What does hospitality mean in 2021?
What should it mean? Traditional definitions put the guest front and center, first and foremost. But after a devastating year for the travel industry, we can no longer dine out, drink up, or bed down responsibly without considering the livelihoods of the people who help make our experiences possible. Hospitality—once thought to flow in just one direction—is mutual. It goes both ways.
At its core, hospitality is also about more than dining, drinking, and staying somewhere. How can we be more hospitable to the planet? To our fellow travelers? We don’t have a crystal ball when it comes to the future, but we have some ideas—and, true to the spirit of hospitality, we didn’t come up with them alone. —Katherine LaGrave
Vice president of HR and head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Ace Hotel/Atelier Ace
“Before the pandemic, we were getting calls about sustainability. Now we’re seeing: ‘OK, so you’re celebrating Juneteenth, but what are you doing in addition? What does your leadership look like? What does your Board of Directors look like? What initiatives are you doing internally to promote these things?’ Customers are not out there for those one-liners. They want to know what exactly it is you’re doing.”
“If you’re only telling experience through one lens, you are missing out on customers, on brand opportunities, and customer acquisition. You are almost missing the message of hospitality, which is, in theory, come one, come all. If the future of hospitality is diverse, then it means the future of hospitality is more lucrative. As hospitality questions its current state—as we all look to how we might make improvements—this is an area that directly affects the bottom line.”
Bartender and founder of Bartenders Against Racism
In June 2020, Washington, D.C., resident Rahul Dubey made headlines for opening his home to shelter protesters who had been tear-gassed and chased from a peaceful march outside the White House. One of those protesters was Allison Lane, a bartender whose Twitter thread from the evening was shared by 54,000 people and liked 157,000 times. Lane decided to use the attention for good: That same month, she founded the nonprofit Bartenders Against Racism (BAR), which works to address wage, equity, and access issues within the beverage community.
To Lane, social justice and hospitality are inseparable. Her biggest questions: “How do we start to use our networks to develop our own community? How do we become a resource for Black and brown workers moving forward after the pandemic? How do we better train people at their jobs, and make sure that they are accurately paid?”
Some 1.2 billion people globally have a disability, but more than half don’t travel because of a lack of information. Cluskey shares his vision for “normalizing accessibility.”
How does accessibility affect everyone?
This is about your elderly mother, your father with the bad hip, and your bad back. People tend to think accessibility is a big bathroom and a ramp, but it’s so much broader than that.
How do hospitality and a responsibility to provide access go hand in hand?
I think there’s a lot of fear and awkwardness and the unknown of, “We want to do something about accessibility, but we don’t know what to do, or we don’t fully understand what we’re dealing with.” A big driver for us is removing that fear and awkwardness and uncomfortableness, and keeping things broad and open-minded, and being really supportive, because we do understand that fear.
Hotels have these assets that they’re not utilizing. Accessible bedrooms have the lowest occupancy rates and are the last to be booked. People with accessibility needs, on average, stay longer than your general traveler and spend more. If you think about a scenario where someone like myself—as a wheelchair user—is traveling, I’m not traveling by myself. I’m going to stay in the one accessible bedroom, which is the deciding factor for where the rest of the group and I go. The business case for this is around that one accessible bedroom, and the rest of the group staying in four, five, six other bedrooms as a result.
How does this potential make you feel?
I’m paralyzed from the neck down, but I need no more fulfillment in my life than what we’re doing. It’s incredible to think the team and I have the potential to impact more than a billion people around the world. We’re incredibly excited to see changes at every hotel in the world. We believe we’ll get there.
This article originally stated that Cluskey was a United Nations-certified accessibility expert. It has been corrected.
Shaped by Media
Food and drink writer
“The future of hospitality is customers recognizing that they are also part of the energy of the space. They’re not just passive recipients of hospitality. Because if they don’t do that, then it’s going to remain an industry that is underpaid, underappreciated, undervalued. It’s got to start to be a more mutual agreement to both give and take hospitality.
