As hotel companies look to expand to China, staffing hotels with qualified workers in the country has become an important endeavor. That means educating the pool of workers and readying them for the burgeoning hospitality industry in the country.
While many universities in the United State have established partnerships with Chinese universities, Florida International University (FIU) is taking it one step further. The U.S university offers a complete degree program in China, according to Dean Joan Remington of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at FIU. FIU recently graduated its third class from its China Program, which started out with 29 students and is now up to nearly 200.
The school’s program got its start when, looking toward its hosting of the Olympics in 2008 and anticipating an increased demand from the west to visit China after the Olympics, the Chinese government asked FIU if it would be interested in starting a program for Hospitality and Tourism Management in China. (See "Higher Learning", Lodging, March 2007.) “They saw the need to educate the young people of China about western hospitality management, policies, and practices. It was a new market and no other western hotel and tourism management program was in the country,” says Burt Cabanas, founder, chairman, and CEO of Benchmark Hospitality International, who is also a chairman of the industry advisory board at FIU’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. Remington thought it was a great opportunity for FIU and was confident that the school could offer an exceptional educational experience for the students in China.
While China has a good educational system and does have schools with hospitality programs, it is not the same curriculum as a western school and the Chinese government wanted to educate its students in western hospitality techniques.
Though some might think that with all of this western training the students would leave China for the United States, the opposite seems to hold true. The Chinese students are being prepared to enter into China’s growing hospitality industry to become high-level managers and eventually take on corporate positions, just as the students at FIU in Miami will in the United States. “It’s the same path for our Chinese and American students. We see the same drive and excitement in both the Tianjin and Miami students,” Cabanas says.
Looking at China today, FIU believes that its program is going to help the Chinese hospitality industry in the future. “We are providing educated hospitality management personnel for the industry,” Cabanas says. “If you track education in the U.S. and how it affected hotel companies here, I believe that you will see the same progress in China, but at a much faster rate.”
Nevertheless, how can FIU prepare these students for the “real world” when they are sitting in classrooms? “We offer courses that integrate practical, real-world experience with theory,” Cabanas says. “FIU’s greatest emphasis is on bringing the real world into the classroom, so that our students are well prepared for the work place and to best meet industry needs.
The FIU China program is based on the Miami program. “A student attending classes in Tianjin receives the same education as their counterpart in our Miami classrooms,” Remington says. “The faculty in China has a very close relationship with our Miami faculty and is in constant contact with them, ensuring that FIU standards are met and the quality of the education is the same in both programs. Both of them have the same high standards and requirements of the students to qualify for graduation.”
On the other hand, there are differences between Miami and Tianjin. “While our Miami students work and take courses simultaneously, our Tianjin students are receiving a dual degree with our partner university, Tianjin University of Commerce,” Remington points out. “Some of them are taking up to 23 credit hours of course work in a semester, which doesn’t give them time to work in the industry while attending classes. They obtain their required industry experience during the summers.”
While hotels are constantly competing with each other, some might wonder why FIU wants to give China a leg up on the competition. Cabanas believes that helping China benefits everyone in the industry. “The industry is global in nature and anything that FIU can do to advance education and understanding between cultures—ours and the Chinese—is to everyone’s benefit,” Cabanas says. “Many American hotel corporations have properties in China and see it as an area to expand their worldwide holdings. This includes Marriott, IHG, Starwood, Hyatt, Hilton, and many others. Eventually, these entry-level managers will be working in other destinations, as their American counterparts do today. The industry as a whole benefits from broadening the base of talent available throughout the world.”