Michelle Finn is senior vice president, Hospitality Division, ST Media Group International, and president and co-founder of the Hospitality Media Group LLC formed in 2012 for purposes of developing and managing trade fairs and events primarily focused on the hospitality industry, worldwide.
In these roles, she oversees the management and development of its hospitality and related brands, which encompasses Boutique Design, Boutique Design Trade Fairs: BDNY and BD west held on an annual in New York City and Los Angeles respectively, Boutique Design Forum Series, Hospitality Match, Senior Lifestyle Design Match, and the management of the Hotel Experience (HX) trade show held in conjunction with BDNY.
Finn has received numerous awards for innovation in trade fair development, publishing, leadership and service. She is a member of the Hospitality Industry Network (NEWH), American Hotel Lodging Association (AHLA), Cornell University Innovation Network, Boutique Lifestyle and Lodging Association (BLLA), Urban Land Institute ( ULI) and the International Society of Hospitality Purchasers ( ISHP).
Could you give us an overview of the event? What is Boutique Design about?
Boutique Design is the leading trade fair and conference for the hospitality design industry in the Eastern United States, Canada, and Europe. The hospitality industry is diverse and includes hotels, resorts, cruise ships, restaurants, night clubs, entertainment venues and, to a certain degree, senior living and related projects.This is the eighth year of the event. We expect 7,800 attendees and more than 650 exhibitors displaying design elements for the hospitality market.
How has the event evolved in the last few years?
First, the event has become much bigger, which means a bigger opportunity for the attendees to see the latest and newest hospitality products such as lighting, fabric, furniture, textiles, audio-visual products, etc. In those eight years, we have achieved double-digit growth.
Now the event area is about 125,000 net square feet, which is an increase of 15% over the previous year.
What are the advantages of the events? What benefits for the audience do you see?
A unique feature of BDNY is the creation of Designed Spaces, which are destination sites on the trade show floor. They are typically done by a leading brand or a design firm, which creates a bar lounge in collaboration with leading hospitality suppliers of products like fabric and furnishings.
These spaces are intended to inspire and to put products in the context of a real hospitality setting. This year Marriott International will be designing a space for us, as well as Design Poole in collaboration with Delta Hotels, which is also part of Marriott, Stonehill & Taylor and The Gettys Group.
We also organize workshops in these areas, which are great for connecting with other hospitality and design professionals. For us, it is all about the attendee and exhibitor engagement. When people are engaged on the trade fair floor, excitement is built.
We have very strong representation of hospitality brands like Wyndham, Marriott, Hilton and Dream Hotels, which is a unique feature of the event. One of the reasons for the attendance of designers and architects is the opportunity to connect with their potential clients and to hear about the hospitality industry from their perspective.
Could you describe your education sessions?
The BDNY is a two-day trade fair and we have educational programs both of the days. It starts on Sunday and ends on Monday evening, with an opening reception on Saturday night. It’s a great opportunity to connect with hospitality design professionals, hotel brands, purchasing agents, and manufacturers.
In the Investors Outlook panel, we will focus on the state of the industry and we’ll hear from ownership groups that are buying or selling hotels. This panel is an example of bringing in the ownership groups, the investors, and the developers to hear what they have to say about designs and about the state of the industry from their perspective.
Another panel, Brand Central, focuses on established and newer brands. We will have one session on senior living, which we view as an extension of hospitality, and has become a dynamic market for many of our customers, including designers and architects.
Overall, we try to look at the future of our market. In addition to the general sessions, we also offer continuing education courses based on specific topics. One such topic is “The Art of Specification Writing / Documentation.”
The Owners’ Grill includes ownership groups in the hospitality segment talking about the hotel industry from their perspective. Again, that would include brands such as Wyndham, Hilton, as well as some of the REIT companies. This is actually a fun session, but it gives the audience an opportunity to learn from the people, who are hiring the designers and the purchasing firms, and are buying hotel companies or brands.
We also have a fun session talk Industry Feud, which resembles a game show, but is educational as well. We send a survey to our audience and ask them very specific questions with multiple-choice answers. Then the answers are discussed during this game show session. Other fun sessions cover topics like the effect of marijuana on the hotel industry.
Power Players is a session on women leaders in hospitality. This is our fifth year of doing this session. We identify leading female executives in hospitality to discuss the hotel industry.
