As the Travel and Tourism Industry Rebounds, USF Hospitality Program Keeps Pace

By Keith Morelli

Anastasia Taylor

TAMPA (June 4, 2021) -- Anastasia Taylor was just settling in to what she had hoped would a long career in the hospitality and tourism industry. She had worked here and there after achieving her degree from what is now the USF Muma College of Business’ School of Hospitality and Tourism Management on the Sarasota-Manatee campus. She had just landed a job as a public relations coordinator with the Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, a job that seemed like a perfect fit.

This discipline is what the Bradenton native studied while at USF. This was where she wanted to be. That was at the beginning of 2020.

Then an unwanted visitor named COVID-19 arrived and her chosen industry was in free-fall. As the pandemic claimed life after life, the economy stalled. And no industry was hurt more than hospitality and tourism. Travel and fine dining came to a halt around the world, across the United States and even in Bradenton.

“I had been working for the Bradenton Area Convention Center and Visitor’s Bureau for a year-and-a-half, so I actually started this position only a couple of months before the pandemic,” Taylor says. “Everything I had been learning in this position suddenly wasn’t ‘normal’ anymore. During the pandemic, we, thankfully, were able to work from home and I was able to keep my position.”

Today is a different story. The pandemic is ebbing and people, who self-quarantined for more than a year, are bursting out of their homes, traveling, visiting places, booking hotel rooms and eating in fancy and not-so-fancy restaurants.

“We’re seeing a huge resurgence of tourism activity in the Bradenton area,” Taylor says. “Every weekend all of our hotels/resorts/rental homes on Anna Maria Island are completely booked. March 2021 was the busiest month we have ever had and the most bed tax we’ve ever collected.”

For Taylor, who manages the social media accounts, facilitates domestic and international marketing buys and public relations for the domestic market, it was an affirmation that she had chosen the right career, a decision made while she was still in school.

“When I enrolled, I knew I wanted to be involved in event planning, though I wasn’t sure what aspect at the time but I knew that was the path,” Taylor says. “My career goals shifted a couple of times at USF – I actually started on the Tampa campus in the communications program.”

The School of Hospitality and Tourism Management is a vibrant program that, like its industry partners was forced to innovate during the pandemic and is now appears to be on a path of resurgence. As the economy appears to be moving toward a full recovery, some of the program’s pandemic innovations have taken root. This spring, for example, the master’s degree program in hospitality management will change to a fully online program, making all hospitality graduate courses 100 percent online. The format will allow full-time students to finish their master’s degree in three semesters.

The pandemic was the ultimate test for Taylor and millions of other hospitality workers across the United States. The industry squeaked by, even though about a third of restaurants closed permanently, says Pat Moreo, professor and dean of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. The hospitality program itself was not immune to the effects of COVID-19.

“Our faculty and students are in hospitality management,” he says. “We face challenges constantly. We are nimble. So, we adapted quickly with virtual platforms even in the labs. We also compared notes with our colleagues in many of the other fine hospitality programs, which enhanced each other's efforts.  We are a tight-knit group.

“For us specifically, teaching purely virtually was a challenge, especially for our lab classes,” Moreo says. “We managed, but it simply isn't the same experience. Even though our non-lab classes which we did virtually were excellent. The engagement just was not as satisfying for many of us.”

Moreo says the program expects an enrollment bump in the fall.

“First, we are coming out of COVID-19 and people are eager to dine, travel and vacation,” he says. “That is what we provide and there will be increased attention on us as hospitality education. Second, students and families will now see the excellent potential in hospitality management, especially with a bachelor's degree, which will take them nicely into career progression.”

That’s where Taylor sits. She sees the industry rebound and she is secure in her position, ready to get on with her career, moving forward in the field. She plans to get a certificate in destination management and eventually, a move into management.

“I definitely see myself continuing to work in the destination-marketing field,” she says. “Before working for the convention and visitor’s bureau, I never realized how much of an impact destination-marketing organizations have on travel and the hospitality industry. I’ve learned so much over the past year-and-a-half and I’m excited to learn more.”