University of South Florida


Three students stand behind the front desk of a hotel. The first student is on the phone, the second student is talking to a customer off camera and the third student smiles at her computer.

[Photos Courtesy: Elizabeth Brown, Muma College of Business]

USF School of Hospitality and Tourism Management expands programming to help meet industry demands

By Torie Doll, University Communications and Marketing

The University of South Florida Muma College of Business is in the process of adapting its School of Hospitality and Tourism Management to create a talent pipeline and keep pace with pandemic-era trends that have changed the industry.

“COVID accelerated the use of technology in the industry,” said Cihan Cobanoglu, interim dean of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and McKibbon endowed chair and director of the M3 Center.

In restaurants, for example, it’s more common to find QR code menus, mobile or contactless payment systems and online ordering. More hotels have room keys and television remotes operated by a mobile app and the ability to send a text message for concierge service. Following suit, the school now offers three courses in technology, hospitality business analytics and revenue management.

This summer, the school plans to make more changes, starting with a strategic review of its hospitality curriculum. Stakeholders in the hospitality industry, academics, students and government officials will be brought together to imagine building a brand-new school of hospitality and determine what courses, skills and competencies should be taught.

“We will take what we learn from the review and compare it to what we offer,” Cobanoglu said. “Then, we will find the gaps and fill them by making modifications in our curriculum.”

Not only is the school improving its curriculum so that the education in the classroom reflects the current industry, but it’s also forging iconic business partnerships to provide students with hands-on training in the field.

Randy Hassen and John McKibbon stand on either side of Pam and Les Muma holding up their personalized USF jerseys.

In November 2021, the school announced a new partnership with McKibbon Hospitality, which manages 98 hotels and 20 premier brands, including Marriott and Hilton. The next generation of hotel managers can now shadow hotel industry professionals and gain real-world experience in hotel operations, executive-level leadership and real estate and hotel development.

This is McKibbon’s second transformational gift since 2013 when John McKibbon, chairman of McKibbon Hospitality, established the M3 Center for Hospitality Technology and Innovation on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus and the McKibbon Endowed Chair. The M3 Center conducts cutting-edge research that advances the global hospitality industry and benefits hospitality education.

“We are thrilled to partner with USF on this exciting, mutually beneficial initiative, inviting hospitality students to experience hotel operations in a hands-on, immersive setting,” McKibbon said. “In addition to providing unique training and development in preparation for their future careers, we look forward to the new perspectives and fresh ideas that students will share with our hotel leadership teams, strengthening not only our operations but the industry as a whole.”

The first semester of this partnership took students enrolled in the Introduction to Hospitality and Tourism course into McKibbon hotels. At the end, students gave feedback that proved to be a positive reinforcement for the partnership. According to Cobanoglu, one student in their senior year said that they would have changed their major to hospitality if they had taken this course during in their freshman year; another student felt that this was the most hands-on class they’d ever taken at USF; and another student had an eye-opening experience while folding towels because they were able to put themselves in the shoes of the employees they’d need to motivate as a manager.

Juli Corlew and David Vandenberg sit on either side of Moez Limayem at a table, signing documents

Two additional partnerships were just announced this month with Aramark, the on-campus food service and catering stalwart, and Mainsail Lodging and Development, a specialist in the tourism lodging sector. This provides as many as 130 student fellows with funded on-the-job training over the course of eight years, for a combined value of $3.6 million.

“In the past two years, we have doubled the size of our company, and our future pipeline of new projects dictates that we must continue to develop and source quality talent for all key management roles,” said Juli Corlew, vice president and managing partner of Mainsail Lodging and Development.

At Mainsail, the fellowships give hospitality students an opportunity to learn day-to-day operations within boutique hotels, including Epicurean Tampa, Fenway Hotel in Dunedin and Luminary Hotel & Co. in Fort Myers. Fellows will also learn sales and marketing, reservations, revenue management and corporate housing at Mainsail’s corporate office in Tampa.

David Vandenberg, regional vice president at Aramark, said this collaboration with USF will open more doors for students. But what he hopes never changes, is the passion for hospitality.

“The passion to serve others and the need for people’s needs to be taken care of is absolutely the core of this business,” Vandenberg said.

Between these three partnerships, students will now receive first-class training across the full spectrum of the industry. From three- or four-star, select-service hotels to five-star, full-service hotels and food service, students will be prepared for anything.

“A typical pathway to general manager is about 10 years, even with a degree,” Cobanoglu said. “We are hoping to shorten that by half for our students by integrating these partnerships into the education at USF, so they get management training before they graduate.”

This fall, the revamped hospitality management major will expand to all three campuses. The school will continue to be headquartered at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus and offer hybrid courses, but students will soon have the option to take most of their classes in-person from the Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses. Interest in the hospitality program is on an upward trend according to Karen Holbrook, regional chancellor of the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. Summer enrollment has increased 95%, and it’s up 75% for this fall. 

Two stands stand beside a hotel bed. One student holds a Microsoft tablet while the other holds up a pillow.

The hospitality and tourism industry went from being completely shut down and forced to let go of millions of employees, to soaring and in dire need of more staff. While the workforce has started to rebound, adding 78,000 employees in April 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry still hasn’t recovered 1.4 million jobs lost since February 2020.

According to Visit Florida’s 2020-2021 annual report, the state’s hospitality and tourism industry is outpacing recovery in other states, likely due to Americans’ readiness to travel. It estimates that the total visitors to Florida in 2021 increased 54.6% from 2020, and for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, the hotel demand in Florida has exceeded 2019’s pre-Covid levels just in the first quarter of 2022.

USF’s efforts to attract and prepare a strong talent pipeline are designed to continue helping repair the industry and sustain its growth.

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