We don’t have a closing session, but on Monday, we will host our Gold Key Awards and Events, which recognize the best hospitality designs. It is an award for hospitality design excellence. Over 500 people will gather at Gotham for a celebration of design talents. Tickets are available on our site and the finalists will be announced soon. We usually have about 450 entrants.
We’ll also introduce a so-called Black Carpet, which we’ll host in the lobby area of BDNY. The space is an inspiration and an opportunity for us to interview some of our attendees for publications and websites. We will profile our Gold Key finalists. That is a new feature of the event.
Who are your keynote speakers?
We don’t have a keynote speaker; it is more a peer-based event. We have probably over 100 speakers in probably 50 sessions, including the workshops sessions on the trade fair floor in the Designed Spaces that we discussed earlier. We will also engage the creators of these spaces to discuss their vision and the execution of that vision.
How do the exhibitors benefit from the event?
Our 650 exhibitors are comprised of design elements for hospitality, including lighting, walling, carpets, luxury vinyl tile, wall covering, art and accessories, or pretty much everything that you would see in the front of a house, a hotel, or a restaurant.
The exhibit spaces are organized by product category and most of the spaces are in size 10x20, which makes it easy for attendees to see a lot of people in a short period of time.
The sponsors of the Designed Spaces are about 30 leading companies. They are exhibitors that participate with Marriott and Stonehill & Taylor in the creation of the bars and lounges on the trade fair floor.
The attendees have an opportunity not only to see the established firms in our industry, but also the upcoming companies. It’s great for attendees to connect with people that they are currently doing business with, but also to find new sources and new treasures.
What are the highlights of the event?
This year we’ll focus on what’s new in New York, because right now it is a very exciting place. It is a really dynamic city and is the design capital of the United States.There’s growing focus on technology within all product categories. We see more and more technology in the hotel industry, as well as technological advancements in various product categories. We have partnered with Infocom, which serves the audio-visual digital industry for at least one session at BDNY. They are quite big in our market and are bringing to the trade fair some of the technological advancements from the AV and digital areas.
Could you tell us more about your organization?
ST Media is a publishing company that has been around for almost 100 years. ST stands for Sign of the Times, which is a magazine that started 100 years ago in Cincinnati. It serves many different markets, but its primary focus is on the hospitality or design market.
ST Media founded a company called Hospitality Media Group for the purposes of managing and developing trade fairs in the hospitality market. Hospitality Media Group has been around for five years. It owns BDNY and also has another trade fair in Los Angeles, called BDwest. It will stage on April 4th and 5th at the LA Convention Center.
We are a hospitality media brand that provides content on many different platforms. These platforms include the trade fairs, BDNY and BDwest, our magazine Boutique Design, and our internet platforms boutiquedesign.com and bdny.com. We also offer smaller conferences and a matchmaking event called the Hospitality Match. Several smaller forums represent lifestyle events connecting design professionals, ownership groups and manufacturers in a relaxed environment.
We have a great team and we have been growing. Hospitality Media Group consists of three associations - the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association, and the Hotel Association of New York City. They co-own BDNY with us, while we are the sole owners of Bdwest.
We have several important partnerships with other non-profit organizations, because our goal is to serve the design industry and to create value for our audience and customers. These associations include the International Society of Hospitality Purchasers, The Hospitality Industry Network, The International Society of Hospitality Consultants, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, the Boutique & Lifestyle Lodging Association, and Infocom among others. We are very excited to be working with Infocom.
How is BDNY different from BDwest?
BDwest focuses more on education. It’s smaller than BDNY, but is also newer. A unique difference from any other trade fair is that, within the trade fair environment, we host various programs. We identify designers and purchasing firms, hotel companies with exclusive needs for sourcing, and we connect them with manufacturers for one-on-one meetings, two hours each day.
Both fairs are located in very cultural cities, New York and LA, and both cities have very high concentration of hospitality design firms. LA will host the Summer Olympics in 2028 and we’ll surely see a lot of activity.
What are your plans for the future?
From a content perspective, we are on the market 365 days a year with our publication and online products, not just with the events. We publish hospitality projects and we interview numerous hospitality members, designers and architects. We haven’t had that many webinars, but we are doing a lot more videos now. We are launching a new website in October.
Now we have more capabilities to utilize video technology and that will play a bigger role in the future.