It’s no secret that today’s hospitality industry is vastly different than days gone by. What was once an industry of family-owned businesses has become big business, with hotel chains owned by Fortune 500 corporations and multiple property developers. With roughly 50,000 hotels in the United States, the hotel industry has become a significant source of jobs and a vital part of the American economy. What have also grown in modern times are the educational opportunities available to train and prepare future generations of industry leaders.
Today, hospitality students aren’t simply seeking an education that trains them to run a hotel. They are interested in high finance and the global nature of the industry. And the nation’s major hospitality schools have morphed to reflect the changing nature of the industry.
Don Snyder, former president of Boyd Gaming Corp., who now serves as dean of the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) has seen the evolution of hospitality education firsthand and says the changes are simply common sense.
“Certainly, common sense suggest to me that it needs to [evolve],” he says. “The hospitality industry has certainly gone through a lot of change, not just here in Las Vegas, but more broadly. We have to continually look at how we’re educating and how we’re providing research for the hospitality industry. Clearly, we have to be in position to change and adjust, and to a certain extent, lead in that regard.”
Christopher Muller, dean of Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration, has spent more than 25 years educating future hotel leaders and he’s also seen the evolution. He says the main changes in the way hospitality students are educated today involve technology. “Technology has been such a major factor in education,” he says. “We’ve gone from a more active learning environment where everyone took their own notes to a more passive environment where everyone watches Power Point presentations. That change has implications for the way we teach and the way students absorb the information…the way the learning happens.”
Both Snyder and Muller say that hospitality education has also become more relationship oriented. “There’s always been a need for group project work, but I think that has been enhanced because we’ve become more experiential in our learning,” Muller says. “There are more internship requirements and more international experience requirements. It was always there but now it’s taken on a higher order of importance.”
Snyder says that there is more active involvement today between students and the industry as whole. “I think what needs to happen at a higher level is interaction between the academic side and what happens in the industry,” he says. “I think the more interaction there is, the more we can be tuned in to what’s going on and we can be more responsive to what needs to change. For example, we’re here in Las Vegas and we have 140,000 hotel rooms and the largest [hospitality] laboratory in the world. We need to connect the dots. The better we’re connected the more responsive we’ll be and I think that makes the educational experience more relevant.”
While there is a significant amount of hospitality education that can be gained in the classroom, education for working in hotels, restaurants, and meetings and events planning is most relevant when combined with experience. For that reason, today’s heads of hospitality schools near universally agree that internships have become a central part of the process.
“One of the impacts of the recession is that the industry has to get a lot better at managing its costs and think a lot more creatively, so when the industry hires employees right out of college, the more practical experience they have, the better they can hit the ground running,” Snyder says. “The students are more valuable that way and that value is more important than ever. The internship program is a really effective way of getting that experience.”
Muller says the nature of what is taught these days has also changed. As the industry becomes bigger business, hotel education not only focuses on the operations side, but also the finance side. “It is much more finance driven,” he says. “It was always numbers but we went from teaching financial accounting for hotels to a higher order of finance and asset management, real estate evaluation. The understanding of the ways deals are struck is completely different. It’s less operational and more financial driven.”
He says that change is a result of the changing business and the changing student. “In the last 25 years, there’s been a much more robust understanding of the fact that hospitality is much more than hotels,” Muller says. He points to the fact that food and beverage education has evolved from a part of hotel education to restaurant management as an example. “Hospitality is no longer an umbrella to describe the entire industry. Restaurant management is different than hotel management and now we understand that there are two completely different fields.”
Today’s hospitality student, whether they focus on hotels, restaurants, or even event planning, enter school with a much better understanding of the industry. Both Muller and Snyder say that is a sign of times.
“A student these days has more than likely already traveled outside of the United States, has been watching The Food Network their entire lives, has been watching shows about travel and other cultures, and they’re much more in tune with the commonality and differences of hotels and restaurants,” Muller says.
Snyder says that students are different because their reasoning for entering the industry are different, mainly because of their past experiences. “They understand it’s a growing industry and a dynamic industry,” he says. “The amount of change in the industry will continue to attract students.
“Also, if you look at emerging parts of the world, the fact is international programs are growing rapidly and there are opportunities for students in those places, as well as a level of optimism,” he continues. “Students from these places now see multimillion dollar properties there as compared to what they were in the past and they see more opportunities and that helps attract students.”
Whatever their personal reasons for selecting hospitality as a course of study, more students in the United States and from emerging parts of the world are finding hotels and restaurants a more dynamic business. Meanwhile, hospitality education programs around the world continue to evolve to meet the needs of those students and the industry.
See our November 2010 cover Story, “Hospitality Education in Today’s World.” Dr. Ron Cichy of Michigan State University discusses the evolution of hospitality education.