The unofficial theme for this year’s Verified, The Forbes Travel Guide Luxury Summit was being sustainable in the high-end hospitality world. But even with words like “reuse” and “repurpose” being sprinkled about much of the conversation, FTG’s three-day celebration at ARIA Resort & Casino in Las Vegas with more than 600 top hoteliers never felt recycled. From the black-tie gala emceed by Marisa Tomei to a thoughtful symposium that explored wellness, almost every aspect of the summit was fresh and focused on the future.
The carbon-neutral event (ARIA calculated the carbon footprint from guest travel and hotel stays and balanced it through the purchase of forest and wind power offsets) got off to a roaring start at the Jet Linx Five-Star Reception, a spectacle highlighted by elevated cuisine (from many of ARIA’s top restaurants, like Blossom), exquisite drinks and an energetic live set from trumpeter Brian Newman and showgirls. Jet Linx CEO Jamie Walker used the platform to announce the creation of the Forbes Travel Guide/Jet Linx Hotel Concierge Program, an exciting initiative that will recommend and reserve accommodations at FTG-rated properties for the private jet brand’s exclusive clients.
The next morning’s highlight was a wellness- and sustainability-focused roundtable hosted by hotel business expert Glenn Haussman that featured a trio of hospitality heavyweights: Sue Harmsworth, ESPA founder; Stowe Shoemaker, dean at William F. Harrah College of Hospitality at UNLV; and Yalmaz Siddiqui, vice president of corporate sustainability at MGM Resorts International.
“In terms of prioritization for hotel, a lot of impact begins at the design phase,” said Siddiqui on hotels’ role in environmental care. “If you’re about to build, put a lot more effort into early-stage thinking about the materials and sourcing. The wood — does it come from well-managed forests? The glues they’re using to put wallpaper up and carpet down — does it [release] chemicals that will take years to dissipate?”
But just as the hotels themselves need attention, the panel insisted that the staff needed care, too. “One of the biggest problems globally is loneliness of the young,” Harmsworth explained. “You think of loneliness as [something only] older [people deal with]. I think one of the questions [from hotel owners] related to that was, ‘How can we get staff and how do we retain staff?’ I think [having] this sense of community and that [staffers] belong are really important.”
Between that powerful discussion and a host of others — informative discovery sessions ranged from “Luxury Defined in a Global Market” led by Forbes Travel Guide directors of learning and development Angelina Phua and Megan Torrance to hospitality insider Anthony Melchiorri’s “Building Your Personal Brand” — patrons spent time at the Brand Officials Pavilion, a ballroom filled with premier purveyors of everything from fine chocolates (Valrhona) and travel fashion (Anatomie) to eco-friendly oral care (WooBamboo) and high-quality linens (Frette).
Additionally, Dazzle Dry provided nail polish changes and manicures. Gharieni offered 30-minute wellness experiences on its cutting-edge spa equipment. Natura Bissé gave complimentary 20-minute neck and hand treatments. The services were perfect pampering detours to prep for the evening fun.
On Verified’s second night, the aforementioned pavilion was transformed to the Chairman’s Welcome and Award Winners Reception. Here, Star Award winners rubbed elbows with one another as they admired (and sampled) deviled eggs hanging in cages and cowboy steaks (grass-fed, of course) cooling in a water tank.
The summit’s third day started with an eye-opening symposium. H2 Sustainability Consulting’s Hervé Houdré delivered a strong keynote speech spotlighting companies doing great things for the planet — newly minted Five-Star The Brando, for instance, has an ingenious system that uses sea water to power the resort’s air conditioning at a fraction of the cost of a conventional unit — and how other properties can help out.
CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta then moderated a wellness panel with a powerhouse roster of travel, hospitality and health insiders, including hotel expert Tiffany Dowd; Gharieni CEO/founder Sammy Gharieni; vegan chef Leslie Durso; Sharecare president Dawn Whaley; and Dr. Jeremy Edwards, chair of the National Medical Advisory Council for Make-A-Wish America.
“Wellness is a full-body experience,” Durso said. “It’s the food that I’m eating. It’s the health and fitness program at a property. It’s the environmental impact of that property. It’s not eating from plastic. It’s the entire mindset. It’s meditation. It’s quiet places to quiet my mind as well as heal my body. Everyone needs to get on board with this because we’re running ourselves into the ground.”
Make-A-Wish was this year’s charity beneficiary for Forbes Travel Guide. The untiring organization’s chief revenue officer Alice O’Rourke spoke on the company’s mission to grant wishes to children fighting life-threatening diseases. She introduced Alondra, a determined nursing student batting Hodgkin lymphoma who had her dream of visiting Europe realized by Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Altis Avenida Hotel in Lisbon.
“Thanks for giving us a chance to explore your hotel,” said Alondra, in the direction of Altis Avenida general manager Frederico Paes Vasconcelos. And toward the rest of the captivated audience, she said, “I wish every hotel is able to have at least one wish kid.” (If you would like to help Make-A-Wish, click here.)
Verified’s crescendo would happen a few hours later with the Marisa Tomei-starred gala. As you’d expect, the Academy Award-winning actress was in top form on the big stage. She talked about her father being a bellman in his youth. She donned full showgirl regalia and danced in rousing musical numbers. She acknowledged the brilliant female leaders in the industry and told Hollywood to take notice.
In addition to the night belonging to the Five-Star, Four-Star and Recommended winners, Forbes Travel Guide issued five inaugural honors as well: hotel of the year, restaurant of the year, spa of the year, employees of the year and best hotel Instagram account. (Find out who won these special awards here.)
Once all of that revelry concluded, people were whisked away to Five-Star Wynn Las Vegas’ sizzling XS nightclub to end the evening with over-the-top Vegas flair. The acrobatic cast of Le Rêve gave a special performance, and then world-renowned DJ Dillon Francis spun until the wee hours.
Dancing and more delectable bites were on the late-night menu. After the multi-course gala meal that started with a tin of Petrossian caviar and ended with an interactive Valrhona chocolate dessert, though, many revelers couldn’t eat much. But in keeping with one of the Verified themes of being mindful of waste, unserved food was collected to be safely donated to charity. That fact (and the free-flowing Dom Pérignon) might explain why guests’ moves on the dancefloor had a little extra pep to them.