‘Smile. The rest will come easily.’

56 questions with Cihan Cobanoglu

Cihan Cobanoglu, a middle-aged man, dressed in a dark blue suit with a green and gold striped tie, stands in a USF Sarasota-Manatee campus building by a pop-up banner with AAU displayed in giant text

Cihan Cobanoglu, dean of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management on campus at USF Sarasota-Manatee. [Photo: Courtesy Cihan Cobanoglu]

By John Tipton / USF Advancement

Meet Cihan Cobanoglu, the gregarious dean of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, part of the Muma College of Business at USF Sarasota-Manatee. 

A renowned expert on technology in the industry, this native of Turkey combines old-fashioned hospitality with academic expertise and cutting-edge tools. Get his service-with-a-smile insights on Florida as a “living laboratory,” the quirkiest hotel concept he’s ever encountered and how to be a successful host.
As for the latter: “Smile. … Be yourself.”
Here’s an edited excerpt of our 56 Questions video. 

Watch the full, fun interview or click on the image above.

Q: Dining in or carrying out?
Cobanoglu: Carrying out.

Q: Casual or formal?
Cobanoglu: I love formal. 

Q: Local cuisine tasting tour or a cooking class experience?
Cobanoglu: Cooking class.

Q: First thing that comes to mind. Your favorite Turkish custom?
Cobanoglu: We kiss each other all the time. A lot of hugs and kisses.

Q: Your favorite savory treat?
Cobanoglu: Börek. A [Turkish] pastry.

Q: Your favorite smell?
Cobanoglu: French fries.

Q: What is the No. 1 most essential cooking ingredient?
Cobanoglu: I love oregano. The smell of it, the taste of it.

Q: And how about the No. 1 necessity for successful hosting?
Cobanoglu: Smile. That’s it. The rest will come easily.

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in hospitality and tourism management?
Cobanoglu: I always wanted to be a doctor like my brother. He convinced me to switch to hospitality and tourism. I said, ‘How is that similar?’ And he told me, ‘It’s exactly the same. I’m helping sick people. You are going to help people not to get sick.’ And here I am today.

Q: What do you wish you learned sooner?
Cobanoglu: I wish I had learned five more languages when I was younger, because learning a different language when you’re younger is much easier. I ended up with one, which is English. My mother tongue is Turkish.

Q: How is technology shaping the future of tourism?
Cobanoglu: Virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence are actually making the hospitality industry more efficient and creating better experiences for our guests.

Q: How have you seen the hospitality industry change in the last 15 years?
Cobanoglu: One of the most influential factors is reviews people post about their experiences. That’s here to stay.

Q: How has USF’s hospitality management program grown over the last few years?
Cobanoglu: The school is now expanded to the Tampa and St. Pete campuses, in addition to our home campus here at Sarasota-Manatee, so our enrollment is going up all the time.

Q: How do corporate partnerships contribute to student success here?
Cobanoglu: We are so lucky to be in Florida. It’s a living laboratory. We have right in our backyard McKibbon Hospitality, which is a hotel management company with more than 100 hotels. We have a very deep and strategic partnership with them. In addition, we have Mainsail hotel company and also Aramark, which we know as USF Dining. Our students have wonderful hands-on experiences in the restaurant and hotel sites.

Q: Are internships especially important in this field?
Cobanoglu: It’s not important, it’s required. It’s compulsory.

Q: What is one piece of advice that has stuck with you your whole life?
Cobanoglu: Be yourself. When I was going to an interview one day, Dr. Pat Moreo, who was my PhD chair, I was asking him, ‘What should I say? How should I behave?’ And he said, ‘Cihan, be yourself.’ And that’s always my advice to my students as well, too. Be yourself.” [Pat Moreo, dean of the school of hospitality from 2016-2021, died in 2023.]

Q: What’s your favorite place you’ve ever traveled to?
Cobanoglu: There are quite a few, but my pick is Thailand.

Q: What’s the most bizarre or amusing hotel amenity that you’ve come across?
Cobanoglu: At Kimpton Hotels [located around the world], you can actually rent a goldfish.

Q: What’s the most unique or quirkiest hotel concept that you’ve encountered?
Cobanoglu: In Dubai there is a hotel underwater. 

Q: Front desk robots, robot butlers, delivery robotics. Are robots going to take over hotels
Cobanoglu: No, it’s going to allow the hotel staff to do their jobs better and focus on the guests even more.

Q: What’s the strangest or most surprising food you’ve ever tried?
Cobanoglu: When I was in China, they took me to a restaurant that featured snakes. I tried it, but I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan.

Q: What is your hidden talent?
Cobanoglu: Well I wouldn’t say cooking, because I’m really not good at it! But I’ve never met a stranger, so any part of the world that I go to, I always make friends.

Q: What is one item or service worth spending your money on?
Cobanoglu: Food. It doesn’t have to be at an expensive restaurant, it can be street food.

Q: If you had a superpower, what would be in it?
Cobanoglu: I would love to bring peace to the world.

Q: If you could create a signature cocktail representing USF, what would you call it and what would it be?
Cobanoglu: It would probably be called Bulls Breeze. It would have rum, coconut juice, lime juice, so it would be a little bit green, and I would put in any kind of fruit juice to make it refreshing, just like our state.