opportunity for hotels, large convention resorts, put together packages for the businesses, right? And present it like that because that might be something, you’re right, Alexi, everyone’s virtual now and being able to maybe blend that together with a, a little leisure trip after work or before work, especially for those employers that wanna see their employees come back in the office, could be a nice little incentive to get everybody together face to face again.

Alexi Khajavi:
Completely agreed. I mean, you know, people call it bleasure or you know, some of my colleagues absolutely deplore that, that word, but it is true, right? At the end of the day, I think one of the benefits is that B2B doesn’t have to be boring. People are blending their home lives with their business lives, their home identity, with their business identity. And you had to, right during the pandemic, you’d be on a zoom call or a teams call or whatever it may be. And you know, your colleagues’ child would jump on their lap because they were home from school, or a cat or a dog or somebody would knock on the door. So we saw behind the scenes right behind the screen. And it’s not bad, right? I mean, we all have personal lives and there’s nothing wrong with that. It shouldn’t be invasive. You know, we, we, we, we do have the ability to keep them separate. But also I think, I think there is a more of a transparency on both employees as well as employers that, you know, we’ve got a personal life and we all, we also have a business life. And that sometimes conveniently, as long as they don’t compete with one another, you can blend them, right? So there’s nothing wrong if you’re in Orlando and you’re at a conference, or you’re on a business trip for that matter that why wouldn’t you bring your kids and let them go to Disney World and experience that? I think that that breaking down of these silos in our, in our lives, that I have a professional, me and I have a personal me, I think that’s actually a positive that we’ve broken those down and we’re a little bit more accepting, I hope of each other. And, and that, you know, if you wanna bring your spouse or you wanna bring, you know, your kids, we’ve even got some events where you can bring your spouse, you, you can bring your significant other, your partner, whomever it may be to maybe the opening reception because that is a part of who you are. And at the end of the day, if it is about connecting people, then your significant other is a part of who you are as well. I do like that. I, I mean we’re playing with that, to your point. We’re creating packages. We’re creating experiences. We never used to do that pre pandemic. It was business, business, business. And I think we’ve broken down those silos and I, and I think we’ll see more of that coming.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah it’s smart and kind of makes the marketing side of me run a little bit cause you want to be able to pigeonhole sometimes your perfect guest or the customer that you’re trying to acquire, right? And say, oh, I’m going for business travel, I’m a business travel hotel. But now all of a sudden you might want to say, maybe I should throw in some aspects of what families could do around here and stuff that’s on my social media that I didn’t think maybe a business traveler. Well yeah, the business traveler that’s bringing their family and their kids, they might be interested in what’s going on around town that’s more family oriented and they might bring their family and stay a couple more days at your hotel even though they’re there for business. So let’s kind of switch over to that cause obviously you came from a marketing background. At Travel Media Group, we’re always trying to educate hotels on strong social media presence, online reputation. Those are kind of the core foundation for guest acquisition, getting travelers to convert. Could you tell some of our listeners why having a strong digital presence, especially in today’s world, is absolutely essential?

Alexi Khajavi:
Yeah, the digital platform is, it is a personal way for a brand at scale to have almost one-to-one conversations. And we’ve never really had that ability before at scale. You know, a social media account is a, it’s a personal representation of a brand that is not just a one-way conversation, but it’s a two-way conversation. And so, you know, brands are really promises, right? I mean, that’s all a brand is, it is a promise of, you know, what you stand for, what you do, why you do it, and those types of things. And so I think the requirement of a brand is really the opportunity. People look at social often as a, you know, I’ve got a post, I’ve gotta do this. And you do, right? You can’t just sort of jump in and out of it. You have to be consistent with it and you have to be present. But really we’ve never had that ability to engage almost as human beings do. But from a brand perspective and to let that voice, you know, that sort of authenticity of voice shine through. And for travel, I know I’ve always said, and it’s sort of a saying that we, that we would always repeat in my advertising agency days is if people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. So this, this sense of purpose around the why is really, if you can tap into the why you do it and to put your e-commerce hat on or your commercial hat on, the conversions go much higher because you’re really tapping into something that’s much, much more visceral for that customer to say, this isn’t a product, but it’s a purpose. And I identify with this purpose, and again, I don’t wanna get too far that it has to be, you know, an altruistic purpose or it could be, you know, the purpose is looking good in a swimsuit in the summer. or it could be that you’re saving the Amazon rainforest. And I think that in travel, because we’ve seen a pandemic try to wipe travel away and do its best to prevent us from traveling. The visceral reaction on the part of people were no, absolutely not. I am going to travel, I am going to engage, I am gonna connect with other human beings. And so I think the ability to have a digital presence is not just the another marketing channel, but it really isn’t a, a marketing channel that allows for these brands to one, have an authenticity of voice. Two, speak with authenticity, right? I mean, you can, you can literally just speak with customers one to one-to-one and get into a conversation, but it’s also a way for you to be transparent both in your goods and your bads because social media is unforgiving in its speed, but also in its transparency, right? Is that it can, it can go both ways. It can cut both ways on you. So I think you have to embrace it. And I think, you know, travel and hospitality, the fortunate thing for us is, is that we, we are still very much a a, an inspiration led sector, which also the imagery of that plays very nicely into digital because an image speaks a thousand words type thing. So I think we’re in a very fortunate sector to be able to be living in this time where we have this massive platform that can both communicate at scale, but at the same time communicate in a almost a one-to-one way with back and forth. So it’s really, it’s really fascinating the time that we’re living in from a marketing perspective.

