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Tourism professionals give students industry insights at 'fireside chat'


Speakers seated on stage at the ASU Tourism Student Association fireside chat.

Nancy Patel (left), Ken Patel (center) and Jeff Driskel (right) of EV Hotel Group recently spoke to members of ASU's Tourism Student Association about their plans for a technology-driven hospitality industry at the Tourism Student Association's spring 2022 fireside chat. Photo courtesy Tourism Student Association

May 03, 2022

Listening to industry professionals drone on about their jobs can feel impersonal, which is why Arizona State University’s Tourism Student Association (TSA) hosts a “fireside chat” each semester.

“We call our event a fireside (chat) for a particular reason,” said TSA President Valerie Brenes, a business (tourism) major who was moderating the event. “And that’s because we don’t want it to feel too formal, like a speech or anything like that.”

In the past, the intimate once-a-semester event would take place around an actual fire. Now, a video of a crackling fire plays in the background for in-person and Zoom attendees to enjoy. 

This night, the theme was innovation in tourism and lodging, and the fireside chat featured guest speakers from EV Hotel Group, a company that uses artificial intelligence and smart technology to improve hotels and tourism. 

All three guest speakers — Founder and CEO Ken Patel, Chief Impact Officer/NFL player Jeff Driskel and Global Head of Investments Nancy Patel — were able to attend in person. 

In the morning, the team was invited to tour the ASU Tempe campus to get to know the university and the community. They really appreciated ASU’s innovative approach and charter, according to School of Community Resources and Development Director Christine Buzinde.

At the fireside chat, the students and EV Hotel speakers discussed a variety of subjects, including the modernization of tourism and the future of the industry. The team painted a picture of the hotel property’s future — which includes automating routine tasks so employees can dedicate their time to more important work. 

“I think the most interesting thing I learned tonight was that you can have robots deliver drinks to your hotel room,” said Kylie Parker, a senior studying tourism development and management with a double minor in special events management and hotel and resort leadership.

In addition to just being interesting, the event gave students access to industry professionals they wouldn’t usually get to talk to.

“As someone who is just entering the hospitality industry, it is fascinating to get to speak to someone who is reshaping it as I am learning about it,” said Zade Alzoubi, a freshman studying tourism development and management. 

Patel also spoke about how cryptocurrency could influence the hospitality industry.

“I think it’s influential for us to get the young audience involved in the crypto community, because it is the new asset class,” he said. “It’s about the new generation … This is a new economy that is going to think forward and move forward.” 

After the fireside chat was over, the speakers and in-person attendees were invited to a post-event reception at the Hilton Garden Inn Phoenix Downtown Hotel.

TSA’s fireside chats are yet another example of taking learning outside the classroom. 

“It is critical for students to have meaningful interactions with industry professionals,” said Claire McWilliams, PhD, a School of Community Resources and Development lecturer and TSA adviser. “While the classroom portion is where their knowledge base expands, contact with industry leaders transform what students have learned in current, industry-embedded ways.” 

Joining TSA gives students access to opportunities to connect with industry professionals.

“I joined TSA because I think it is the best way for an international student to get experience and meet new people,” said Egon Lin, a freshman studying tourism development and management. “I also like traveling so that’s why I joined.” 

Written by Amber Victoria Singer, student journalist for the ASU School of Community Resources and Development.

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