“Conversations with Alumni” – Toni Knorr MPS ‘77
Lydia Caroe, a sophomore in the Hotel School, had the chance to interview Toni Knorr MPS ‘77, the former General Manager of the St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco. Toni, who attended Cornell MPS program in the 70’s, talked about her career, her time at Cornell, and her current vision of the hotel industry.
What is the most rewarding thing about your job? What do you look forward too every day?
I never look at my job like a job. I like to say that I am building on a continuous career. I love that every day brings with it something new to learn or uncovers a new path to pursue. This industry is exciting because you can view your career as something that is long-term, engaging, and lasting throughout the future. In the realm of hospitality, you have options and the possibilities are endless.
Is there any destination you have always wanted to visit?
I am fortunate in that being the General Manager of an upper tier luxury brand like St. Regis, many of our guests come from all over the world so they bring the destination to us. In addition to the global culture around our property, I have had opportunities to travel around Europe and Asia. One of my favorite trips by far was a safari around East Africa. I fell in love with the continent and would be thrilled to return.
Explain how St. Regis accomplishes differentiation in a market saturated with luxury brands?
Much of the differentiation in marketing or culture is out of our hands. We do like to say that St. Regis always has the best address. In San Francisco, we are in the center of a lively and vibrant area. Simply our position sets us apart. I do, however, consult with Forbes managers that assist in establishing our brand and culture.
Have you seen a change in the service industry as a result of the increase number of millennials as guests as well as employees?
I think there is a wide misconception that luxury service needs to cut costs in order to effectively serve millennials. I find that just because millennials are young does not mean that they do not have the money to fund their experiences. Our services and amenities are desirable to all demographics, but we are constantly upgrading technology. Efficiency is incredibly valuable to young people and we achieve efficiency through the implementation of new technology.
In the workforce, millennials pose a more interesting challenges than before. Many are too impatient for their own good. There is a tendency among young employees to treat their first job as their first semester in college. I wish that young people in the workforce would remain humble and learn to be good at the job before attempting to tackle more or make changes.
What is your favorite Cornell tradition?
I did graduate school at Cornell so my experience with the traditions are not very numerous. I just love the familial experience of being a Hotelie. And of course, singing the Alma Mater.
How, if at all, has the Marriot-Starwood merger caused challenges or benefits at the St. Regis and in the broader San Francisco Market?
In honesty, it is a little painful. We are the ones that have to adapt to the new systems. Most of the hotel property owners in the area are happy with the merger because many of the luxury brands are no longer competing. Additionally, many of the executive management staffs from the properties around San Francisco already know each other well which fortunately, makes communication easier. All in all, the process just takes patience and it is important not to rush.
Do you foresee any challenges to the Hotel Industry in light of the current federal political administration?
Seeing as San Francisco is already so left, there is not much input or voice from the conservative point of view, but it is important at the St. Regis that we allow our staff to be active citizens in whatever their political affiliation. There could be potential issues with tourism numbers in light of travel bands. Nevertheless, this is a huge year of change in many areas and I advise all to be engaged and to participate.
I saw that you are a member of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Modern Arts Council, do you feel that art has an important role in tourism and hospitality and how do you work to incorporate it into the St. Regis?
I took a class in modern art and had an amazing professor so I have always appreciated the diversity and skill involved in its creation. The St. Regis first opened with over $1 million worth of art and the art here is special. The art is a mix of several medias and are fairly approachable price wise. Any new hotels, especially in San Francisco will have an element of art due to the large arts culture and the fact that art helps provide a point of contemplation and reflection in a place where people are coming and going.
Do you pursue any hobbies outside of the service industry?
I could be called an adventurer. I love to go to new places, explore, and see the world. I also play some golf and cook.
Do you have any advice for young aspiring hoteliers?
Make sure to find what intrigues you. If you can stay intrigued in something, you can make that something into a future. Always make sure you are off to a good start in whatever new endeavor you pursue. Don’t be afraid to take chances, but work hard to ensure that you are good at what you are doing.
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The Cornell Hotel Society Executive Board thanks the Cornell Hotel Society – Collegiate Chapter for initiating and conducting the “Conversations with Alumni” project.