You can’t miss Jerry Inzerillo after he enters a hotel. Forbes Travel Guide’s energetic, enthusiastic vice chairman always wears a sharp suit and a beaming smile, while surrounded by a small crowd of hotel staff. In his New York accent, he alternates between relaying funny anecdotes and heaping deserving praise on everyone from bellmen to CEOs. Those around him listen, rapt.
Inzerillo, who also serves as CEO of Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Gate Development Authority, commands such attention because he’s an industry visionary whose hospitality career spans more than 50 years. It’s why he was voted Corporate Hotelier of the World by the readers and subscribers of HOTELS magazine in its 41st annual Hotelier of the World awards.
The Hotelier of the World award recognizes individuals whose careers and accomplishments demonstrate a commitment to unparalleled standards of service, operational excellence and performance, and creativity in management, all while leaving an impressive legacy for the greater good of the global hotel business.
Inzerillo’s honor marks the first time in HOTELS’ history that Hotelier of the World has been awarded to someone who is not leading a global hotel company, but who has exhibited all the winning criteria throughout a career. The distinguished accolade previously went to such hospitality titans as J. Willard Marriott Jr. of Marriott Hotels; M.S. Oberoi of Oberoi Hotels and Resorts; Isadore Sharp, founder and chairman of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts; and Horst Schulze of The Ritz-Carlton Hotels.
“Jerry embodies hospitality,” says Filip Boyen, CEO of Forbes Travel Guide. “His leadership style is known for being one that boosts the self-esteem of everyone around him. He has the wonderful ability to make everyone feel special, and he takes time to recognize each individual’s unique strengths. Jerry knows that the success of any company comes down to that of its employees feeling valued and appreciated, and he places tremendous value on human connection — he is a natural-born leader for hospitality.”
Inzerillo made an impression early on with HOTELS editor in chief Jeff Weinstein. “Jerry was one of the first hoteliers who reached out to me some 27 years ago when I first started at HOTELS,” Weinstein says. “I learned during that meeting what a special industry this was because of his infectious enthusiasm and his understanding that innkeeping is such a noble profession. His positivity makes an impact wherever he roams, and it is not surprising the readers of HOTELS came to understand that about Jerry during his exciting career and voted him in as HOTELS 2021 Corporate Hotelier of the World.”
The title affirms those like Inzerillo, who put service at the center of their professional life, he says. “Having started as a busboy at age 13 in 1967 as a necessity to try and earn my own money, I never imagined all these years later that my beloved peers in our global tourism community would award me this most humbling honor for serving, which was quite natural and enjoyable to me as well as a constant source of festivity and affection,” he says. “This recognition validates that serving is noble and further indicates that anyone who devotes their life to service is capable of such an honor.”
“In my eyes, this award is less about an individual than it is to all those who get little recognition daily, especially behind the scenes,” says Inzerillo, who made many famous friends (including Cindy Crawford, Nelson Mandela and Sharon Stone) while a hotelier, but is known for taking time to counsel industry up-and-comers. “It further reinforces the promise that if you serve with all your heart without the expectation of reward, the acknowledgment will follow automatically one way or another. The realization that our community globally felt to acknowledge my service is my most cherished memory in my 54-year career.”
Before joining Forbes Travel Guide, where he served as CEO from 2014 to 2018 and then as vice chairman, Inzerillo worked at various top-flight hospitality companies. He was president of Kerzner Entertainment Group, where he developed the One&Only brand and Atlantis Resorts, among his other accomplishments there. At Morgans Hotel Group, later rebranded as Ian Schrager Hotels, he was the founding president and CEO, and he conceptualized and opened Morgans, Royalton and Paramount in New York; the Delano in Miami Beach; and Mondrian in L.A. In addition, Inzerillo has held leadership positions at Four Seasons and Hilton Hotels.
Working in hotels early on ignited a lifelong passion for the industry. “Hospitality by its nature is to be hospitable and welcoming regardless of culture or creed,” Inzerillo says. “As an industry and community, we are inclusive, generous, professional and unselfish, which are attributes that are admired and vital, even in many polarized societies. No words are more meaningful and thoughtful than, ‘You’re welcome!’”
The arrival of the pandemic hit the hospitality sector hard, and some worry that it may be a long time before it fully recovers. But Inzerillo remains resolutely optimistic and supportive of the industry. “We already have some significant lessons from COVID that affect travel and hospitality, principally that in order for us to be emotionally healthy and happy as individuals and as societies, we need to interact and share,” he says. “Travel demonstrates that our differences are what make the world unique and should be celebrated. Everyone will want to get out more now and hopefully value our global humanity and environment more — and our resilient, noble innkeepers will be waiting for them.”