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USF and McKibbon Hospitality partner to turn iconic hotel brands into teaching labs

By Elizabeth L. Brown

Mumas and McKibbon posing with custom shirts

TAMPA (November 10, 2021) -- As the resilient hospitality industry re-emerges from a pandemic-battered two years, hotels are realizing they need a workforce that caters to patrons in a changed industry.

The University of South Florida is teaming up with a hotel management powerhouse that runs some of the world’s largest hotel brands to fill that pipeline of hospitality industry workers.

USF’s Muma College of Business and McKibbon Hospitality announced a new partnership on Nov. 10 to create intensive training labs within McKibbon’s managed hotels. The affiliation allows USF hospitality management students to learn from industry experts, giving them access to 93 teaching hotels across the country.

Moez Limayem speaking to attendees

The new agreement, signed during a ceremony at the McKibbon Hospitality-managed Hyatt House Tampa Airport, creates a hospitality teaching lab program designed to give School of Hospitality and Tourism Management students real-world experience in hospitality management at top hotel brands, such as Marriott and Hilton.

“Student success is our top priority. This partnership between USF and McKibbon Hospitality opens up an important training opportunity and gives our graduates a competitive advantage,” said Moez Limayem, the Lynn Pippenger Dean at the USF Muma College of Business, which is comprised of six schools, including the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. “We value this new partnership. Educating the next generation of hotel managers requires teaming up with the top brands to teach the latest in hospitality management.”

Moez Limayem and Randy Hassen signing agreement

While the pandemic has rocked the tourism and hospitality industry, tourism remains Florida’s main economic engine.

The partnership also gives USF hospitality management students a one-of-a-kind training advantage — the chance to gain valuable hotel management experience at numerous hotel brand concepts that cater to different clients.

For example, students will have the opportunity to learn management techniques at the select-service Courtyard by Marriott Tampa Downtown or the boutique, full-service Kimpton Hotel Arras in Asheville, North Carolina.

Les Muma

The new training labs will set USF students apart from the competition by providing students with real-world experience and familiarity with industry-leading hotel practices.

Bottom line: USF hospitality management students will graduate ready to fill the pipeline of industry needs and in-demand jobs.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from June to July 2021, the number of job openings in the leisure and hospitality industry, which includes hotels, restaurants, and entertainment businesses, was up 134,000 to 1.8 million.

In Florida, there is a rising demand for workers. From August to September 2021, the hospitality sector saw employment numbers jump by 26,600 from 1,081,300 to 1,107,900.

Randy Hassen, president of McKibbon Hospitality, emphasized how partnering with a world-class research institution will lead to hiring talented graduates ready to take on leadership roles in the competitive hotel industry.

Randy Hassen

"We're extremely proud to partner with USF," Hassen said. "We're very much a foot-in-the-door industry. An entry-level job in a hotel is not just a job. It's the start of a career path."

McKibbon Hospitality, headquartered in Tampa, manages nearly 100 hotels and over 10,000 guest rooms in over 40 markets. for some of the world’s largest hotel brands. The award-winning hotel management company is one of the largest in the country, with 20 prominent brands across the country, including Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, and IHG.  In the Tampa Bay area, McKibbon Hospitality operates hotels in Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota, Fort Myers, and Lakeland.

Cihan Cobanoglu, the interim dean of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, said the partnership makes USF the only school in the nation that is teaming up with a hotel management company to train students across multiple brands.

“Students who learn alongside and inside of these global brands will be equipped with much-needed operational skills and hands-on training that the industry needs,” he said.

Cobanoglu is also director of the M3 Center for Hospitality Technology and Innovation, a research center where John McKibbon, chairman of McKibbon Hospitality, has made significant gifts over the past years.

Hospitality management student Patrycja Brylska said she was excited to see what kind of amazing opportunities this partnership will open for students.

“This program will help students to learn the academic side of hospitality and business while combining it with the real-world experience of the industry,” she said. “There is no other business school that works with the community to make these kinds of opportunities possible.”

The announcement comes at a time when USF’s hospitality management program is on the rise. In July 2020, the school received professional and academic accreditation from the Accreditation Commission of Programs in Hospitality Administration.

USF will expand the hospitality management major to the Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses in 2022. Currently the degree is only offered at the Sarasota-Manatee campus.  The St. Petersburg campus also has a hospitality leadership program geared toward managers and team leaders working in the hospitality management industry.