September 2020 - The Transformative YHS


A tribute to the unswerving team for a path-breaking summit.


Urgent need prompts one to devise a new solution.

"The team is empowered to take charge of the situation and use this as a possible growth avenue to inspire a wider audience on a Virtual Platform." HospitalityNet

Tough times teach us to think out of the box, to be resourceful. Dire situations lead to new beginnings and a spur of ideas. YHS 2020 is, in every way, the beginning of a new era of the Largest Student-Run Hospitality Summit in the World.

Early March, few weeks before YHS 2020 – preparations were in full swing and efforts of months were close to fruition. Speakers, delegates, organizers and audience had planned the 3-day summit to a T. However, the 11th Edition of YHS was not quite as planned.

Just two weeks before the summit, Switzerland prohibits public events in the light of a rapid spread in COVID-19. While cancelling the summit was the general consensus, it was not the end for YHS 2020 yet.

For the collective value that the event brings to students, educational institutions and the industry at large, it would not go unfulfilled. Support came from unexpected sources. The first push was from Mr. Steve Hood from STR who reassured the team that the internet is the new place to be! Hence, the team found inspiration and drive in the theme, “Power to the People : The Growth Mindset” and advanced towards the 1st Edition of Virtual YHS.

The resolute YHS 2020 team worked tirelessly and turned around the whole summit in just two weeks to an entirely new format and experience. Though there was some regret for moving away from a physical summit, the more significant objective - to bring this invaluable event into effect - overtook.

YHS 2020 featured noteworthy speakers like Anita Mendiratta, Hans Meyers from Zoku, Michael Levie from CitizenM, Marc Dardenne from Accor, Steve Hood from STR and about 300 budding hoteliers logging in from their homes every day. The success of the summit was evident in the heightened enthusiasm of the attendees as the live chats buzzed with curious questions and agreeable discussions.

The summit came to an end, leaving a mark and building a fresh position of YHS as a progressive and persistent association.


Championing the Transformation

Kimberly Yoong - Speakers, Partnerships, PR & Press Thanh Hien Ngo - F&B, Logistics, Finance Rohit Menon - Marketing, Community, Rankings

Q1. What drove you to carry out YHS 2020 despite the circumstances, by making the shift to a Virtual Summit?

Kimberly Yoong: When the event was canceled in early March, we considered options like postponing it for a few months, canceling it altogether, or going virtual.

Some advised us against going virtual because, at the time, Zoom meetings were barely a thing, while proper virtual conferences were unheard of. Yet, despite the uncertainty and short 10-day timeline, we were determined to celebrate what YHS has always been about - bringing together industry professionals and hospitality students, sharing insights, and broadening the horizons of aspiring hoteliers - regardless of the platform. At the time, it wasn’t so much a great ambition to create an impressive, far-reaching global virtual conference, but really to honor the YHS legacy and continue to bring the industry together as YHS has always strived to do in the prior 10 years.

Thanh Hien Ngo: The same day, after the forced pause, the core team came together to disassemble all the work that we had built since May 2019. At that moment, it wasn’t so much grief that we wouldn’t be able to see all of our innovative ideas and crafted experiences come to life. I felt saddened by the disappointment of delegates who had such high anticipation of coming to Lausanne to learn and meet fellow hoteliers. Beyond that, I felt genuinely heartbroken for my team, who put in countless hours into all the small details to ensure that our guests would have the most enjoyable time while with us.

In keeping with the YHS values Empowering, Transformative, and Community, we couldn’t let the pandemic put all of our hard work in vain, so we fought. We decided that we were still here and still had knowledge and thoughts to share with the hoteliers’ Community. We truly delivered a transformative experience as our team raced to shift 180 and fully transition online.

Rohit Menon: YHS 2020 had a big vision for the future of the Young Hoteliers Summit. When we looked back at the past ten editions, we saw an amazing progression of a student-led summit that made a significant impact on its community. We wanted to make sure that the YHS flame never died out and so we established brand values that got ingrained into everything that the team worked towards.

When we talked to Steve Hood, he expressed a want to see YHS go virtual, which would set the mark for hope in this tough time. He sparked a possibility in us to redeem the summit and salvage what we could to still put on a great show. Our collective purpose of being empowered to create a transformative experience for the YHS community held us together throughout the next 10-12 days. It enabled us to look past our circumstances and give it our all to leave a legacy in honor of our past members, future members, delegates, speakers, and partners. There was no way a YHS 2020 like the one we envisioned was not going to happen in one way, shape, or form.

Q2. What were the main challenges for your departments and how did you overcome them?

Kimberly Yoong: Partnerships, Speakers, Press & Public Relations are external relations focused, so we were concerned about how partners and stakeholders would react, after already committing their time to our conference. Thankfully, nearly all of them were extremely understanding, and in fact, encouraging of us seizing this opportunity to spin the conference around into an entirely new format.

Nonetheless, we did face challenges, the biggest of which was figuring out how to organize a smooth conference with all our speakers spread across the world, speaking to an equally global audience. Again, this was before virtual conferences became common, so we had an entirely blank slate in terms of structure, format, technology - and with merely 10 days from planning to execution. It was a great coordination effort and constant communication between our speakers and partners who were incredibly patient and understanding. We had to be very flexible as the situation was quite literally changing every day, and so we had to remain focused and constantly in contact with one another to make decisions on a day-to-day, or even hour-to-hour basis.

