Story in Hospitality: FFWD Conference
Experience Imagination | Episode 9
Show Host: Cecil Magpuri – President/Chief Creative Officer
Studio Guests: Adam Kubryk - Director of Sales & Marketing, Global Allies, LLC and Ron Swidler - Chief Innovation Officer, The Gettys Group
Welcome to Season 2 of Experience Imagination! The world of hospitality is transforming every single day with new developments requiring ways to engage guests in more unique and engaging ways. In 2018, our President and Chief Creative Officer attended the Fast Forward Conference, an exclusive conference held in Nashville which brought together some of the industry drivers in the world of hospitality. This episode gives an inside look at Fast Forward with two of the hosts of the conference Ron Swidler from Getty’s Group and Adam Kubryk from Global Allies.
About the Show:
Experience Imagination is a themed entertainment podcast presented by Falcon’s Creative Group. Every episode covers a new topic discussion with a panel of creative professionals. Tune in and subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, or GooglePlay.
Story in Hospitality: FFWD Conference 2018 Transcript:
Cecil Magpuri: You're listening to "Experience Imagination," a themed entertainment design podcast presented by Falcon's Creative Group. Every episode we discuss a new topic with a panel of creative professionals. Hi, I'm Cecil Magpuri, President and Chief Creative Officer of Falcon's.
Abhinav Narain: Hey everybody, welcome to our first episode of 2019. This is I guess our official season 2 start. I’m Abhinav Narain normally the moderator for the episode but this time we’re actually doing something a little bit different. I’ll talk to Cecil to find out more. Hey Cecil, how's it going?
Cecil Magpuri: Good. How you doing, Abhinav?
Abhinav Narain: Doing good. We have a very interesting episode. The format's going to be a little different this time. You were invited to a conference at the end of last year, and I'll let you continue the story there.
Cecil Magpuri: A colleague of mine, Ron Swidler, gave me a call and asked me if I was interested in participating in a conference called Fast Forward in Nashville. And so I got the voice mail and I did a little bit of research, and I started to realize that this was quite special. They had produced four other Fast Forwards, and it was really refreshing to see the format that they were doing. So I extended myself and said "Yes, I would love to participate," since the theme of the conference was going to be revolving around story.
Abhinav Narain: They have a different theme every year, and this year it was story.
Cecil Magpuri: Yes. Since we have crossed over in some hospitality experiences, one specifically being Dragon's Treasure in Macau in a casino, where we created a spectacular entertainment dome experience, the world's largest, which Ron was involved with the Hard Rock casino component and hotel. That's where we crossed paths, and he said that was an amazing experience. It was story-driven. I felt the hospitality industry would embrace that type of thinking.
Abhinav Narain: Benefit from that different perspective.
Cecil Magpuri: Exactly. So I said, "Sure, it sounds good."
Abhinav Narain: So in just a few minutes we'll cut over to a conversation that you had the opportunity to have after the conference just recently with Ron Swidler as well as his colleague Adam Kubrick. Before we get there, though, I wanted to take a few minutes and talk to you about what did you actually end up presenting at the conference?
Cecil Magpuri: This was unique because the audience was different and I wanted to make it a little bit more personal because I think the way the other speakers were talking it was trying to understand how their expertise and their respective industry applied story to success and how it would apply to hospitality. So we basically started to break it down and think about how we could tell my story and my journey and find some level of consistency in my own journey and how it applied to Falcon's Creative Group.
Abhinav Narain: Great. Let's go ahead and cut to your conversation with Ron and Adam.
Cecil Magpuri: Sounds good. It would be great if you guys could introduce yourselves and talk a little bit about your companies. That would I think be helpful.
Ron Swidler: Yeah, I'll give you a bit of background on me. This is Ron Swidler. I'm the chief innovation officer for the Gettys Group. Been with the company for 30 years and the Gettys Group is a global hospitality, interior design, branding, development, and procurement company. Our focus is firmly on hospitality, and we span from the luxury level of hospitality down to the more affordable level in terms of projects. And we do lots of projects that are related to hospitality but feel like a bit of a brand extension beyond what you'd normally think of for hospitality being hotels, in that we're actively involved in some cruise ship projects and furnished apartment projects, residential projects, etc., standalone restaurants, things like that. But it all has this heart of hospitality behind it.
