Hospitality Pioneer and Modern Elder
What do you do?
I guess I’m a “serial disruptor,” having been one of the first boutique hoteliers in the U.S. (founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality), the in-house mentor for the past decade to the young founders of Airbnb (and Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy), and the founder of a company that is disrupting higher education and the retirement communities markets (CEO of the Modern Elder Academy). MEA is a combination of hospitality, wellness, and education, and I love that I have my hand in each of these sectors.
What's the biggest work challenge you’re facing right now?
Our MEA operation is based on a remote beachfront in Baja California Sur, Mexico, so when we closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic, we were awfully lonely. We had to do a series of pandemic pivots, including creating an MEA Online program, developing our Sabbatical Sessions dedicated to longer stays on our campus in the pandemic era, building a subscription program for our 1,500 alums from 28 countries, and buying a 2,600-acre ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to create our first U.S. MEA Regenerative Community.
Any post-pandemic changes you'd like to see?
I hated when the pandemic forced us to go online with our MEA programs, but our eight-week course has created “digital intimacy” amongst those who sign up for the program, and a much larger percentage of them than I would have expected have chosen to make the pilgrimage to our Baja campus once they’ve graduated.
Is there a travel trend you’re excited about?
I’ve been fascinated by the digital nomad trend since joining Airbnb nearly a decade ago, and it’s been interesting to see the trend go mainstream as so many people are looking for a “home away from home” and, instead, a “home instead of home.” Even though this trend was becoming large pre-pandemic, the hotel industry still doesn’t have a solution for this traveler. And I say that while still wearing my hotelier hat, as I still am a partner in nine boutique hotels. I think it has great long-term potential for the lodging industry.
Please share some recent discoveries.
When it comes to books, my revelation of the past year was Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson, which is a fascinating socio-political read about U.S. race relations. I’ve become a friend of Christian mystic Richard Rohr recently so I’ve been reading all of his books on spirituality. I resonate with Krista Tippett’s “On Being” podcast and sure hope I get a chance to be on it someday. Have fallen in love with the Ted Lasso series, as the lead character is a bit of a “modern elder” in midlife. I read just about any geeky article from Adam Grant, Arthur Brooks, or Brené Brown.
Where do you want to travel next?
So many places as I have a lot of pent-up demand! There are a few countries that I’ve not been to that are high on my list: Iceland, Croatia, Myanmar. And then there’s all kinds of spots in Mexico that aren’t far from my primary home in Baja: Merida, Bacalar, Puerto Escondido, San Cristóbal de las Casas, and Valle de Bravo.
Do you have a travel happy place?
Have been to Bali thirteen times, which is a remarkable number for an American given that it’s not next door. I’m sure I lived there in a past life, and I have Balinese friends who feel like family. Love the fact that art and spirituality are so interwoven and that it’s a culture dedicated to “collective effervescence” in their festivals.
Finally, what are your favorite Fathom stories?
I’ve long been a fan of Fathom’s editorial point of view, which champions the road less traveled. Loved a recent piece on Where and How to Unlearn America's Myths (and Learn Cool Stuff!) as well a review on Austin, Texas, which is where I spend a lot of my time.