An Interview with Ian Millar, 2020 Paragon Award Recipient

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Ian Millar, CHTP was selected this year as the HFTP Paragon Award recipient for his unwavering support of the association and substantial contributions to increase knowledge sharing and promote growth in the hospitality industry at large, specifically among students and hospitality professionals within Europe. Ian is a senior lecturer of IT at EHL in Lausanne, Switzerland. He has been a member of HFTP for 15 years and served in multiple association leadership positions including as vice-chair of the HITEC Advisory Council and on the HFTP Global Board.

“One of Ian’s strengths is his ability to ‘think outside of the box,’” said Derek Wood, HITEC Europe chair. “This is apparent in the way he structures his presentations, suggestions and contributions that he has made for running the events surrounding HITEC Europe. The structure and strategy behind the recent, very successful HFTP Europe Hangouts was down to his vision and suggestions.”

Ian was a leader in the development of the recent HITEC Europe events, first held in Amsterdam in 2016. He currently serves as a vice chair of the HITEC Europe Advisory Council. When HITEC Europe was cancelled this past Spring due to the pandemic, Ian and the advisory council wanted to serve the interest that had developed from the four-year event. In answer, the group produced a series of HFTP Europe Hangouts, informal Zoom gatherings led by expert speakers with a largely interactive component.

Ian spoke with us about his career and industry interests.

When did you first know you wanted to be in the hospitality industry and what is your favorite part?

It wasn’t really a choice I had. Both my grandfather and father were hoteliers, and I was basically “born” in a hotel. So growing up, we didn’t really have a family house (we lived in the hotel for many years). It was more a case of determining whether there was anything apart from hospitality that I wanted to do. The only thing that came close was for many years I was fascinated by archeology; but I soon realized that as cool as it was, it was never going to pay the bills. My favorite part of the industry is the enormous possibilities it allows people. From the destinations to the hotel concepts to the variety of positions that exist in hospitality. 

How were you first introduced to HFTP?

It was when I attended my first HITEC in 2005. I knew of HITEC, but not really HFTP. But when I discovered who and what was behind HITEC and all the additional possibilities it offered, I was hooked.

What do you find valuable about your membership with HFTP?

Some of the initial benefits that come to mind are access to industry information and keeping myself up-to-date on what is happening in the industry; but the main point is the other members. I have had the opportunity to be amongst some of the greatest minds in hospitality technology and it is inspiring to be a part of this. Many are professional acquaintances who have become very close friends.

 What kind of HFTP initiatives have you been involved with?

I have had the opportunity to serve on the HFTP Global Board, as well as on the CHTP taskforce and HITEC Europe Advisory Council, there is certainly a lot going on. Currently, my main work with HFTP is HITEC Europe. Even though COVID 19 has put a spanner in the works, we are still producing content for our members and are working towards the day when we can have a physical HITEC Europe once more. Not just myself, but I am one person in a group of exceptional people based in Europe who are all striving for the same thing, and I want to give a shout out to Carl Weldon, HFTP COO Europe, for his expert guidance.

In addition to HFTP, what are the other hospitality-focused programs you are involved with?

I am very lucky to be part of EHL and hence the ecosystem that surrounds our school and its partners. I am a mentor for the Metro accelerator based in Berlin and our own EHL incubator as well. I find it fascinating and also extremely important for our industry moving forward that new and fresh technologies make it to the hospitality industry. There are many that have been founded by ex-students of mine, so there is an even greater reason for me to be involved.

If I am allowed to give one shout out, it would be to my boys at Hotelhero. They are delivering a whole technology platform and tools that are highly relevant for independent hotels and small chains. This is really what the European hotel market is all about. I am very proud of what they have achieved in such a short time.

As an educator, what are some of the top challenges your students are facing as they enter the workplace? How do you prepare them for their professional careers?

 This is a tough one to answer. It’s a real conundrum. I think there is still a misalignment of the offer/expectations: what hospitality offers vs. what students want.

The challenge right now is just finding a job, period. But besides that, I see frustration from the students’ side a lot. I mean, imagine that you have gone through a four year bachelor degree, including a one year internship. Then when you apply to a hotel for a job, they then put you through a three-year management trainee program. There must be better ways than this to fast track students into good and valuable employees.

Personally to prepare them I offer any advice if they ask. The main point I try to get across to the students is that they have to “tough it out.” Too many people quit too early when things don’t go their way, they need more resilience and perseverance.

What areas of research are you focusing on? Why do they draw you in?

I am not really a researcher per se, but what I do try to do is look at future technology trends in general and translate how they may affect hospitality. I then bring this analysis to my classroom or share it at industry events. I may be right or wrong, but that is not the point. Having the industry consider and look at new things is vital if we are to keep technology at the forefront of change. If I may share one example: in 2006 at HITEC Amsterdam, I did a session on SaaS (software as a service) which I was already teaching in my class. Some people looked at me like I was mad. Fast forward to 2020, and well, enough said.

I do think it’s important to note that this is something I can get away with. I am not selling anything, I don’t have a product to promote. I just want our industry to be the best it can be, so I play it very neutral (19 years of living in Switzerland will do that to you).

Describe a professional experience that you will always remember.

I would like to share one about my Dad, if that is alright (plus mine are all boring). In 1971, my dad was GM of a hotel in Morecambe in the UK. The story he told is that one day a coach pulled up and people started getting out, followed by sheep and goats. All of them with the hippie look, requesting hotel rooms. My dad, being a very conservative Brit, of course refused and was getting them away from the hotel. At the same time, the staff were going into hysterical fits and some of the receptionists even fainted. It was only once the coach had finally gone did someone tell my dad that he just ejected Paul McCartney and his band Wings from the hotel. To which he answered, “Paul who?”

Eliza Selig is the HFTP director of communications. She can be reached at eliza.selig@hftp.org.

Read MoreIan Millar, CHTP was selected this year as the HFTP Paragon Award recipient for his unwavering support of the association and substantial contributions to increase knowledge sharing and promote growth in the hospitality industry at large, specifically among students and hospitality professionals within Europe. Ian is a senior lecturer of…

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