Faculty Spotlight: John Bowen, Adapting to the Changing Environment of Hospitality and Tourism

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John Bowen
Photo: John Bowen

John Bowen became interested in the hospitality and tourism field at a young age, after attending a career fair in high school. While his initial interest was in hotel management, he quickly found his footing in food and beverage. Forty years later, Professor Bowen’s industry experience includes hotels and restaurants, corporate food and beverage, and owning a Dallas pub. He is currently an industry advisor to KYC Hospitality, a technology company delivering innovative solutions to the hotel industry, and is a prolific writer and researcher. His book, Marketing for Hospitality and Tourism, is the leading hospitality marketing textbook.

With his extensive experience, Professor Bowen knows to account for changes in the industry. In his role as an advisor to KYC Hospitality, he is involved in research on adopting technologies that increase operational efficiency and maintain high customer satisfaction. With shifts in technology, the economy, and environmental factors, Professor Bowen finds that authenticity continues to be one constant at the core of successful hospitality operations. He credits his attitude towards life-long learning as a key to his success and a piece of wisdom to impart to his students.

Below, Professor Bowen describes his expertise in hospitality and tourism, key trends in the industry, and how students can adapt to an ever-changing industry landscape.

How did you get your start in Hospitality and Tourism?

I originally wanted to work on the hotel management side of the hospitality industry. As I grew to understand the industry, I realized that food and beverage was a critical part of a full-service hotel. As a result, during my time in college, I had part-time and summer jobs in food and beverage, ranging from service positions to cooking to bartending. I became talented in food and beverage management and followed career opportunities in that direction.

Much of your experience is in food and beverage. How has that sector changed throughout your career?

There have been many changes at both the industry level and unit level. One of the changes we are seeing is the consumers’ desire for authentic food and beverage operations. Craft breweries serving food, food trucks, and locally owned restaurants are becoming popular as younger customers choose these alternatives over fast-casual chains. This creates an opportunity for those who want to be entrepreneurs.

Technology also continues to have a major effect on the food and beverage industry. Point of sale systems provide information on what is sold, who is selling it, what is trending, what is declining, and can even put together the restaurant’s food orders for their suppliers, based on what was sold. As technology improves, robotics and AI will help relieve the chronic shortage of workers the restaurant industry is currently facing.

These changes have also created new jobs including social media managers, software salespeople, and software designers that understand the needs of the restaurant industry.

What do you consider your expertise in the hospitality and tourism industry?

My expertise is services marketing, focusing on hospitality and tourism. Within marketing, my focus has been on consumer behavior. I have implemented both qualitative and quantitative studies to gain insights into why consumers behave the way they do. In addition to surveying consumers, we have found that by interviewing employees we can gain insights into what customers want and how to better serve them. We can often gain 80% of the insights we would gain from an expensive survey by talking with customer-facing employees. The key to successful interviews is gaining the trust of the employees.

Now, I am currently involved with how technology can be used to reduce labor, while at the same time improving customer satisfaction. I am fortunate to be an advisor to KYC Hospitality, a technology company focused on increasing both customer satisfaction and operational efficiency. Technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used to provide both information and suggestions on how to better serve guests. AI and robotics also be used for routine tasks, such as taking orders at a quick service restaurant drive-through, or answering simple guest questions, freeing up time for employees to provide more service to the guests.

What are some key factors influencing Hospitality and Tourism today?

The factors that are influencing hospitality and tourism today are the same as those that influenced it in the past, albeit the way these factors are influencing hospitality and tourism is changing. They include areas such as technology, competition, and social/cultural, environmental, economic, and political factors. Each of these areas has had a major effect on hospitality and tourism. It is important for managers to monitor each of these areas to gain an understanding of how they will affect business in the future, so they can be proactive in adjusting their business and adapting to change. This is becoming more important as change is occurring at an ever-increasing speed.

What has made you successful in hospitality and tourism?

I always enjoyed the jobs I held and had a passion for what I was doing. As I moved into leadership positions, I developed a shared vision for where I wanted to take the organization. I am a strong believer in culture, developing a culture that is focused on quality, customer service, and a good work environment. Finally, when leaving a job, I left on good terms and kept a good relationship with my former employers. As a result, many of my jobs came through recommendations from people who knew or worked with me. This is a small industry and networking can help build a successful career.

What excites you about teaching at USC Bovard College?

I love the format that Bovard College has created. Bovard’s instructional designers have developed courses with the help of content experts that have the same course materials used by all instructors. The result is consistency and quality control not found in other programs. Bovard also uses instructors who have extensive industry experience. These instructors translate how the theoretical components of the course can be applied to business. Finally, students selected for Bovard have a strong motivation to succeed. Motivated students create lively and interesting class discussions.

How do you prepare your students to be the hospitality and tourism leaders of tomorrow?

I want students to realize how the subject they are studying has applications that can help their organizations be more successful, and also that the business environment is ever-changing. If they realize the importance of the subject area, I hope they will continue to learn through reading and professional education throughout their careers, enabling them to remain relevant. The other thing I stress is the importance of networking. The other students in their program can form the core of a strong professional network. Once they graduate, they add the USC alumni to their network. Success comes from who you know as well as what you know.

What do you do for fun?

I like outdoor activities including biking, kayaking, boating, and swimming. I also enjoy traveling and learning about and understanding other places and people. One of the advantages of working in hospitality and tourism is I have had the opportunity to travel extensively.

Learn more about the MS in Hospitality and Tourism program.

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