“What we really need is policy change. You can’t go into a restaurant and say to them, ‘I want you to pay this person $20 an hour.’ As a customer, you don’t really have any pull or sway in terms of how the ownership treats the staff. It’s not going to change until policy changes, until the wages are lifted up, until there’s universal health care.
“I do think that it has to be something that media should consistently report on. You can’t just write about a restaurant anymore and not [talk with] the workers, ask about wages, ask about the conditions, and ask about any benefits or paid time off or sick time.
“You have to make that part of the equation when considering whether you’re going to recommend a restaurant. Along with, of course, reporting on what policy changes would be massively effective for changing the way we think about the conditions of labor in the hospitality industry. I think that’s a huge responsibility that we need to see continue. I am hopeful that because we started having this conversation, we can’t stop having it.”
Restaurant veteran and founder of NAEMO
As restaurants shuttered, chefs turned to Instagram to advertise pop-ups and launch takeout services. In January 2021, Korean American restaurant veteran Arnold Byun founded NAEMO, an “experimental, elevated” takeout experience focused on Korean flavors. We caught up with Byun via Instagram—naturally.
How has Instagram helped make NAEMO more accessible to people?
Instagram has played an instrumental part in building our brand. In fact, the name NAEMO means “square” in Korean. When we started, L.A. was still in lockdown and outdoor dining was not available. We saw more people engaging online and looking for more underground dining experiences through Instagram.
In what ways do you think these pop-ups have given more autonomy to chefs?
They definitely allowed for chefs, especially those who identified as BIPOC or those typically marginalized, to take a leap into ownership and building their own brands. The unconventional pop-up method is essentially a proof of concept that could potentially open up various options for budding food brands.
“If you believe, as I do, that stories and power are synonymous, nothing really influences our relationship to the world and to our communities and societies more than the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we are told. I think, to some degree, writers have done the public a disservice by not explaining more accurately the origins [of tipping], explaining the culture. Really helping see that just because this is the only way we’ve done it here doesn’t mean that it’s the right way. And that it is not only possible to live in a world without tipping, but maybe even better.
“Helping people change their relationship to tipping is about new stories. Media is a way to share ideas and stories that ultimately can shift culture.”
Founder of Lindblad Expeditions, a luxury adventure cruise and travel company that is 100 percent carbon neutral
“There’s this tremendous intersection between hospitality and exposing people to the wonders of the natural world, and that creates a very, very powerful dynamic, which I think is going to be even more powerful. Once upon a time, ‘sustainable’ was considered the Holy Grail—‘Leave no footprint. Don’t do any damage.’ I don’t think that’s enough anymore, because we have done a lot of damage. There are opportunities to get companies and guests to really engage in regenerative travel, because we’ve got to repair a lot. We’ve got to repair cultural divides, we’ve got to repair monuments, we’ve got to repair to the degree that we can be effective.
“There’s all kinds of science that says the thing that makes people happiest is giving to other people. You should say to yourself: Ensure that my behavior is not negative in relationship to whatever I’m doing or wherever I’m going. Secondly, ask yourself: What are some creative things that I can do to be helpful, beyond just not being negative? If you create an ethos around that, everybody wins.”
Chief sustainability officer, Accor
“It’s actually not about doing things better. It’s about changing deeply the way we work. If we keep doing the same things but try to just mitigate our impact, we are always going to run behind climate change and biodiversity loss. We cannot afford that. This requires radical change.
“We need to understand what our guests want, but our responsibility is to give them more options. A company that is responsible needs to not wait for customers to ask, then process this ask, and then turn it into something real, because it takes too much time. We need to be proactive. We can define new social norms.”
Chief TreadRight and Sustainability officer at the Travel Corporation
“At Red Carnation Hotels and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, we’re implementing AI technology to cut our food waste in half. Effectively, it can establish a baseline of how much food waste is going out in about six weeks. We can do that simply through weighing the waste. In some cases, there’s a screen where we’re storing up the garbage and can identify the items. AI technology takes a really practical approach to food—serving sizes, garnishes, and items that just really aren’t being eaten or sold—and how we can reduce waste and get food at the source.
