In Hospitality, the Future Is Now
In Hospitality, the Future Is Now
2022 SHA Hospitality Leadership Summit features cutting-edge companies, honors Airbnb founders
Friday’s BU SHA Hospitality Leadership Summit will still happen at a hotel, not a home share or a coworking space or a ghost kitchen. But change is in the air.
Most of the speakers at the School of Hospitality Administration event work at places like Selina and Toast and REEF Technology, instead of the usual hotel chains and restaurant groups. Some of their companies didn’t exist a decade ago. Even the more established names who will speak to the mainly student audience represent change-makers—the coworking company WeWork and Google Travel. And SHA’s annual ICON Award, given to industry innovators, goes this year to the three founders of Airbnb, which disrupted the lodging industry with its online market where people around the world rent out their homes to travelers.
“We are redefining what the world of hospitality means to us,” says Arun Upneja, SHA dean, as the school’s 40th anniversary year comes to a close. “This world is changing very rapidly, and we have to keep pace with what is happening.”
The difficulties of the pandemic have only accelerated ongoing changes in the hospitality industry that reflect the way we live and work in the Digital Age. The evolution of the summit, being held at the Hotel Commonwealth in Kenmore Square, is very intentional.
“It sends a very clear, unambiguous signal that we are plugged-in and moving in lockstep with what’s happening in our society, in our industry,” says Upneja. “In fact, we want to be an organization that thinks about what is going to come in the future and prepares our students for that.”
Selina is a fast-growing hospitality brand aimed at remote workers and other travelers in 20 countries. Toast, based across the river in Cambridge, offers a cloud-based restaurant management and point-of-sale system that works on Android. Reef Technologies takes existing spaces like parking lots, into logistics hubs such as “ghost kitchens”—delivery-only facilities for existing restaurants.
These and other companies represented at the summit “live by a start-up mentality, and they have innovative mindsets, and they are nimble and can respond quicker,” says Summit chair Leora Lanz (COM’87), an SHA professor of the practice and assistant dean of academic affairs.
The ICON Award goes to Airbnb cofounders Brian Chesky, CEO, Nathan Blecharczyk, chief strategy officer, and Joe Gebbia, chairman of Airbnb.org. Blecharczyk will accept the award on behalf of Airbnb virtually to conclude the summit. “Their notable impact distinguishes them as visionaries who have innovated the business as they pursue the purpose of creating connection and belonging,” Upneja says.
“Airbnb was founded for guests to experience the world in a more authentic, connected way,” says Blecharczyk. “Similarly, BU SHA is expanding the world of hospitality by focusing on the creation of memorable experiences. We are incredibly appreciative for the opportunity to connect with future leaders who are so passionate about the industry.”
Airbnb was born in 2007 with three guests in a San Francisco home and has since grown to over four million hosts and more than a billion guest arrivals in almost every country across the globe. Hosts offer unique stays and one-of-a-kind activities.
“Even though people have stayed in their friends’ homes for thousands of years—this is not a new concept—they have articulated that and demonstrated it in a way that transformed travel,” Lanz says.
Airbnb.org, an independent nonprofit, is dedicated to facilitating temporary stays for people in moments of crisis—most recently a commitment to offer free, short-term housing to up to 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine.
SHA is working with Airbnb to schedule a fall visit by the founders, perhaps as a Dean’s Distinguished Lecture event.
Of course, the traditional hospitality industry is not going anywhere. Many SHA graduates will still begin their careers at hotel chains like Marriott or Hilton or food service provider Aramark. School leadership is especially excited about an ongoing relationship with last year’s ICON winner, restaurateur Danny Meyer, and his Union Square Hospitality Group, which hosted Lanz and 30 graduate students for a three-day immersive experience in their New York offices over spring break. Union Square even interviewed several students for potential internships or full-time jobs.
SHA is branching out with a master’s concentration in senior living and eyeing areas of study like sports events and higher-end retail, acknowledging, as Upneja says, that “any part of the commercial landscape where human interactions are important, that’s where we want to be.” The Summit, then, simply shows how pervasive the changes are.
“When we started, 40 years ago, we were a hotel and restaurant management program,” says Lanz. “We are so much more than that today.”
The daylong Summit is being held in person for the first time since 2019. The 2020 event, in the early days of the pandemic, was canceled, but last year’s Summit, held virtually, drew 500 log-ins.
Instead of speeches or expert panel discussions, the Summit schedule calls for brief, TED-talk-style presentations by:
- Denis Drossart, Vice President of Education & Talent, Selina
- Elizabeth Carducci, former chief revenue officer at Medallia
- Nick Anastasiades, vice president of growth, hospitality, Reef Technology
- Graham Humphreys, chief executive officer, The Culinary Edge
- Sanjeev Shetty, president, SDS Ventures
- Daniel Iannucci (SHA’12), mid-market sales leader, Toast
- Quendrida Whitmore, head of community, WeWork
- David Pavelko, Global Travel Business Development, Google Travel
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