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Why not a Teaching Hotel in Hawai'i?

December 15, 2011 - Ray Tsuchiyama

According to the Hawai’i Tourism Authority (HTA), total expenditures by visitors who came to Hawai‘i in the first 10 months of 2011 grew 14.8 percent, compared to the same period in 2010, to $10.3 billion. Tourism is Hawaii's primary economic engine and touches 74 percent of jobs in the state directly or indirectly, according to the First Hawaiian Bank economic reports.

Hawai’i tourism “infrastructure” revolves around hotels, since tourists use hotel rooms as a base for their beach, dining or shopping activities. The better the hotel “experience”, the more likely the “repeat” visit.

During the past two decades with soaring energy costs and water conservation (recall the notes in hotel bathrooms on re-using towels), there emerged a radical re-thinking about hotel design and operations, including an emphasis on energy management. A single functioning hotel is now seen as a self-sustaining complex environment, much like a “Biosphere”, a famous artificial “eco-system” experiment in Arizona with its own food, energy, and waste operations. Also, with Wi-Fi and IT used extensively throughout the hotel, hotel managers have to be proficient in all kinds of computer applications and systems, from back office systems to kiosks to entertainment systems.

For training hotel staff, a “real” hotel environment, ranging from checking-in visitors, back-room computer operations, restaurants, and design/construction for energy-efficient rooms and lobbies, would prepare future hotel managers in a very efficient and effective manner – and with “integrated immersion” training, there is the higher likelihood of more Hawai'i/Maui-raised hotel GMs leading Hawai'i hotels locally (and also globally, bringing tourism and hospitality “best practices” back to Hawaii).

Many leading hospitality educational programs around the world have an on-campus “real” working hotel. So why doesn’t a “teaching hotel” exist in Hawai'i -- a State with tourism as its largest industry?

This is a bit of a mystery, as the famous Statler Hotel, a “teaching” experiment in hotel education since 1950 (61 years ago), continues to have students from Cornell's top School of Hotel Administration work under the guidance of hospitality professionals. Also, this 153-room full-service property includes a conference center, three restaurants, and meeting and banquet facilities. In fact, the Statler Hotel serves as the venue for many important Cornell campus events and conferences.

Globally, in Canberra, Australia is the Hotel Kurrajong, the only teaching hotel in the Southern Hemisphere, and launched by the Australian International Hotel School. In Hong Kong the modernistic Hotel ICON, operated by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Hotel and Tourism Management, opened in spring this year and now is No. 4 among all Hong Kong hotels at the Trip Advisor hotel guest rankings – to do this with student interns as working staff competing with over 300 other Hong Kong hotels (Conrad, Shangri-la, Peninsula et al) is a major achievement. Interestingly, the Hotel ICON has linkages with its school’s Vinoteca Lab (a center dedicated solely to fine wines – what a daring and exciting concept!), Bistro 1979 (a training restaurant), and the Samsung Digital Lab for Hospitality Technology (linking IT, software engineering and media research with hotel technology needs).

In Alberta, Canada construction is continuing on the Pomeroy Inn & Suites teaching hotel at Olds College. Culinary students can work in a “teaching kitchen” that supplements a restaurant kitchen and catering kitchen in the teaching hotel.

Also under construction is a new teaching hotel at Kirkland Community College in Iowa: again the hotel will be a learning-laboratory for students to be better prepared when they enter the industry.

In Europe, where many hotel general managers are trained, the Hotel Management School in Maastricht (the Netherlands) is world-renown; the school operates the Hotel Château Bethlehem. It is a former old castle, beautifully renovated into a teaching hotel with rooms designed by twelve different designers, from traditional to ultra-modern – one room has a swimming elephant on the ceiling.

Many global tourism regions – from Australia to Hong Kong to Alberta to Iowa to Holland – are investing in teaching hotels to create “real-world” training opportunities (and research and experiments in IT, finance, M & A, even wine and fine dining), and developing a higher level of room décor, service, hospitality, and energy-efficiency for the ultimate best “hotel experience” for visitors. No industry can hide in isolation: Maui Nui and its world-class hotels are in global competition.


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