Thanh Hien Ngo: In March, online conferences/webinars were not a developed practice.

As a team, we decided to keep the same conference date to capitalize on everyone’s availability (delegates and speakers). We had ten days to rebuild the three significant aspects: Technology, Content, and Marketing. We use each core member to spearhead these three new pillars.

With the gracious help of Illumination, our AV tech team, we got down to work. Even for the event industry, this was a new phenomenon. I worked with Illumination to find the most suitable conferencing platform. Together we learned to use BlueJeans, and we tested every scenario we believed could happen during our virtual event. My sole focus was to ensure that the virtual experience is seamless.

Putting our heads down and working as a focused team with one goal helped us overcome all unknowns and difficulties. We were learning new skills as we go.

Rohit Menon: It was tough for us to call that meeting with HODs and tell them that the summit was canceled, but we did it together. We all had a room on the 3rd floor that we used as a headquarters while everyone diligently broke down the summit, each HOD spearheading their departments. I have to especially thank my two core members for their strength and passion for YHS. It was an inspiration for me and the team!

The main challenge for Community was to let the delegates know that the summit was not happening. Patrizia and Vani (Co-Heads of Community) did it together so empathetically. Rankings had to push through and deliver the Employer Rankings and Employer Expectations Reports. Ellen, the HOD of Events had to break down the promotional event. And finally, digital marketing headed by Maria-Luisa, she was a hero, making changes to the website, posting the announcements and the new structure of the virtual summit on social media. She is the one who helped communicate our decisions as a team to the external world which helped us immensely in creating the buzz and sign-ups for the virtual event.

Q3. How has the adaptivity contributed to the brand image and positioning of YHS?

Kimberly Yoong: Adapting to this crisis has shown our resilience not only as a team but also as young hoteliers entering the industry. In terms of brand image, I see this as a big plus for YHS - managing to pull together everything had only been possible because we were able to build on the foundations from the past years of YHS, and set a great way forward for future YHS editions.

In the past, YHS has placed a lot of emphasis on the physical interactions and networking that our conference provides; bringing together people from all walks of life and around the globe, to hold discussions and debates over three days. However, this virtual conference has shown our ability to go beyond ‘what has always been done’ and I think that positions YHS very uniquely in that can evolve with the times and needs of the industry. We have spoken about this topic a lot at our conferences over the years and I’m glad that this time, we are truly able to walk the talk and I hope it helps to set a precedent for even bigger things for YHS and our stakeholders.

Thanh Hien Ngo: I believe that this adaptivity is deeply rooted in YHS and also reflects the broader hospitality industry. We cater to humans, and humans are consistently evolving.

Conferences by YHS are reputable for quality and professionalism. YHS 2020 virtual was not any different. This was a transformative experience for the YHS brand itself. The virtual conference has opened up a new avenue of opportunities for the YHS brand.

Rohit Menon: The only constant is change. As a team, we believed that when we empower team members to make the best decisions for our community, then we will be agile and able to shift to circumstances and provide the best experience. So I think more than adaptivity, I think it is the ‘Empowering’ that pushed us to give it our best. And this is what YHS is all about. It is a blank canvas where every year, each team adapts the structure of YHS to paint their vision of hospitality.

Jo-Ann Li - Head of Speakers

Q1. What drove you to carry out YHS 2020 despite the circumstances, by making the shift to a Virtual Summit?

As we all know by now, plenty of events on conferences were put on hold or canceled because of the pandemic. Simply put, I didn’t want the content and line up we spent 9 months developing to go to waste. Instead, I tried to think of ways we could still share the content with our delegates and beyond.

I believed that there were lessons to be learned from our speakers and that this was the best time for young hoteliers to listen to them. With the hospitality industry being one of the hardest-hit industries, giving our audience a boost with words of strength and encouragement from our speakers felt like the best thing we could do. In the end, it’s all about our delegates and how we can improve their learning and experience as they journey through their hospitality courses.

Q2. How was the speakers’ reaction to going virtual and the support that followed?

Our speakers were incredibly encouraging and excited to be part of one of the first few fully digital conferences at the time. We had an incredible pair of mentors in Elaine Teo and Paul Genovese who were with us every step of the way. Unfortunately, we had to cut a good portion of our content out to fit it into the time slots available. However, we were still able to engage with our speakers in other ways such as written interviews. In general, all our speakers were incredibly supportive and understanding of our circumstances and many offered their words of wisdom and encouragement.

Q3. Did you have to change the content and format of events and what were the challenges involved in that?

The format depends largely on what you’re trying to achieve and the message you want to convey. Our main challenge was trying to tie the theme into all the topics that we covered to make it clear that we were putting people at the forefront of our conference. By being able to weave all the panels, keynotes, and the challenge together, it gives you the most well-rounded way to deliver the content.

Every year, YHS welcomes speakers and student delegates from over 40 leading hospitality institutions, as well as members of the media and other external guests at the summit. Building on a different theme each year, YHS serves as a platform for insightful and engaging debates and discussions on the most Topical issues of the hospitality industry. For more information on the panels, schedule, and YHS in general, please visit us at
Contact: Muskaan Dadu Head of Press & Public Relations

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