The Future of the Hotel Industry Is in Good Hands

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The best part of my job isn’t visiting a lot of fabulous hotels and meeting top-notch lodging executives (although it’s a great perk). It’s working and interacting with college students at some of the best hotel schools in the country. Over the years, I’ve been able to meet students at campuses from Michigan State to Cornell and Niagara University to the University of Delaware and more.

This week, I was at Penn State to be part of the first meeting of the advisory board for the School of Hospitality Management. And again, I was struck by the quality of education our future leaders are receiving, as well as the professionalism, intellect and positive personalities these young men and women possess. It becomes very clear during this kind of visit that the future of the lodging industry is in very good hands.

It also reminds me that everyone who’s had success in this business—and whether or not they studied hotel management in college—has an obligation to make sure the education system continues to generate an army of top-notch graduates ready to help manage our tens of thousands of hotels and restaurants. There are more than 200 colleges and universities in the U.S. offering four-year degrees in hospitality management and probably a thousand community colleges with similar programs. Take some time to get to know the head of the program at your local college. Volunteer to be part of an advisory board or to speak to a class. Consider hiring hotel school students for summer jobs or internships. There are many ways you can pay it forward to the next generation of hospitality leaders.

Also, be sure to encourage high schoolers you meet to consider a major in hotel management. In tough economic times, it makes a lot of sense for young people to consider academic paths that actually lead to jobs and careers. At most top-notch hotel schools, close to 90% of graduates receive job offers from hospitality companies. I bet it’s a far different percentage for students graduating next spring with a degree in English.

At the Penn State advisory board meeting this week, we discussed at length one disturbing trend in hospitality education. According to one of the board members, about 40% of graduates of one of the top hotel schools (not Penn State) leave the hospitality industry within a few years of graduation. No one could offer a concrete reason for such a shocking statistic. Perhaps pay levels are too low. Or hotel schools aren’t teaching the right skills (something I doubt).

Several possible answers bubbled to the surface as we discussed this phenomenon. For one, some college grads, particularly from some of the elite hotel administration programs, feel entitled and think a college degree should be just a step or two away from the C-suite of a major hotel company. That’s rarely the case, as hospitality has always been (and always will be) an earn-your-stripes kind of business. The best industry leaders are ones who early in their careers were desk clerks, housekeepers, engineers or waiters and waitresses.

Another possible answer is a reflection of demographics. For decades, hotel company executives have wrestled with work-life balance issues, a tough task in a business that’s the epitome of 24/7/365. That ongoing challenge, combined with the prevailing attitudes of the Gen Y generation of college grads, may serve to turn off young workers who otherwise have great potential for leadership in this business.

While this problem will continue to fester, it’s still heartening to see what’s happening on college campuses around the country and the quality of your leaders readying themselves to take charge. It’s important you do what you can to make sure this strong tradition continues.

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