On the Go: MBA Programs in Hospitality and Tourism

Specialized programs brace students for huge growth and technological revolution.

Ever been on vacation and thought, "I'd like to do this for a living"?

While a career in hospitality and tourism isn't exactly a vacation (just ask any hotel or casino manager), it is a field packed with opportunity. Indeed, trends like the rapid growth of tourism and hospitality in Asia and the application of new technology have made the industry an even more alluring destination for business-minded people.

An MBA degree with a hospitality focus, or a specialized master's in tourism, can differ substantially from a more generalized MBA in a couple of ways.

According to Larry Yu, chair of George Washington University's department of tourism and hospitality management, "the hospitality industry is really hands-on, and it places a considerable amount of emphasis on real-world experience".

With this in mind, many specialized MBA programs tend to recruit students who already have experience in related industries.

Brad Walp, director for enrollment management at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration, says that many applicants to the school's Master of Management in Hospitality program are already working in the industry, but their careers have plateaued at the middle management level.

"In the back of their head, they've thought about getting an MBA, and now they know they want to stay in the industry," says Walp. "A program like ours allows them to tool-up and come back to the industry in more of a corporate management position."

However, Walp also describes another group of students that he calls "career switchers". Often, these students have been exposed to a part of the hospitality industry through other avenues.

"If they're in IT consulting, maybe one of their clients was a hospitality related firm, they became interested in the industry through them," says Walp. "They see a hospitality related degree as a way to leverage the skills that they already have from another industry, and transition them into a new career."

Because the hospitality industry is fundamentally hands-on, in order to excel in and after a specialized MBA, it's important to have some kind of practical experience within the industry.

ESSEC Business School's MBA in Hospitality Management enables this experience by offering internships and apprenticeships to their students. The apprenticeships are especially helpful in fostering an integration into the field, because students are paid to work in one of many Paris-based hospitality firms for two days a week during the school year, and then for 24 weeks full-time during the summer.

Charles Lüthi, the program's director of student relations, says that many students are offered jobs by the organizations they apprentice for, but often opt for more lucrative positions beyond Paris.

Other hospitality programs that offer hands-on internships and apprenticeships include Switzerland's Glion Institute of Higher Education, Florida International University, and the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. These internships can vary by industry, from analysts jobs in a food and beverage company to operations positions in casinos.

In general, graduates of a hospitality and tourism degree program have many options open to them. They can go into the travel sector, restaurant and catering operations, e-commerce, senior living facilities, cruise lines, casino and gaming operations; the list goes on and on, and is getting longer.

New realms

New opportunities have also arisen from the industry's integration of technology and the Internet, which according to ESSEC's Charles Lüthi, has revolutionized methods of distribution and yield management, as well as the way hotels are marketed.

Larry Yu at George Washington agrees. In fact, technology is one of the focus areas of his program, particularly how it can lead to better marketing and service. The technology-specific courses also help students understand the implications of using web resources to maintain relationships with customers, as well as using social networking in their marketing.

One of the main destinations for students graduating with hospitality-related MBA degrees is Asia, because of the dynamic growth of many of the industries there.

"There's so much growth happening all over the region," says Cornell's Brad Walp. "Whether you are talking about lodging operations, restaurants; even gaming, because gaming is growing by leaps and bounds in places like Macau and Singapore."

Knowing this, Cornell offers a joint-degree program with Singapore's Nanyang University. Students split their time between Cornell's Ithaca campus and Singapore. This allows students to literally get their foot in the door of the Asian hospitality behemoth.

The Cornell-Nanyang program highlights the internationality of the hospitality industry and degree programs. But across the board, enrollments in hospitality and tourism-related master's programs are generally pretty international. At George Washington, most graduates end up staying and working in Washington D.C., but others end up in far corners of the world, from Beijing to Bangkok.

Indeed, one of the benefits of having such a degree is that it will allow you to work all over the world, because people need hotels, restaurants, and casinos just about everywhere. And, while it's true that working in internationally is not exactly the same as taking an extended international vacation, the experience can certainly be rewarding, engaging, and profitable.

Photo: James Marvin Phelps / Flickr

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