Cecil Magpuri: Great. Thank you, Ron. Adam?
Adam Kubrick: Sure. I'm Adam Kubrick with Global Allies. We do two types of seating for hospitality. We do desk chairs and banquet chairs for hotels. But we are rather large and rather involved with a lot of the major brands, owners, design firms, and so I feel like we have a unique perspective in that we are regularly in the casinos' offices seeing what's happening in Las Vegas and talking to the Marriotts and Hiltons and Hyatts of the world and seeing what's happening at a macro level, and also dealing with design firms and owners about individual projects. So we have this unique perspective from top to bottom that we're able to accumulate through chairs. And we've been doing that for about 15 years now. But it's amazing, you can just sell chairs and just sell them to hotels and gain not just a sizable business out of it but a really interesting and unique perspective on hospitality.
Cecil Magpuri: Awesome. Thank you for that insight. One of the things that I was fortunate enough was to participate in your last Fast Forward conference, and I am still talking about it today. I was blown away with the quality of the experience, the intimacy of the experience, the scale of the experience. I know those are two different things, but I felt like it was such a significant conference in the sense of the outreach, the players that were involved. How did you guys come up with this idea and more importantly, how did you create the secret sauce of an experience that is so unique? I have never experienced anything like it. Maybe you guys can give a little bit of history of how you got to where you got with Fast Forward.
Ron Swidler: Well first, thanks for being there and for contributing so much to the success of the event. We loved having you there. You blew people's minds with the kind of work that you guys do and how you went about sharing it. And there's still chatter about your presentation, not just the event itself but your contribution to it, so thank you so much again, Cecil, for doing what you did. This goes back to, I guess we can tell this story, Adam. Could we tell the origination story?
Adam Kubrick: Absolutely. This is the place.
Ron Swidler: Okay. It actually goes back to 2004, when we worked together on developing something called the Hotel of Tomorrow project, which was an industry-wide think tank that kind of grew through 2005 and 2006 to include more and more companies and participants. But the belief, Cecil, was that the hotel industry was advancing very quickly and that there was a thirst for new ideas and new experiences among guests and consumers, and the kinds of conferences that we were going to weren't really covering a broad enough spectrum. They weren't creating a forum for dialogue and interactive workshopping among people who are in the same industry but don't often get a chance to spend time together. So we hatched this idea of bringing manufacturers, designers, architects, brands and unrelated people to the table to envision the future of the hospitality industry. But after that great experience together, Adam and I were together at an industry event in Monaco, and almost as a rebellious dare we said "Let's create something even better than the Hotel of Tomorrow, but let's hold onto the best parts of the workshopping methodology and inspirational kinds of speakers, and let's create an event on our terms that is purely a Global Allies and Gettys event rather than Hotel of Tomorrow we expanded to a much larger group."
Ron Swidler: And the net result is what got hatched about a year later, which was what we figured out to be named the Fast Forward conference. Adam, what's your part of that story?
Adam Kubrick: I really knew we were onto something after one of the first speakers at our very first Fast Forward came up to both Ron and I and said "I can't wait to talk about that with my team on Monday. We haven't been looking at things the way that person was just talking about." And it was a unique business perspective that this particular attendee needed at that moment. And I think that for me was the most exciting part. We were finally addressing the gap of no one's talking about how I can do better with my business or my industry. They're all trying to inspire in other ways. So we wanted this kind of practical hands-on approach, and both Ron and I had attended a lot of conferences and events of different types. Ron had spoken at many, and we had seen the things that worked and the things that didn't, and really tried to take some of the best practices that we could from each and eventually develop our own practices. It was really a culmination of the experience and the knowledge that we had gained over the years starting all the way back at Hotel of Tomorrow.