Ryan Embree:
We had a lot of our travelers certainly sitting and stuck in that dreaming phase that you talked about at the beginning in this episode. Scrolling and kind of putting that bucket list together of travel when this whole thing ended. Hey, where am I going and where am my jet setting off to? But just the way we absorb that information too, it’s not like we work in another industry where we’re forcing people to get out their phones and take pictures. We constantly have people taking pictures of their journey to us, their experience with us. We are very fortunate in this industry that all of the content could be surrounding us every single day. And if we’re doing things the right way, then advocacy certainly will shine online and your conversions will translate. You know, there’s, there’s a parallel there. So you’re right. I mean, it is, it’s an amazing industry to be in. That’s why we preach it with social media and online reputation cause we know how powerful it can be. On the other side, it’s a slippery slope as well. That transparency there and those blemishes that you see, it’s not a one-off anymore. We, we might been a couple decades ago, be able to say, “Oh you know, we really messed up with that traveler. We’re gonna do better next time”. A traveler might be a little bit more of an influence today if they’ve got the right audience, they’ve got the right ears or set of eyes that have been watching them. So we have to take care at, at kind of every single turn there.

Alexi Khajavi:
Just to that point cause I think this is a really interesting moment that we’re also living in, is that we’ve had this post pandemic glow about travel where people realized, oh my gosh, I, I can travel. I haven’t traveled for a while, let’s go travel. And we’re seeing it even now with business on the books for, for this summer. You’re seeing airlines, hotels, destinations. I mean, it looks like it’s gonna be a very popular summer travel season again, which is, which is fabulous. But on the flip side of that, you’re seeing hotels that have not been invested in, in terms of renovations, repairs, products and solutions. Staffing is still a really big problem for the industry. So the wait times, training, dealing with customer complaints, the rates are some of the highest they’ve ever been, both airfare as well as hotels. And you are starting to see in, you know, JD Power ratings that the customer satisfaction is going down, meanwhile the rates are going up. So you have an inflection that has occurred and, you know, paying more for a product of lesser quality, whether that be the service level or you know, the condition of the room because you haven’t spent the money on it in the last few years. That, that is a, I think a worry out there in the marketplace. It’s something that we’re very tuned into because, you know, the customer is educated, the customer is demanding, the customer is discerning, and to your point, the customer has a phone which can scale and get that message out by taking a photo of something, a line, a product, a plate of food, a pool that’s unclean, whatever it may be. And so, to your point, it cuts both ways. And I think we are, we’re at a very critical moment in the industry right now where demand is high. There’s a, there’s a ton of demand that hasn’t even gone traveling yet. And yet we’re kind of all benefiting from this very popular moment of high rates, you know, fairly good profits, although there’s some challenges with labor and increasing cost and inflation, but we’ve gotta make sure that we don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg, so to speak.

Ryan Embree:
No, I think that is a great cautionary message there cuz you’re right, we do not wanna sit here and take our guests for granted that might’ve been sitting here and saying, you know what? It’s okay that the breakfast’s not up to par. I haven’t been, I haven’t been out in a hotel in years. This is, you know, all of a sudden that message starts to get a little bit more, you know what, maybe they should be doing this. You, you know what, I, I don’t like sitting in line at the front desk for 20 minutes. There definitely has to be some efficiencies there. Your online reputation, so key and, and guests are giving you clues every single day. We’re about to get, like you said, the hotel listeners listening to this should be very happy. It is all looking like we’re gonna have a huge summer, but at the same time, this is gonna be an incredible stress test for your property as well. And those little issues right now that you’ve been able to manage and handle might turn into bigger problems if not properly addressed. So definitely take that into consideration and you do not want to get yourself in a place where you do enough damage to your online reputation in the summer to where in those slower months it’s gonna impact conversion. So yeah, great point there, Alexi, and we talked about staffing shortages. I, I wanna lean into that cause that has definitely been a headwind, right? I feel like we’ve gotten past some of the other things that we’ve been battling in our industry, but this staffing shortage just will not, we cannot shake it for some reason. One of the things we’re about to discuss in depth is all the events and learning opportunities that Questex has to offer. I wanna talk to the importance of these events and educational opportunities for travel industry because sending employees out obviously is a morale booster, you know, to go to one of these events. But just the impact the education and I graduated from Rosen College Hospitality at UCF, we need more of these events and educational opportunities to, to start padding the staffing in our industry.

