Tourism class organizes virtual conference on the impact of technology on hospitality

In March, when Shawn Lee’s classes went online amid the coronavirus pandemic, he realized he’d have to make some changes to keep his class connected with the industry leaders. Lee, who teaches a class on hospitality, tourism and event management information systems at George Mason University usually brings speakers into his classroom. But with classes in the virtual realm, that was no longer possible.

Lee decided to make the most of the new circumstances and assigned his 30 students a project in which they organized a virtual web conference about the impact of technology and coronavirus on hospitality. The event, held May 4, featured eight tourism and hospitality experts who shared their insights about e-tourism and gave advice to students about the skill sets they’d need for the new economy. The class also invited professors and students from other schools, such as Virginia Tech and George Washington University, to attend. About 58 individuals attended the conference, Lee said.

“The event turned into a great way for us to showcase Mason’s innovation,” said Lee, an associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development. “People from other schools could see that when there are hurdles, Mason students go over them to get to their learning experiences.”

In general, Lee said, he likes to include hands-on projects in his classes to encourage experiential learning. For the virtual web conference project, he divided his students into smaller groups to research potential speakers, send them formal invitations, coordinate their attendance and ensure the speakers had what they needed to make their presentations. Some industry experts who spoke waived their normal fees given the circumstances and in support of this student-led conference.

“The students learned that not only could they organize a virtual conference, which is widely considered as new norm of many business meetings, they also found that if they reach out to professionals, they might be surprised about how many people are willing to participate,” Lee said.

Mason senior Uomna Shoura, a tourism and events management major, said she enjoyed working on the project.

“It basically reemphasized the idea that there’s always something new happening in the industry, and people find ways to adapt to it,” she said.

Louise Svahnqvist, the director of catering for Sodexo Mason Dining and one of the speakers, talked about the technology used for catering.

“I think the project challenged them to put something together in a short period of time,” Svahnqvist said. “It ended up being innovative and refreshing.”