Adam Kubrick: And running through when Ron and I were slogging through our difficult work life in Monaco overlooking the ocean, as tough as that was. Somehow that inspired the creativity and the thought, and then through the paths have all been, it always comes back to the experience the attendees are having. It's never "Oh, we have a green juice ice illusion for breakfast." All that stuff is cool and fun. That was an actual Fast Forward thing we had one year too. It was great. The person I was talking about didn't go back on Monday and say oh my god they had an ice illusion for green juice, how ridiculous is that? He said, "Oh my gosh, I have a new way to think about how we're going to get customers for the next decade." And that to me is so much more important.
Cecil Magpuri: One of the things that was enriching for me was how participatory it was. I spoke at SATE, I spoke at different events in our industry and it was truly a conversation rather than me put on a pedestal to talk to you. It was with you. And that was really refreshing to see, and it's one of those things that looking at it and experiencing it's hard to describe. It seems so simple, but in reality as you try to decipher how you execute it, it's a little bit of a magical experience that you guys created.
Adam Kubrick: It was. I certainly appreciate that sentiment because it is deliberate. You were talking about the secret sauce earlier. That's a big, big part of it. You get a bunch of talented people in a room and you unleash them and you get this range from irreverent to brilliant to everything in between. And that's the awesome part. And there's no pressure on everyone. There's no client. There's no budget. There's no anything. It's just an ideation session where the best idea wins, and a lot of people, unfortunately, have gotten away from that over the years, especially as they've been promoted in their jobs and are dealing with bigger and bigger clients and customers and projects, you lose some of that ability to have a little fun with it.
Ron Swidler: Yeah, I was just going to layer onto it, Cecil. There are a couple other secret ingredients that I'm willing to share with you and your listeners for this podcast today. Adam and I treat that guest list like a dinner party. And it's an interesting idea when you think of it that way. It just happens to be a dinner party that starts Sunday afternoon and ends Tuesday afternoon, but if you have found yourself, been fortunate enough to find yourself at a dinner party where you're seated next to some really interesting people and you even get to change tables a bunch of times and meet other people while you're there and you find yourself engaged in some really fascinating conversations with people who have interesting stories to tell but also have a lot of heart and passion about what it is that they do, that's a key ingredient to the success of the event is surrounding yourself with the kind of people who really can inspire you and are eager to be inspired by you.
Ron Swidler: I remember years ago going to a great conference, the C2MTL conference up in Montreal, and they had an app that was running prior to the event that allowed you to publicly share what it was that you hoped to offer someone else at the event, in the event that you had a chance to talk to somebody what did you have to offer, and then what were you hoping to obtain. And it was a matchmaking idea. But that fundamental idea is what we've thought about when forming the guest list. Are these people the kind of people that of course have a lot to offer but are they willing to offer it, and are they looking to be inspired themselves? And ultimately I think that's what we're all promising those of us with similar kind of DNA and a passion for what we do and how we do it and those of us, all three of us were trying to make a bit of difference in the lives of those around us.
Ron Swidler: And that is to bring a level of caring and generosity to our projects, to our client relationships, to our teams and why wouldn't an event have that same kind of character if we were able to execute? So that's really what, those two secret elements are making people feel great and treating it like a dinner party.
Cecil Magpuri: At the end of the event, no one wanted to leave. No one wanted to be the first to leave. It was amazing. We were sitting out in the patio having lunch. Food trucks were there serving amazing food. The sun was out. It was a beautiful afternoon, but everyone was like "I don't want this to end." Shoot, we have a plane to catch but this is a tough one to try to break away from." Yeah, you definitely set up an amazing culture. One of the things that I wanted to understand was you brought in some amazing interactive experiences like the enchanted objects to promote and provoke conversation. Is this something you guys implemented in the first Fast Forward, or is this something you progressed as you went through?
Ron Swidler: Adam, you want to take that one?
Adam Kubrick: Sure. We didn't do the enchanted objects workshop in previous Fast Forwards. That was something that first hit Fast Forward this year. But we've done similar type workshops and ideation sessions. There's a wonderful thing about enchanted objects is that you get to play magician for a minute, right? You get to violate all the rules of technology and budget and is this feasible or is it not and say, as Venus Williams said, I want a front door that serves as a butler and can sense if it's room service or if a fan has somehow got to my hotel room floor or if it's someone I want to let in. I don't know if anyone is in the process of making a smart door like that, but for the ideation session, it doesn't matter. The beautiful thing is an enchanted object just allows unlimited creativity in any direction and again, you combine that with a talent for design and hotel people in that room and you usually end up getting some really, really interesting ideas.
