The sharing economy may breed a few small entrepreneurs, but it doesn't have much use for professionals. In this world, everyone is an independent contractor.
Hospitality and tourism students enter a post-academic life in a variety of careers and locations. And no matter where they are, the sharing economy will find them.
Hospitality programs don’t instruct students how to be “sharing economy hosts,” but with the rise of sites such as Airbnb, students enter a field where travelers have a growing choice of where to stay and what kind of guest experience they want.
The dilemma universities face is how to explain these landscape changes to students, if at all. And the type of career Airbnb could offer a hospitality or tourism graduate today is unclear, says Haemoon Oh, the department head of University of Massachusetts Amherst’s hospitality school.
“The sharing economy segment has not matured enough to accommodate our graduates,” said Oh.
“Though the sharing economy may be large, there are still limited opportunities for future grads. The sharing economy could be part of our curriculum down the road, but at this moment it isn’t really part of our curriculum, but is becoming more significant. There are no specialized courses talking about it. A class on the sharing economy could happen, but not in the near future. It depends on employment opportunities for our students.”
Sharing economy sites such as Airbnb also haven’t shown up to the Amherst campus for career fairs like other hospitality brands, Oh said.
“Boutique hotels like Kimpton Hotels share a lot of commonality with the sharing economy, Oh said. “We do see very significant interest in possible careers in some of the more organized and bigger boutique hotels from our students.”
Students don’t seem to be missing these sites, either, as Oh said they’re not asking questions about them in classes. Still, the subject is lightly discussed in some courses.
“[The sharing economy] is just one lodging concept,” said Oh. “What we teach is applicable to not only Airbnb but all different concepts of hotels. We don’t have to teach separately about Airbnb, it’s an example of a new product in a growing space. [Airbnb] should have a system in place to inspire college graduates to become leaders.”
Tourism booms in the world’s most traveled cities such as London, Paris or New York whether travelers stay in a hotel or with an Airbnb host. Though knowing what a guest is experiencing at their accommodation, and where they’re experiencing it, is more relevant than ever, and these sites offer perfect textbook examples for students, said Carl Winston, the department head of San Diego State University’s (SDSU) tourism program.
“We initiate the conversations about these sites and they’re discussed on an ongoing basis,” said Winston. “I think the reason we need to talk about it in our classrooms is when you think about the taxicab industry, it’s highly regulated and governments create barriers.”
“The [sharing economy] comes along with a pricing model that makes total sense. The academic concept is that these sites have is what we call ‘perishable inventory,’ and we teach these pricing concepts to students to show what the taxicab industry should be doing, for example.”
Unlike UMass Amherst students, SDSU students are “gleeful” and eager to discuss sites like Airbnb, Winston said.
“These sites have made it easier to also explain fundamental economic concepts and how you sell hotel rooms in 40 countries. But I think if you talk to hoteliers, they dismiss this to me as a fad, they say business travelers will never use Airbnb. But I know that business travelers are using Airbnb and that they’re enjoying it.”
“The students think it’s cool,” Winston added. “It helps them understand the dynamic pricing and revenue management, and makes teaching hospitality and tourism way easier. Uber’s the easiest one to understand because that’s what our students use the most.”
Winston agrees with Oh that the attraction isn’t there for SDSU students wanting to work for Airbnb or HomeAway, or example, and that employment opportunities for graduates don’t exist yet. He adds that his colleagues estimate the sharing economy will continue to account for about 1 to 3% of hotel lodging supply in the U.S.
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Photo credit: An Airbnb property in Paris, France. Airbnb