While Katy Perry, Adele and Luke Bryan headline the mega-resorts towering over the Las Vegas Strip, other kinds of stars took top billing at Resorts World Las Vegas. Forbes Travel Guide’s Summit logo and its trademark stars gleamed from the resort’s 100,000-square-foot LED screen red tower façade in honor of the annual celebration of the world’s best in luxury hospitality on March 1 and 2.
And though the invitation-only gathering did bring out celebrities — Neil Patrick Harris hosted the gala and Tony winner Anthony Veneziale (who co-created the acclaimed improv hip-hop comedy group Freestyle Love Supreme with Lin-Manuel Miranda) emceed the event — the honored luminaries hailed from the hospitality world. The Summit was FTG’s first since 2020 and its largest: nearly 800 hoteliers, business executives, travel advisors and other leading luxury travel professionals from more than five continents and 80 countries converged in Vegas, representing $20 billion in annual travel revenue.
This year, FTG reinvented the event, expanding opportunities for participants to engage with thought leaders not just in hospitality, but with experts in technology, sustainability, the investment sector, well-being, company culture and more. Veneziale and beatboxer Carlos Aguirre kicked off The Summit with some lyrics and beats.
Keynote speakers included J. Christopher Burch, the founder and CEO of Burch Creative Capital who owns NIHI Sumba in Indonesia and opened Faena Hotel Buenos Aires, who sat down with CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg to discuss the latest in luxury and travel. James Beard Award nominee Elizabeth Blau, who also serves as FTG’s Global Ambassador for Food & Beverage, shared how to make hotel restaurants more salient in today’s booming dining landscape, noting that in the next 18 months, 50 to 60 new hotel restaurants will debut in Las Vegas alone.
Later, Ben Navarro, CEO of Sherman Financial Group and owner of Beemok Capital (whose holdings include the historic The Charleston Place), elaborated his take on purpose-driven hospitality, saying that intentionality is key to cultivating cultures, challenging the status quo and continually elevating the hospitality standards.
Robert Webster, president of CBRE Hotels Institutional Group, closed out the afternoon by making the case for leisure hospitality investment. “For decades, leisure assets produced higher growth with lower volatility. Period,” he said.
Another slate of leading speakers followed the next day at the Symposium. One of the most talked-about sessions featured Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises. She chatted with Greenberg about the flourishing cruise industry. “We are up 206 percent versus the same time in 2019,” she said.
Greenberg also delved into Lutoff-Perlo’s efforts to bring gender diversity to Celebrity’s male-dominated bridge team. “Women were 3 percent on the bridge when I started,” she said. “They are 32 percent now.” Then Instagram-famous Kate McCue, the first American female to captain a major cruise ship, surprised the crowd with a live video appearance from aboard Celebrity Beyond.
Next, Dr. Henry H. Ting, SVP and chief health officer of Delta, addressed pursuing a well-being-focused strategy for employees. “We really believe that by taking care of our people, they will take care of our customers,” Ting said. He said that since one in six couples has trouble conceiving, Delta decided to provide fertility coverage as well as adoption, surrogacy and parental leave for the birthing and non-birthing parents. Despite forward-thinking measures like these, Delta kept its own health care costs flat for five consecutive years, he reported.
Another health-related keynote came from Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health. Galea explored how health will intersect with hospitality in the coming decades. “The notion that our health, health post-COVID and the recovery of health will be the responsibility of and driven by doctors is simply wrong,” he said. “It’s actually going to be driven by the sectors that create the world around us, and that is in large part what you all do.”
Khalid Meniri, co-founder and CEO of Selfbook, revealed how fintech can improve the online reservation process. He relayed a story about staying at a Marrakesh hotel, where he reunited with his mother after eight years. While they hugged and cried in the lobby, the front desk agent interrupted and asked for a credit card. “That moment was shattered immediately,” Meniri said. This prompted him to explore how to eliminate these types of transactions without diluting hospitality.
Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, capped off the Symposium. “I believe that human connection is key to greater and more defensible economic success—increasingly a keystone in protecting and increasing margins in the face of commoditization,” Upchurch said. “We are seeing the highest ADRs on record, yet there are some issues, like a growing disconnect between pricing and service—an alarm our advisors are sounding right now.”
Alongside the keynotes, The Summit included smaller Discovery Sessions with speakers tackling subjects ranging from how ChatGPT can enhance travel to the evolution of spas. One timely session was “Navigating the Use of Gendered Language in a Gender Fluid World” from Aby Hawker, founder and CEO TransMission PR. Hawker helped navigate gender-diverse language in an industry that relies on “sir” and “madam” in guest interactions. It’s not about narrowing the language, it’s about extending it, Hawker said. Megan Torrance, FTG’s senior vice president of Learning & Development chimed in with an example: instead of saying “ladies and gentlemen,” use “ladies and gentlemen and everyone with us today.”
The “Sustainability and Luxury Can Be Friends” Discovery Session tackled one of the industry’s hottest topics. Led by Hervé Houdré — FTG’s Global Ambassador of Responsible Hospitality was the one to coin the term “sustainable hospitality” — the talk addressed the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. “Stop staying sustainability comes at a cost,” he said. “Sustainability can help hotels.” He also gave a sneak peek into FTG’s soon-to-launch Responsible Hospitality, a self-verification tool and evolution of FTG’s Health Security Verified platform. The program will award a badge to hotels that meet expert criteria for protecting the environment and supporting the well-being of employees, guests and the community — creating a global standard for the world’s finest hotels and a trusted third-party verification for guests and travel advisors.
When the talks ended, the parties began. On March 1, attendees came to Resorts World’s Rose Ballroom to indulge in the ice bar loaded with caviar, shrimp, oysters and more, along with stations offering everything from wagyu beef to sushi. Then everyone hit the floor to dance to pop hits from the LA Allstars band.
The next evening was the much-anticipated gala. Harris joined Veneziale and a troupe of Vegas dancers for a rousing musical number to open the show. He quickly won over the crowd with his jokes. “For the first time in its 65-year history, Forbes Travel Guide launched its inaugural rating of cruise ships,” he said. “Five made the list — all from Celebrity cruise line, with the Celebrity Apex, Celebrity Flora and Celebrity Millennium each earning Four Stars. One Celebrity missing from that list? Celebrity Neil Patrick Harris. You’re not going to find a better candidate to promote a cruise line. I’m friendly, I work out a lot, take my clothes off whenever I can, [my husband] David looks great in a Speedo.” Harris sailed with the water theme, later arriving on the stage in a pirate ship dressed in full swashbuckling regalia.
Throughout The Summit, FTG gave out numerous employee awards alongside significant first-time honors. Lutoff-Perlo received the inaugural Forbes Travel Guide Award of Excellence, produced by Baccarat. “This award will be bestowed upon individuals who have had a significant economic or social impact on the hospitality industry, leaving it in a better place for others to thrive,” said Amanda Frasier, FTG’s president of ratings. Lutoff-Perlo was recognized for her commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Elger presented Miami mayor Francis X. Suarez with FTG’s first Resilience in Tourism award, which commends a country or destination that shows strength against climate, economy and safety challenges. “We can’t be No. 1 in the nation in pandemic recovery without you, from the major brands in our city in the hospitality industry like the Ritz to small businesses like Boucher Brothers,” Suarez said. “When you think of a city, which is a service-based industry, we provide services by being forward facing, and we do that hopefully by providing services with a smile and hopefully in a hospitable way.”