Adam Kubrick: And whether or not they're viable, whether or not we start producing them or making them or Ron starts incorporating them into the projects that he's working on is totally immaterial. It's just the creative process of it is what's always so great.
Cecil Magpuri: I know there was a lot of good ideas that came out of there. I'm like "Oh my gosh, that's a place I would actually go to and participate as a consumer." There were some really good ideas. And there were so many humorous ideas that came out of that enchanted objects exercise. It was so fun to experience.
Adam Kubrick: One thing Ron really wanted from the beginning was to make sure people were onstage and taking ownership for and presenting whatever idea that they came up with. The people we happened to want at our dinner party, as Ron called it, tend to be some pretty humorous people. So you get someone onstage with a bunch of eyes on them and some of the ideas tend to skew toward either ridiculous or comical. But they're all still often based in something real and tangible and a real problem that someone has faced in a room.
Ron Swidler: Just to add to that, we're not telling them what we're hoping we're going to get out of it. We're giving them a chance to play. And I think everyone has an intriguing story to tell, and it's funny because everyone now has so many platforms to be able to tell their own story. Social media creates that opportunity for us and the kind of connectedness of our world. What we try to do is strip away the infomercial nature that we find at conferences, and we're also trying to deliver again something that is very au courant, which is how do we tell our story? Cecil, this is your world, right? This is what you do every day is construct not only these incredible story backdrops but also you're creating mechanisms for people to live out their own stories.
Cecil Magpuri: It was refreshing for me. Obviously, story is definitely part of our DNA. And guest expectations is driven around story. Some of the big developments that are happening now in our industry are literally intellectual property that's been acquired and now are being executed. And what's interesting for me was being invited to Fast Forward and understanding the hospitality world. You're starting to see this merge of spectacle entertainment, location-based entertainment merging with hospitality. They're starting to blur the lines between them. You can see the momentums moving forward. For those that are successful, story becomes a major part of that success.
Adam Kubrick: I think the natural step after the Instagram photo reality we've been living within the hospitality industry over the past couple years where everything was designed for the photographic moment, and I think the trend moving forward is much more experiential than just the picture, having that photo is no longer enough. And I think a lot of people are trying to actively more live that experience and be in that moment rather than just chronicle it. And so it makes perfect sense, not just storytelling but experiential storytelling, immersive storytelling where you're really part of the story yourself.
Ron Swidler: I was going to expand on that for a second, which is I think experiences with purpose is becoming an opportunity that is getting a little more focused, and part of what we've created at Fast Forward is a small piece of a larger puzzle, which is how are we using our time to change ourselves and change the world. And if we can create things that allow people to achieve a greater purpose and help themselves and help others, then it's not just about having that photo or having experience beyond that photo, call it a short film of an experience, but doing something that has even greater meaning.
Cecil Magpuri: To me I think one of the things that's most amazing about Fast Forward is the brain trust that was there, right? You have some real creative and decision making resources all sitting together. They're the ones who can take this baton and push it forward in the hospitality industry. You guys have created this amazing opportunity for collaboration. I've never seen that. You have some of the toughest competitors sitting next to each other ideating new ideas about how the industry can benefit from some of these fresh ideas moving forward. That's really refreshing.
Ron Swidler: It's reinforcing something that's true to the hospitality industry overall, which is there is a sensibility of caring for one another. The Ritz-Carlton ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen idea that there's a level of care that goes into this industry. And perhaps we can create a forum for people to get to know one another and care for one another and create a forum that allows them to do that. If that's a byproduct of what we're doing, then beautiful. And they're willing to be there. That goes back to the guest list, right? These people are willing to not only sit next to them but share ideas with them that could benefit either of their companies or both of their companies.
