HSMAI Region Europe profile: Peter O’Connor

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Peter O’Connor
Dean of Academic Programs / Chaired Professor of Digital Disruption
ESSEC Business School in Paris

For many years Peter has been a valued speaker in many of HSMAI’s events in Europe, as well as moderator for the successful HSMAI Region Europe Leadership Day in Frankfurt last September. He was also chosen as one of the Top 20 Extraordinary Minds in Sales, Marketing & Technology across Europe 2015 for his great achievements in Hospitality.

Q: What does a day at work consist of for you?

A: For me variety is definitely the spice of life. My day job (Professor and Program Director for the MBA in Hospitality Management at Essec Business School in France) gives me the opportunity to interact with, and hopefully influence, some of the brightest young minds soon to enter into the industry. But I also enjoy both my consulting, research and writing activities, particularly interacting with industry professionals, such as those who are members of HSMAI.

Even though I am based in Paris, I spend quite a lot of time on the road, giving executive education programmes for global hotel chains or speaking at industry events, so I also get to experience our wonderful hospitality sector, warts and all. Last year I also developed one of the first large scale MOOCs (Massive Online Open Course) on the Fundamentals of Hotel Distribution (see www.coursera.org/learn/hotel-distribution) in partnership with Coursera. With over 5000 people from literally all over the globe currently enrolled, managing and responding to questions from participants also takes up a lot of my time.

But I cannot complain. As a hybrid academic, consultant and speaker, every day is different, which helps explain why I’ve been doing what I do for over 25 years!

Q: What’s the best part of your job?

A: For me the most satisfying aspect of my job is seeing people develop. These can be participants in our MBA or executive education programmes, or industry professionals I meet at industry events like HSMAI, often taking their first tentative steps into the exciting domain of hospitality online sales and marketing.

This area is developing so quickly, and presents so many opportunities, that most quickly find their careers accelerating as hotels struggle to react to the online travel revolution. People who work in this area often spend their time just at the edge of their comfort zone, with systems and technology evolving rapidly as online channels make up more and more of a typical hotels marketing mix. Keeping up to date is difficult and time consuming, but those who succeed can see spectacular career progression as they gain mastery of the discipline of online distribution.

Hopefully, as an educator, I can help at least contribute to this in some way, either formally, through different types of courses, or informally, through speaking at industry events, roundtables, panels or whatever. With the skills, knowledge and competencies needed to succeed changing almost daily, my role is often to act as a filter and help push people towards addressing the right issues.

And my success is measured by the success of those whom I have in some way helped to ‘mold’. Looking around the global hospitality industry today and seeing where the people that I have influenced have ended up, I cannot help but think that, until now at least, I seem to have been doing a good job.

Q: Do you have anyone you’ve looked up to?

A: Perhaps it’s a bit of a cliché, but my hero is my father. A true hospitality professional, he instilled in me both a passion for the hospitality sector and a true work ethic. Even though I eventually did not go into the family business, it is because of his influence, training and advice that I am what I am today.

Q: Do you have any nice traditions at your office?

Since my office is a school, perhaps my answer is a bit different from that of other people. Every year, on the first day, we have an inaugural session with all the MBA students, including those in the hospitality management program.

With everyone sitting nervously, I explain to them how during their highly intensive programme of study how many of the people sitting next to them will undoubtedly become their closest friends, or sometimes their bitterest enemies! I explain how they will work together, eat together, undoubtedly drink together, laugh together and perhaps even cry together.

No-one believes me at the time, but at the graduation ceremony at the end of the year I invariably return to the same theme, and the nods and smiles of the participants always confirm that I was right!

Q: How long have you been a member of HSMAI?

A: I’ve had a very long relationship with HSMAI. My first presentation was in Norway in the 1990s when ‘electronic’ distribution was still very much in its infancy. Over the past two decades it’s taken on more and more significance, and as a result my involvement with, and commitment to, HSMAI has deepened.

Q: What do you think is the best thing about HSMAI?

A: Definitely I feel the best thing about HSMAI is the opportunities it provides for peer learning. Even though I am a supposed expert in the area, online distribution is evolving so rapidly that no one person can stay totally on top of the multiple developments happening simultaneously.

Having a forum like HSMAI, where you can meet, interact with and learn from high quality industry professions makes it much easier to keep on top of the game and understand what’s going on. And for highly focused networking opportunities with the right people, HSMAI is second to none.

Q: Are there any activities or projects you think HSMAI should start up?

A: HSMAI is doing a great job with its all-too limited resources. What would be great would be to extend its influence downwards towards the more rank and file personnel working in hotel sales, marketing and distribution.

Right now we are doing a great job networking their more senior colleagues, but the place that needs the most help in terms of development and knowledge dissemination is right at the coal front.

Doing so requires more local events, something I know we are working on right now, as well as commitment from more senior members to mentor and nurture their more junior colleagues.

Q: Describe your perfect weekend.

A: Building Lego models with my three kids and seeing how they can now do it much better than daddy (Lego is complicated these days!).

Q: If you were trapped on a desert island, what would you take with you, if you could choose one thing?

A: Assuming that the island in question had the three things necessary to maintain human life (water, food and Wi-Fi) then definitely my iPhone.

Q: What is the title of the book about your life?

A: There was never enough time!

Q: What is your next travel destination?

A: Teaching on our new campus in Singapore.

Q: Do you have any special hobbies?

A: For over 30 years I have been practicing Shotokan Karate. It’s probably the only thing that keeps me sane, although some would claim that it hasn1t worked.

Q: Thank you for your time. Do you have any personal comments?

A: With an association like HSMAI you only get out of it what you put in. Therefore I would encourage anyone reading this to renew his or her commitment to the organisation and get more involved. The end result is that all of us, and many others, will benefit. And that’s the true reward.