Alexi Khajavi:
Yeah, look, it’s tough, right? Because we cater to senior level professionals in the industry, but we’re always trying to encourage the future generation of, of travel and hospitality professionals to attend the staffing issue is unlike anything we’ve we’ve seen ever before. And it isn’t going away. I mean, I think there was some hope that it would go away. We’ve had open vacancies, you know, we’ve got over a million job vacancies just in hospitality alone. And that number has remained constant, you know, for the last year. It really is. It’s a twofold issue. One is the point that you bring up, which is around hospitality schools and making sure that this industry, our industry of travel and hospitality appeals to young students and people that are looking to get into the workforce. We did, and I think we lost a little bit of the trust during the pandemic when we just absolutely did what we had to do. We cut positions in order to stay afloat. But I think that that was a real moment where, you know, we treated employees as essentially just temporary work and we put them, you know, out to on furlough or, or frankly, you know, let them go. And I think that will take some time to you know, to, to build back that trust. But the other part of this is immigration. We cannot solve the labor issue in travel and hospitality without fixing the immigration issue in the US. But it’s not just a US issue, it’s a global issue. Whether you’re in the UK with Brexit or you’re within Europe, hospitality depends on immigration because it is a beautiful and easy position to enter into to earn good money. And also there is a career progression built within travel and hospitality, right? Whether to a GM position, to a food and beverage director position. So there’s a lot of benefits to it that has have clearly appealed, you know, to immigrants, whether it be to the US or any other place. And unfortunately, you know, the immigration issue right now is an extremely bipartisan issue, in the country. And so, you know, the, you know, the hope that it gets fixed anytime soon I think is true, is just that it’s a hope and that’s an unfortunate situation. So then I think it goes back to your point, which is what can we do more to provide, I think a both a trust factor but also an appealing factor to young people that want to, you know, get a job. Maybe they’re not thinking of hospitality per se as a career, but they need to earn some money. And I’m, you know, I am starting to see a little bit more creativity and innovation in that space. Aimbridge, which is one of the largest third party operators and employers of hotel and hospitality staff, they’ve got an app right now that in a market. So if you’re in LA and they’ve got, you know, 200 properties in LA you can choose which property you wanna work at that day. So a little bit of that flex working, which frankly appeals to people in this day and age, right? You know, people wanna maybe go skate, you know, Venice Beach or go surf anywhere. And having that ability to say, I don’t wanna work the morning shift, I wanna work the evening shift. You know, I grew up in hospitality. I, I was, I was a bus boy, I was working hotels, worked a lot in restaurants. I mean, I’ve done plenty of night shifts and then, and then been there for breakfast and that is tough. you know, you’re getting five hours of sleep, right? And there’s a bit of that, you know, well, we all had to do it. Now you gotta crack on and, and take it. But, you know, I don’t think that that, that always worked. I think, and it doesn’t have to be that way. We can be more creative and look, if, if you’re offering a higher wage to go work the breakfast and somebody wants to earn that higher wage and they, they work the dinner shift, let ’em have at it, right? It’s a supply and demand economics. It’s not rocket science. So I do think that we’ve just gotta be more creative in how we set up, you know, scheduling, how we appeal to, you know, the younger generations by going to those hospitality schools by illustrating the career progression in hospitality and travel. I mean, it is really one of the most upwardly mobile, you know, sectors that I know of. You know, I don’t think we had to do those things in the past. Well, we have to do ’em now and we just have to do a better job of it.

Ryan Embree:
You’re absolutely right there, Alexi. I mean, I’ve had so many people on this, on this podcast and to hear that, that first question that I asked you, right, to hear their story of how they got into hospitality, I think right now we’re hearing more and more people saying, you know, I just kind of found myself in hospitality and worked my way up. We need to change that narrative of being like, you know what? I went to school for hospitality, I went through this program and got to where I am. And we need to be able to tell those stories and make it less about finding yourself in hospitality and more about kind of finding your career in hospitality and growing through that. So it’ll be interesting to see, I love that idea that you mentioned about the flexibility of schedules cause that’s always been the knock on hospitality, right? You know, is the scheduling and work-life balance, which as we talked about now, starting to, to blend a little bit. So in a place where we’re in hospitality, maybe we have an advantage there of trying to provide a work-life balance a little bit more to cater to some of our employees.