Adam Kubrick: Maybe some of what we're hoping to change in the world and in our industry needs collaboration between competitors to do it.
Cecil Magpuri: What a great premise. That analogy was perfect. I was intimidated when I first got invited because I didn't know the hospitality world that well, but I felt so welcomed by everybody and it was really enlightening for me. I immediately that evening after seeing some of the guest speakers, Sam Hinke, and Maxine the chef talking about storytelling through food, it was just refreshing to see a different perspective of how story influences experiences.
Adam Kubrick: I think one of the interesting things in there is that whether it's the attendees or the speaker's creativity tends to recognize and respect creativity regardless of the outlet for that creativity. So even someone who could not be in a more opposite field than any of us of Sam Hinke, who tried to reshape a basketball team in the most creative way possible within the confines of his set of rules, or Maxine, who is working with a set of ingredients and trying to express a story, no matter the industry, no matter the application, the creative part itself is what everyone tends to draw their inspiration from. And so it keeps us trying to keep the event and the attendees as creative as possible.
Ron Swidler: On top of that, you and I both like the podcast "99% Invisible," Roman Mars' podcast, and he helps explain the creative process behind a lot of the things that we experience and interact with every day in the world, the theme being 99% invisible is how much you don't know about the creative process. And when you see someone like Chef Maxine cooking and telling his personal story or we have a band like Gin House get up there and talk about what inspires the music that they create, you have a greater level of understanding and appreciation for what it takes to create something really beautiful and memorable. And that's why we do what we do, I think, is because we really love what we do and we're willing to invest the necessary time to create something that is worth sharing. And it's a pleasure to be able to shine a light on some of these creatives, including young chefs who otherwise, we brought Chef Max from Lyon, France because he's a very special guy.
Ron Swidler: We'd like to make sure that some of these young people who might otherwise not have a chance to share a stage or share the room with people as accomplished as you, Cecil, and give them a platform to share their ideas and their perspective on the world, because the truth is that this young generation is seeing the world differently than the previous generations have. And we want to make sure that they get a chance to tell their stories as well.
Cecil Magpuri: Wow, this is amazing. Thank you guys for sharing so much insight on Fast Forward. Thank you again for accommodating this.
Adam Kubrick: I can't end the podcast without thanking Ron and his team at Gettys, because they do such an incredible job. It's fun to get up there on stage and take a bunch of the credit, but really, his ties at Gettys, they're the real deal and they're the reason that this event has been so great. So we are so thrilled that you were able to join us, Cecil, and thank you again for having us on this podcast.
Cecil Magpuri: You're welcome. It was top notch amazing experience and I want to share it with the world. Thank you for participating again, guys. Have a great week.
Abhinav Narain: We want to thank Ron and Adam again for joining us on today's episode. Cecil, any closing thoughts on this? You guys had an awesome discussion.
Cecil Magpuri: Yeah, it was really good. As you can tell, my enthusiasm about the conference was present in hosting that dialogue. Yeah, it was an amazing experience. I'm hoping to be invited again. But obviously the secret sauce was like a family dinner.
Abhinav Narain: Yeah. I love that motif that they used.
Cecil Magpuri: Yeah. It was spot on. I could see how that could play.
Abhinav Narain: And I see what you mean about seeing this as possibly the future of these types of conventions. I loved what they were saying about how you were actually working with competition. There was no worry about budget or-
Cecil Magpuri: People's position in participating was above their role in their company. It was about bettering the industry.
Abhinav Narain: Pure collective creativity.
Cecil Magpuri: Yes.
Abhinav Narain: It's fantastic.
Cecil Magpuri: Awesome.
Abhinav Narain: Great. Well, we'll see you in the next episode, Cecil.
Cecil Magpuri: Thank you.
Abhinav Narain: Real quick reminder before we go, you can send any questions or comments you may have to us at the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve already got some great emails coming in and we are working to respond to them and we’d love to hear from you soon. Thanks.
Cecil Magpuri: This has been Experience Imagination. For more information about this episode's discussion be sure to visit our blog at falconscreativegroup.com. And don't forget to follow Falcon's Creative Group on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.