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Hertelier Feature: Elizabeth Wolff, a Pillar of the Lodging Conference

The Lodging Conference is a significant event in the hospitality industry, bringing together professionals and experts from various fields. Recently celebrating its 28th year, the conference's success story is intertwined with the life of Elizabeth "Liz" Wolff, the Vice President who has been a driving force behind its growth and innovation.


The Lodging Conference stands as a beacon of knowledge, connection, and innovation. Behind its illustrious curtains, Elizabeth "Liz" Wolff has been a driving force, ensuring that the event blossoms year after year. As the conference celebrates its 28th year, its legacy is deeply intertwined with Liz's own journey—a tale of family, commitment, and the pursuit of inclusivity.


Growing up, Liz was no stranger to the world of hospitality and design. According to Liz, “Hospitality runs in my blood,” and she experienced it firsthand through her grandmother, an interior designer who would often bring her three-year-old granddaughter with her to visit clients in their homes. Liz learned very early that “your clients often become your friends,” and this mantra has continued through her work with the Lodging Conference.


For Harry Javer, the founder of the Lodging Conference, business discussions with Liz weren't confined to boardrooms. Starting in the basement of their brownstone New York apartment, it was just Harry and Liz, echoing in the corridors of their home. For Liz, the conference isn't merely an event—it's a labor of love, a manifestation of her and Harry's collective passion.


How did you and Harry meet?


I grew up in Chicago and moved to New York in 1986. We met at Fire Island at sunset on the dock, where people gather to mingle and learn about the evening's parties and activities. Harry, hoping to make an impression, borrowed a white Samoyed dog. I’m not a huge dog person, but he was wearing a Learning Annex t-shirt that caught my attention. I didn’t even notice the dog, but that casual conversation was the start of our shared journey.


Tell us about your professional career.


After earning my degree in Interior Design from the University of Wisconsin, I started as an interior designer and switched to selling products to architects and designers in Chicago before moving to NYC in 1986, where I became head of business development for 3 companies within the A and D community for the next 18 years.


How did you become involved in the Lodging Conference?


Harry put together a beautiful marriage proposal for me in 1994, but about 6 weeks prior, his contract ended and was not renewed. So when he asked me to marry him, he was unemployed. He attended a full season of industry conferences and went into the conference business where he conceived The Lodging Conference shortly after.


The first year, the conference was at the Phoenician in Phoenix with about 300 participants and I was along for the ride. The second year, the event moved to the Arizona Biltmore. I was still working a full-time job, but I would bring my clients to the conference and help sell sponsorships. I’m a networker - a people person, so it was natural for me to help on the people side of the conference.


As Harry was building the conference over the years, it became an integral part of our life. We would come home and discuss it during the week. Conference attendees became our friends. Sponsors became our friends.


What does your participation look like today?


The planning is year-round. We start preparations a year in advance, much like the Macy's Day Parade. We’ve already started planning for next year, before this year’s conference has even finished. We’ll have a post-conference meeting the day after the conference ends, and we’ll have menus and most of the logistics set before January.


I still work on business development and sell some sponsorships, while Brent Tinter sells the large majority. I plan the menus and events. It’s funny because I used to host dinners for my clients in the backyard of my apartment, and now I get to plan parties at the Lodging Conference. My grandmother used to host her clients, and I am doing the same, on a larger platform.


When you work in this industry for a long time, business partners become your friends. When you attend the Lodging Conference, you’re not just a conference attendee - you become a part of the Lodging Conference family.


Family is really important to us. We encourage attendees to bring their children and we offer spouse passes for dinners and parties. And we’ve been doing this long enough now, that we encourage attendees to bring their grandchildren. The Lodging Conference is a family affair and we picked a resort environment on purpose. We wanted people to be able to come and relax and bring their best versions of themselves to the event.


How do you ensure diversity in your panels?


Diversity and inclusion are very important to us. Linda Chelmow has been The Lodging Conference Program Director since its inception. As the industry has evolved to be more inclusive to women in the C-Suite, she has been able to bolster their ranks on our program.


For example, Stacy Silver, the President of Silver Hospitality Group was one of the first women speakers, as a moderator back in 1996 at our second conference. This year, 60 out of 175 speakers are women, a number we are excited to build on next year.


This year, we had the first-ever Ladies in Lodging Happy Hour, and I was told that next year we’re going to need a bigger room. And of course, working with you at hertelier to share women’s stories.

We pull from what the industry is doing as a whole. The brands and management companies are making a great effort to increase diverse representation in the industry. We partner with organizations like the American Hotel Lodging Association’s ForWard program, Wyndham’s Women Own the Room, Rachel Humphrey’s Women Alliance, and the Peggy Berg Castell Award (now under the umbrella of AHLA Foundation) has been bestowed at The Lodging Conference for the past four years.


This year, we had the first-ever Ladies in Lodging Happy Hour, and I was told that next year we’re going to need a bigger room. And of course, working with you at hertelier to share women’s stories.

Yet beyond the glitz and glamour of the conference, Liz faced her own set of challenges, navigating the intricate dance between her own career, the conference itself, and her duties as a mother and wife. With unwavering determination and a heart full of warmth, Liz and her team worked together with a team full of loyal friends and associates to shape the Lodging Conference into a welcoming platform for all.


What are your passions, outside of hospitality?


I'm known as "the oyster lady," for helping replenish the oyster community on the east end of Long Island. This also helps purify the water, and I gets to eat and share many oysters with friends. I'm also a "photoholic" with over 200,000 photos to date, hoping to publish a book one day on sunrises and sunsets on the East End.




Any advice for women wanting to grow their careers in hospitality?


"Stay true to yourself and be passionate about your work. Life will take you where you’re supposed to be."


Original Hertelier article featured here: https://www.hertelier.com/post/elizabeth-wolff-a-pillar-of-the-lodging-conference-shares-her-story-of-family-and-hospitality

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