“If you think about the supply chain with the hotelier at the top, you’ve got all of these services that can reduce or remove waste, single-use plastics, and excessive transport on our food stocks. The supply chain opportunity is very, very exciting. It’s why I always turn my nose up at the fact that people will say, ‘Oh, if you’re not small and bespoke, you can’t be sustainable.’ I call that hogwash. If you’re a big player, you have such a massive opportunity for change.”
Focused on Community
Sommelier, hospitality activist, and founder of Radical XChange
“Part of my work is to remember that this isn’t my work—it’s community work. There’s no one person; there are no 10 people. It is a collective transformative process. The hospitality industry is in a deep learning curve right now. Some people are going to fall off while it’s still going up, but if you want any type of transformation, you have to allow for that time.
“Part of extending grace to the industry is understanding that oftentimes its [missteps are] not intentional. That doesn’t negate the impact, but it does change the way we approach it, because we understand grace is needed and the intent is not malicious. The intent is one built out of scarcity and survival, which our country and our culture of hospitality has been built on for years.”
Senior vice president, Loyalty, Brand Marketing and Insights at Hyatt
In May 2020 in the United States, 23 percent of small and medium-size businesses across the country were closed. After recognizing that many of their hotel spaces were sitting unused, Hyatt in November 2020 launched its Hyatt Loves Local program, offering complimentary resources and exposure to many of those businesses affected: Think hosting a pop-up for the woman-owned Monorail Espresso at Motif Seattle, and the Hotel Revival Baltimore sourcing all its toilet paper exclusively from Black-owned, West Baltimore–based Lor Tush.
“The early days were very much neighbor helping neighbor, and very true to caring for the community to make sure that it’s thriving around the hotel,” says Amy Weinberg, Hyatt’s senior vice president, Loyalty, Brand Marketing and Insights. This year, Hyatt has doubled down on its commitment to the community, with more than 160 small business collaborations in place at hotels around the world. Call it a win-win. Says Weinberg: “I think we’ll continue to see [travelers] needing to be associated with brands that are standing true for more than just delivering great service, but doing it in a way that’s good for the world.”
Stronger Than Ever
Founder and CEO of the catering and education business the Sioux Chef
Sean Sherman grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where he remembers having a “single grocery store to service an area the size of Connecticut.” Since then, he has worked to revitalize Native American cuisine: He is founder and CEO of the catering and education business the Sioux Chef, cofounder of North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems, and co-owner/executive chef of the new Minneapolis restaurant Owamni, which serves food made exclusively with Indigenous ingredients and has a beverage list sourced almost entirely from Indigenous producers.
“We just really want to try and elevate people coming from BIPOC communities that don’t have the same deck of cards,” Sherman says. “For me, struggling to even get to a position like this—to be able to talk about these issues—is a long path. There were a lot of hurdles to overcome. In turn, as we developed how we go about things and how we do things, purchasing is a big part of the philosophy. We prioritize purchasing from Indigenous producers—first locally, and then nationally—and then we support our local food system as much as we can.”
In November 2020, nine women restaurateurs in Los Angeles came together to launch Regarding Her, a nonprofit formed in response to the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry. By January 2021 they had held their first 10-day festival, planned to occur annually, connecting more than 100 female food and beverage entrepreneurs through collaborations, conversations, and virtual events.
Today, Regarding Her provides support for women in hospitality businesses via grants, networking opportunities, and more. “The hospitality industry was not always the most ‘hospitable’ place for women—it was very much a boys’ club,” says Valles. “So many women before us paved the way for this industry to be more welcoming to women. It is our job to maintain the space. When we encourage women leaders and success for women, we propel hospitality forward. In the future, we will see restaurant owners as community leaders, and that will largely be due to the influence of women.”