Post by Lacey Hagen
The title of this blog post is a fairly common reaction I get when I tell people I am currently a graduate student at Temple University pursuing a master’s degree in tourism and hospitality management. This was also the reaction I received when I told people that I had decided to go graduate school, immediately after graduating with my bachelor’s degree.
The past week has been quite eye-opening and has provoked some significant internal reflection with regards not only to my future career possibilities, but also my past career and educational choices. This was unavoidable considering the number of hospitality professionals that I had the opportunity to spend time with via executives that have visited campus; speakers and attendees at the International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show; and networking and alumni receptions. I had the privilege to spend time with Joe McInerney, president and chief executive officer of the American Hotel & Lodging Association; Len Vermillion, editor of Lodging magazine; and Ed Fuller, president and managing director of Marriott International, before I even went to the Javits Center in New York City.
Once the conference began, I was constantly meeting professionals and hearing executives speak from Hyatt, Kimpton, Marriott, Morgans Hotel Group, Starwood, Loews Hotels, Caesars Entertainment, STR, PKF, and more. As everyone was discussing their pathway to success and how they got their start in the industry, it was fascinating to hear that not one story was the same. Many began in front-line positions and just fell in love with the industry while others were executives in other areas and transferred into hospitality later in their career. However, there was one common theme that I found: most had not planned on having a career in hospitality; they just stumbled into a position and stayed because they became passionate about it.
I was fortunate enough to stumble into the industry while pursuing my bachelor’s degree in another field and working the front desk at the Residence Inn Minneapolis City Center. I enjoyed my coworkers and had a general manager who led by example, was supportive to his staff, and taught me a lot about hotel operations. He was the reason I became passionate about hospitality. The next step of my career choice is the one that I receive the most questions about. After working at the front desk for two years, I went back to school to get my master’s degree. This is the opposite of what almost every professional that I spoke to had done. As I mentioned earlier, many of them began at the bottom and worked their way up. So here is my question(s): Is it better to get working experience or a degree in hospitality? Would it have been better for me to just begin working for two years instead of going back to graduate school? Would it have been better (and cheaper) for me to work for six years instead of going to school at all? If that is what the majority of successful professionals did, did I make a big, six-year mistake? Could I have been a front office manager, director of sales, or director of human resources by now? Possibly.
This answer is different for everyone and highly situational. I went back to school because I was job hunting during a recession in an industry that I had no formal education in and was fortunate to be offered an assistantship at a top university that I happily accepted. And as I was hearing the bottom-up success stories and reflecting on my personal choices, I had a realization: The whole reason I am having a personal reflection about my choices is because over the past week, I have had the opportunity to network and/or listen to dozens of professionals from all major hotel companies give advice to me and my generation, the Millennials. Would I have had this opportunity if I went directly into the workforce? Not to mention, throughout the past two years, I have had class in over 20 different hotels in Philadelphia; learned about management companies, ownership groups, REITs, and multiple brands serving all market segments; and have one of the most impressive and expansive alumni networks in the industry. I had the opportunity to intern at a major consulting company over the summer and will intern for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau in the spring. At Temple, I have had the opportunity gain a holistic perspective of the industry that I love so much and I would have never experienced this if I went straight to working on property. This was absolutely the best choice for me. I emphasize that this was the best choice for me because I absolutely respect the fact that the choice of higher education is very personal and may not be the right fit for everyone, and that’s OK, as I am sure that my choice is in the minority, not the majority. Those who chose to work understand their position, property, and company more than I ever could learn in a classroom.
According to presentations for the International Hotel, Motel + Restaurant Show from STR, PKF, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, the future looks bright. The 2012 forecast for ADR, RevPAR, and hotel rooms are all rising (including 7,500 rooms currently under construction in New York City alone). I believe there will be a place in the industry for those who are passionate about hospitality and there will be consistency only in the diversity of paths to success. And if you ever find yourself at the Residence Inn Minneapolis City Center, say hello to Troy.