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image of hospitality presentation at busch gardens

Kadir Agis, a USF graduate hospitality student, discusses findings and recommendations to the Busch Gardens executive leadership team. Photos by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF Muma College of Business

USF hospitality students assess Busch Gardens guest experience

TAMPA – Installing refillable water stations so guests stay hydrated and aren’t paying five bucks for a bottle of water. Having an interactive mobile app that manages a day, based on ride wait times. Designing an urban square where visitors can sit under shade sails and watch entertainers.

These are the little things that can enhance thrill-seekers spending the day at Busch Gardens as told by hospitality students from the University of South Florida Muma College of Business.

These insights — and the suggested remedies — were presented to Busch Gardens leadership in December from students enrolled in the graduate-level Strategic Management course in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. The class collaborated with Busch Gardens in a semester-long project to examine ways to enhance the guest experience.

The ultimate goal: giving hospitality students hands-on experience by tying classroom lessons with real-world applications through partnerships with industry professionals.

image of faizan ali

“We believe in bridging the gap between academia and industry, and providing students with the skills and insights they need to thrive in the real world,” said Faizan Ali, an associate professor and graduate coordinator at the hospitality school. 

Ali, who taught the course this fall, said the collaboration made a significant impact on the student learning journey.   

“I’m grateful to the management of Busch Gardens for allowing our students to work on this project,” he said.  

Students were given an annual pass to enter the park as often as needed. Teams incorporated a variety of research methodologies, including first-hand observations, talking to park visitors, and examining online employee satisfaction reviews from sites like Indeed and Glassdoor.

image of busch gardens board room

Student teams presented their final projects to the Busch Gardens executive leadership team in December.

The suggested ideas to improve the guest experience ranged from big ideas like combining Adventure Island and Busch Gardens into one property and building an on-site hotel to smaller ideas like painting guidelines in the parking lot to direct traffic.

Other ideas: increasing signage along the major highways to draw parkgoers, incorporating augmented reality, adding more benches, partnering with local hotels to offer bundled park packages, and bringing in local restaurants to offer more variety in food.

Stewart Clark, president of Busch Gardens Tampa, said that while some of the park criticisms were difficult to hear, getting honest feedback from tourism management students who want to enter the industry is invaluable.

“It’s a good reminder of why we do what we do,” Clark said. “It’s adding third-party validity to what we already do as a business. It’s always amazing to link up with hospitality students in a hospitality school. This is what they study. This is what they teach. And this is what we do.”

image of presentation at busch gardens

Clark added that many of the suggested improvements are already in the pipeline.

“It means so much more when it comes from the student perspective,” he said. “Hearing their observations - from their in-depth research online, to researching guests while they’re in the park, and just their own observations, has really been helpful. We really appreciate their partnership.”

Andrew Bell, a graduate hospitality student, said the project was an amazing opportunity to work with one of the biggest tourist destinations in the Tampa Bay region.

image of busch gardens presentation

“The biggest takeaway was that Busch Gardens knows their issues and have solutions to them,” he said. “Where we came in was to further their goal to have third-party validation for their proposals to corporate for funding their solutions.”  

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