The University of South Florida Muma College of Business is in the process of adapting
its School of Hospitality and Tourism Management to create a talent pipeline and keep pace with pandemic-era trends that have changed
“COVID accelerated the use of technology in the industry,” said Cihan Cobanoglu, interim dean of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and McKibbon endowed
chair and director of the M3 Center.
In restaurants, for example, it’s more common to find QR code menus, mobile or contactless
payment systems and online ordering. More hotels have room keys and television remotes
operated by a mobile app and the ability to send a text message for concierge service.
Following suit, the school now offers three courses in technology, hospitality business
analytics and revenue management.
This summer, the school plans to make more changes, starting with a strategic review
of its hospitality curriculum. Stakeholders in the hospitality industry, academics,
students and government officials will be brought together to imagine building a brand-new
school of hospitality and determine what courses, skills and competencies should be
“We will take what we learn from the review and compare it to what we offer,” Cobanoglu
said. “Then, we will find the gaps and fill them by making modifications in our curriculum.”
Not only is the school improving its curriculum so that the education in the classroom
reflects the current industry, but it’s also forging iconic business partnerships
to provide students with hands-on training in the field.
In November 2021, the school announced a new partnership with McKibbon Hospitality, which manages 98 hotels and 20 premier
brands, including Marriott and Hilton. The next generation of hotel managers can now
shadow hotel industry professionals and gain real-world experience in hotel operations,
executive-level leadership and real estate and hotel development.
This is McKibbon’s second transformational gift since 2013 when John McKibbon, chairman
of McKibbon Hospitality, established the M3 Center for Hospitality Technology and Innovation on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus and the McKibbon Endowed Chair. The M3 Center
conducts cutting-edge research that advances the global hospitality industry and benefits
“We are thrilled to partner with USF on this exciting, mutually beneficial initiative,
inviting hospitality students to experience hotel operations in a hands-on, immersive
setting,” McKibbon said. “In addition to providing unique training and development
in preparation for their future careers, we look forward to the new perspectives and
fresh ideas that students will share with our hotel leadership teams, strengthening
not only our operations but the industry as a whole.”
The first semester of this partnership took students enrolled in the Introduction
to Hospitality and Tourism course into McKibbon hotels. At the end, students gave
feedback that proved to be a positive reinforcement for the partnership. According
to Cobanoglu, one student in their senior year said that they would have changed their
major to hospitality if they had taken this course during in their freshman year;
another student felt that this was the most hands-on class they’d ever taken at USF;
and another student had an eye-opening experience while folding towels because they
were able to put themselves in the shoes of the employees they’d need to motivate
as a manager.
Two additional partnerships were just announced this month with Aramark, the on-campus food service and catering stalwart, and Mainsail
Lodging and Development, a specialist in the tourism lodging sector. This provides
as many as 130 student fellows with funded on-the-job training over the course of
eight years, for a combined value of $3.6 million.
“In the past two years, we have doubled the size of our company, and our future pipeline
of new projects dictates that we must continue to develop and source quality talent
for all key management roles,” said Juli Corlew, vice president and managing partner
of Mainsail Lodging and Development.
At Mainsail, the fellowships give hospitality students an opportunity to learn day-to-day
operations within boutique hotels, including Epicurean Tampa, Fenway Hotel in Dunedin
and Luminary Hotel & Co. in Fort Myers. Fellows will also learn sales and marketing,
reservations, revenue management and corporate housing at Mainsail’s corporate office
David Vandenberg, regional vice president at Aramark, said this collaboration with
USF will open more doors for students. But what he hopes never changes, is the passion
“The passion to serve others and the need for people’s needs to be taken care of is
absolutely the core of this business,” Vandenberg said.
Between these three partnerships, students will now receive first-class training across
the full spectrum of the industry. From three- or four-star, select-service hotels
to five-star, full-service hotels and food service, students will be prepared for
“A typical pathway to general manager is about 10 years, even with a degree,” Cobanoglu
said. “We are hoping to shorten that by half for our students by integrating these
partnerships into the education at USF, so they get management training before they
This fall, the revamped hospitality management major will expand to all three campuses.
The school will continue to be headquartered at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus and
offer hybrid courses, but students will soon have the option to take most of their
classes in-person from the Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses. Interest in the hospitality
program is on an upward trend according to Karen Holbrook, regional chancellor of
the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. Summer enrollment has increased 95%, and it’s up
75% for this fall.
The hospitality and tourism industry went from being completely shut down and forced
to let go of millions of employees, to soaring and in dire need of more staff. While
the workforce has started to rebound, adding 78,000 employees in April 2022, according
to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry still hasn’t recovered 1.4 million jobs lost since February 2020.
According to Visit Florida’s 2020-2021 annual report, the state’s hospitality and
tourism industry is outpacing recovery in other states, likely due to Americans’ readiness
to travel. It estimates that the total visitors to Florida in 2021 increased 54.6% from 2020, and for the
first time since the onset of the pandemic, the hotel demand in Florida has exceeded
2019’s pre-Covid levels just in the first quarter of 2022.
USF’s efforts to attract and prepare a strong talent pipeline are designed to continue
helping repair the industry and sustain its growth.