Alexi Khajavi:
I agree. I think that’s exactly it.

Ryan Embree:
Let’s dive into the hospitality show. So I’m, I’m really excited about this event. This is, this is the first time we’re announcing this on the podcast, but Travel Media Group and the Suite Spot, we’re gonna be there. We’re gonna be at the event we’re super excited about. It’s gonna be a fantastic event from everything that we’ve seen. I mean, you guys are all over the place right now, when it comes to, to marketing this thing. So it’s gonna be a great event. What can attendees expect from this show, Alexi?

Alexi Khajavi:
You know, the show is the hospitality show in its first year was launched, not because there’s a lack of hospitality shows in the marketplace. It’s because there’s no single hospitality show that has a singular focus on driving profitability back to owners, into operators. And whether that be, you know, top line challenges from revenue management to changing customer demand profiles to social media. But certainly on some of the issues that we’ve touched upon, Ryan, which is staffing, labor, technology issues. You know, this is a really complex industry and the margins have never been, some of the best in the world either, right? I mean, you’ve got, you know, labor, you’ve got food, you’ve, you’ve got big macro, you know, challenges in this space that are costs that are frankly out of our, out of our control. So we really did see an opportunity that rather than just treat a show or launch a show that was about the real estate side or one that was about the operational side, let’s go after owners and operators that own those assets, operate those assets and want to drive more profitability back home. And, and whether they sell that, that asset in five or six years time, that’s irrelevant, is that how do you effectively optimize and run a more profitable hotel? So the interesting things around that is, it’s just endless, right? So innovating the room, how do you turn a lobby into a profit center and not just a cost center, which is, you know, some couches and, a bunch of people sort of going in and out or milling around. We’ve got over 300 exhibitors. We’re expecting over 3000 attendees. We have probably one of the most exciting and innovative conference programs on the sector. We’ve got Admiral McRaven, we’ve got Kat Cole from Athletic Greens, we’ve got Tony Capuano, we’ve got Scott Kirby, the CEO of United Airlines. we’ve got Google joining us. The program is all, you know, online and it, it really is a blend of discovery information and networking of the best and the brightest in the industry. The feedback and the response for it has been overwhelming. I mean, for a new launch to get this amount of excitement and support from the industry, from both the senior level as well as from general managers, you know, an owner, single owner of a hotel, you know, in College Station, Texas for that matter to Blackstone, right? All the way to some of the top hotel owners. It’s obviously in Vegas, which is gonna be a good time. We’ve got an opening night party at Tao which is the nightclub at the Venetian, sponsored by, DirecTV. And so we’ve got, it’s just an incredible experience that we’re gonna be offering to our attendees. And as I said, it’ the 27th to the 29th of June and, it should be a good time and, we’re looking forward to having you guys there as well.

Ryan Embree:
Yeah, absolutely. It’s gonna be super exciting. And you know, for our listeners, again, if you haven’t seen it, you might be under a rock because again, this, this inaugural event that Alexi’s talked about has, has been everywhere. But for our listeners that are, are interested in going, we actually have a code that you can use, 20% off any pass THSpodcast. Again, THSpodcast, go to the Hospitality show and Alexi and I will both be there. We’re excited for this event. We’re gonna have a lot of fun there. So, Alexi, you know, this was a really great conversation. As you mentioned before, our industry, very comprehensive. There’s so many elements to it. That’s why I think the hospitality show is gonna be such a success because, you know, I’ve looked at that program schedule there, it really covers everything, even if you’re just getting into the industry, right? We got a lot of listeners right now that might just be getting into this industry. We just talked about it. Finding your career through our industry, which is, is one of the most fascinating and exciting out there to senior level people. So Alexi, I want to thank you for, for your, all your insights and joining me on the Suite Spot today.

Alexi Khajavi:
No, Ryan, thank you very much. Really appreciate it. Enjoyed it immensely, and looking forward to seeing you in Vegas at The Hospitality Show in June.

Ryan Embree:
We will see you there. Thanks Alexi, and thank you all for listening. To Join our Loyalty program, be sure to subscribe and give us a five star rating on iTunes. Suite Spot is produced by Travel Media Group. Our editor is Brandon Bell with Cover Art by Bary Gordon. I’m your host Ryan Embree, and we hope you enjoyed your stay.

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