Who wants to study hospitality in 2020? Time to innovate hospitality education!

15 July 2020

By Cihan Cobanoglu

Travel and tourism industry is the hardest hit industry from the Coronavirus. There is not a single day that you do not hear about a bankruptcy of a restaurant company such as Brio Tuscan Grill, Chuck-e-Cheese, Bamboo Sushi & QuickFish, Vapiano, FoodFirst Global Restaurants, and TooJay’s; a hotel company such as South Beach hotel and Surrey Hotel, an airline company such as LATAM, Virgin Australia, Miami Air International, and Compass Airlines, a rent-a-car company such as Hertz, and a cruise company such as Luminous Cruises and Pullmantur Cruises. The impact of Coronavirus is devastating on the entire industry. Consumer confidence is shattered as billions of people stay at home, cancel many face-to-face events, meetings, exhibitions and non-essential travel.

During these times, who would be thinking about choosing hospitality/tourism as a major in a university? Not many people! As the current events and trends impact the choices that students make when they enter a college, hospitality/tourism majors will be among the ones that are hit the hardest. Many hospitality/tourism students found themselves in the middle of pandemic as they were graduating to what would have been an amazingly great industry. Many travel, hotel and tourism companies are almost competing with each other in layoffs. One of the most important factor that students and parents look when choosing a major in a college is the job placement rate. Each hospitality/tourism college was advertising the multiple job offers that their graduating class members were receiving. Now, the reality hit hard. No jobs, whatsoever.

What do these graduates doing? They are switching the industry. My LinkedIn is filled with “Congratulate your colleagues for her/his new job at…” messages. When I look at these messages, I see that many hospitality/tourism graduates are getting jobs in grocery stores, retail stores, banks, insurance companies and other service companies. It does make sense as hospitality/tourism programs prepare students with business skills in service industries. I always define hospitality/tourism education with an analogy of a vanilla ice-cream and strawberry ice-cream. I say that if business education is vanilla ice-cream, hospitality education is strawberry ice-cream. The difference is the flavor. The foundations are the same.

Smart students adopt to this reality quickly and swiftly apply to non-hospitality but service jobs. In my opinion, these graduates will lift these other service industries up. So, if this is the reality of the hospitality/tourism business, what should hospitality/tourism schools do? They need to follow suit. California Polytechnic State University already calls its recreation management department as the ,,department of experience industry management. It is inevitable that many small hospitality/tourism programs will be closed within few years. Crises often encourage innovation. In this case, the programs that re-invent themselves and adopt to the realities will survive. New majors such as service industry management, business analytics for service industry, experience management may be created. Courses such as data analytics, business intelligence, social media management, experience management, health care management, AR/VR specialist, artificial intelligence designers are becoming the main sources of new jobs. None of these jobs existed 10-15 years ago. Hospitality/tourism educational programs need to look the jobs of the future and prepare the students for the jobs that do not exist today. An innovative approach that can be applied to many different field is one of the ways to survival in these difficult times.

About the Author: Dr. Cihan Cobanoglu is the McKibbon Endowed Chair Professor in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management in the Muma College of Business at the University of South Florida.

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