Adventerous professor advises how to travel like an expert
Matthew Stone loves travel.
As a child, he collected airline schedules. At age 17, he began working in the hospitality industry, and soon moved into hotel management at Marriott- and Hilton-branded properties in Houston; Columbus, Ohio; and Arlington, Virginia. Stone seemed destined to continue to hone his craft both in post-graduate studies and providing top-notch service at the hospitality industry’s most trusted properties.
But then, his itinerary changed.
“I saw a job posting for a teaching position at Prince George Community College (in Maryland), and I applied for it,” said Stone. “They called me back six weeks later. I started teaching and fell in love with it.”
After what he calls an “accidental career change,” Stone worked to get his PhD in recreation, park, and tourism sciences from Texas A&M University. He has since taught at the University of Houston as a hospitality management lecturer, and is currently in his third year teaching at Chico State in the Department of Recreation, Hospitality, and Parks Management.
Stone has leveraged his work experience and acumen to become a sought-after source for travel publications and speaking engagements around the world. His work has appeared in USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, Houston Chronicle, and Asian Hospitality magazine, as well as online outlets like Smart Money and WalletHub.com. Additionally, Stone has spoken at the Washington DC Travel & Adventure Show and the California Lodging Association Conference, and continues to provide expert tips and predictions in an ever-evolving travel industry.
“So many academics live in their little box,” Stone said. “For me, I think our work is most impactful if it gets to the industry and to the traveling public, not just in a journal.”
This means researching and identifying trends in the travel and hospitality industries, which are especially sensitive to mercurial political climates globally. It also means learning about today’s most potent—and unpredictable—consumer force in travel: millennials.
“People in travel are obsessed with the word ‘millennial.’ Even though it’s such a huge group, there’s so much diversity,” Stone said. “People want to make conclusions about them, but it’s really hard to do.”
Stone’s research suggests that from a travel point of view, millennials are less brand loyal than other age groups, more interested in filing away unique experiences, and less interested in acquiring material possessions.
“They like connecting with people as they travel, which explains the popularity of things like Airbnb,” Stone said. “Hotels will have to adjust to deal with what the customers want.”
Hotels are notoriously slow to evolve, especially if that means sweeping changes in a corporation. “If you walked into a hotel in 1886 versus a year ago, they look exactly the same,” Stone said. “You still walk in, you check in at the check-in desk. ‘There’s the elevator, there are the stairs, do you need help with your bags?’ That didn’t change. In any industry that looks the same after 100 years, that can’t be good, right?”
It may be time for a travel revolution, and Stone agrees that the catalyst is in your hand: Imagine using a hotel’s mobile app to check in, unlock the door to your room, order dinner (from a local restaurant), request more towels, and change your room’s temperature. All of this will help free up hotel staff to become local experts.
“Hotels always thought that smiling and walking you to the elevator was customer service. That’s one aspect of it. Your desk clerk will no longer just be the person who pushes the buttons and swipes your credit card. They’ll also be a local ambassador instead of a servant,” Stone suggests. “Technology is making hospitality rethink the way they’re doing things. So maybe it’s time to reinvent a little bit.”
Stone has been to six continents (he hasn’t yet made it to Africa), he’s visited more than 30 countries, and the only states he hasn’t set foot in are Maine, North Dakota, Idaho, and Montana. Still relatively new to California, Stone admits he hasn’t seen a whole lot of our state. Instead, he revisits his favorite places, like Lassen Volcanic National Park and Feather Falls. But he remains in awe over California’s recreational opportunities.
“Our outdoor opportunities in California are incredible. I didn’t understand California until I moved here,” Stone said. “California has everything. It’s not fair.”
Here, he shares a few timeless travel tips. Travel advice can change based on factors like the destination, the season, and the exchange rate, but these tips are timeless:
- Be flexible on travel dates. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer are expensive. Take the kids out of school. Research shows they can learn everything from historical facts to patience and cultural awareness.
- Take advantage of loyalty programs, even if you are not a frequent traveler. It may take a while to add up, but they do. Just watch for expiration dates!
- Pick your destination by the price. Check out airfarewatchdog, Travelzoo, or Scott’s Cheap Flightsonline to hear about specials.
- Book airfare when you see it. When you see a reasonable fare, book it! Don’t wait a week to see if you can save $10.
- Save more money at home. Think about your expenditures in terms of travel. Turn that $4 daily cup of coffee into a $4 treat on vacation.
- Look for favorable exchange rates. A strong US dollar means that many international destinations are on sale.
- Consider splitting your dates. If your travel includes a weekday and a weekend, you may be able to get cheaper hotel rooms (or rental cars) by booking two reservations.
- Buy a guidebook. As a supplement to the Internet, a guidebook provides a great sense of history, quick overview of a destination, and sightseeing tips that can save you time and money.
- Don’t overpack. Now that most airlines charge for bags, pack less.
- Bring a reusable water bottle. Skip the bottled water expense.