Industry Update
Opinion Article 8 February 2017

Internships in the Hospitality Industry

What Students Want and What the Industry Needs

By Leora Halpern Lanz, Program Chair, Boston University School of Hospitality Administration and President of LHL Communications and Jovanna Fazzini , Assistant Director of Finance and Accounting at the Cambridge Marriott Hotel

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Hospitality schools and industry professionals have been working together to provide internship experiences that introduce students to different sectors of the hospitality industry, as well as expose students to the corporate culture and skills required by companies the student could eventually work with post-graduation. But if industry professionals and students are to leverage one another's abilities and resources for a successful internship experience, understanding underlying desires and motivations is key.


The Student Perspective: What do Students and Recent Hospitality Grads Want in an Internship?

Today's hospitality students pursue internships to test the waters of an industry segment for which they are interested in working post-graduation. For example, Oliver Tang, recent Cornell Hospitality graduate and now analyst at Horwath HTL in Atlanta, knew the company presented an ideal internship opportunity for him, thanks to his interests in feasibility and development planning.

"I had recognized my strengths and interests in development planning while taking a feasibility class at Cornell," shares Oliver. "So before I connected with Horwath HTL I had an idea that this was something I wanted to do. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to live as an industry professional in development planning through assisting in feasibility studies."

Yoshihiro Kanno, recent graduate of Florida International University and now analyst with HVS in Tokyo, also pursued the internship to test the waters of his field of interest- consulting and valuation services. Yoshihiro also noted his ability to grasp the corporate culture at HVS while interning. "The HVS culture attracts intelligent and motivated individuals. I am challenged every day, and the environment is extremely supportive. Everyone is always willing to help."

According to Meredyth Thomas, Director of Career Services and External Relations at Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration, students also seek internships for brand exposure. "Students want to work with as many brands as possible to experience the culture and cultivate skills the brands value that are difficult to learn in the classroom. For example, Kimpton values empowering employees in 'guest-facing' roles to make decisions without consulting a manager. A student who had interned with Kimpton noted she was empowered to make judgement calls at the Front Desk so that she never had to leave when a guest was in front of her. Making on-the-spot decisions isn't easy to replicate in the classroom, and was certainly paramount to her learning."

Developing skills in multiple hotel departments has been noted as an important consideration when evaluating prospective internship opportunities. Douglas Leff, recent graduate of Penn State University's (PSU) School of Hospitality Management and now full-time Manager in Development at the Trump SoHo New York noted exposure to various departments as an essential aspect of his program.

"Right now, I am rotating through each department for a few months at a time as a full-time Manager in order to determine which one best fits my interests. So far, I have been a Front Office manager, assisted our Director of Owner Relations on the condominium side of the hotel, worked in the IT department and also worked as a finance manager dealing with the hotel's accounts receivables. Although I am not yet halfway through the rotations, I have seen the many different aspects of working at a hotel, and have gained a plethora of professional skills which will are applicable to various industries in the future."

With regards to an internship's daily tasks and projects, industry students and recent hospitality graduates seek personal growth and the desire to be challenged every day. Oliver knew Horwath's Atlanta office was the ideal workplace for him because he "never felt too much pressure, but just enough to be challenged and to grow."

"My most successful internship project was one from which I learned the most. We were helping a group of investors manage a portfolio of hotels. Asset management was a new discipline for me, so I was able to learn the essentials on the job. I asked a senior analyst to teach me how she did her work and reported to clients. I learned about each model. Then she delegated aspects of the project to me after recognizing where I was excelling. I ultimately took responsibility for the monthly report and helped my boss prepare for the presentations." This generation of hospitality graduate appreciates professional development and growth, and can then create a path for success and upward movement within the firm.

The Industry Perspective: What Does the Industry Require From Internship Programs?

Managers and C-suite executives in the hospitality industry seek adventurous, self-driven interns. According to Dr. Peter Ricci, former consultant at Forbes Hamilton Management Company and current Clinical Associate Professor and Director of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program at Florida Atlantic University, when he was a consultant, "his favorite interns were those with a sense of exploration combined with a can-do attitude."

"I actually didn't care as much about their grades," states Dr. Ricci. "I cared more about the students' attitudes and abilities to explore new ways to add value and create exceptional guest experience."

Greg Bohan, former Managing Director at Pinnacle Advisory Group and current Instructor and Special Programs Coordinator at Florida Atlantic University, also cited this sense of exploration as an essential intern characteristic. "Especially on the consulting side, we need students who are adventurous with analytics. We don't want them to ask 'Should I do this? How do I get that data?' Our best interns did the research on their own, then presented their findings and asked the right questions." It is evident that regardless of whether the intern is on the operational, guest-facing front, or in the analytics and consulting side, curiosity and risk-taking are what industry professionals need from them.

Often-times overlooked yet necessary intern skills are soft skills surrounding communication. Dr. Ricci was recently at an internship strategy meeting at a resort in Boca Raton, Florida where industry experts agreed on this critical issue. "We want the same soft skills that have been important for the past two decades – the ability to play well with others in the sandbox, the ability to empathize, and the truly hospitable attitude."

Dr. Sheryl Kline, Professor and Chair of the Hospitality Business Management Department at the University of Delaware also noted the importance industry professionals place on these soft skills. "You need to know how to dress, how to talk and communicate with eye contact and a strong handshake…because you leave an impression with our guest the second you meet them and this impression reflects the brand overall. Interns are always on stage. You can readily train individuals to execute check-in, but to hire and retain a student who possesses a high quality education, a passion for the industry and great communication skills… this is what will bring the guest experience to the next level."

Of course, the importance of specific intern qualities can vary based on the firms' demands and structure. Horwath HTL's Oliver Tang notes the most critical quality for an intern working at a flexible firm with the ability to work from home and choose his or her own projects is the quality of being self-motivated and self-disciplined. "I am absolutely seeing a trend that Horwath HTL considers only very self-driven individuals as interns. The company gives you the power in designing your internship. You make your own path and get as involved as you want in the workings of the firm. You aren't handed a full description of your responsibilities. Instead it's up to you to take initiative."

According to Bob Hunter, CEO of Hunter Hotel Advisors, "a candidate with polite confidence and the forward-thinking ability to plan in advance is greatly valued. But keep in mind, because cost of living can be an issue, sometimes internships are geographically limited. However, if the student is a very good candidate, he or she should not shy away from asking about living expenses. One should not be arrogant when asking, but having the confidence to ask in the first place takes a certain skill set. This way the company is not losing an ideal intern candidate over something that could have been controlled and planned."

If the intern doesn't possess these abilities, the internship may not proceed as it could have – in a way that mutually benefited the company as well as the intern.

Alan Smith, General Manager of the Boston Marriott Cambridge Hotel noted that internships are also a test of leadership qualities. Interns are placed in the same difficult situations that full-time associates face, like snow emergencies in the city of Boston, for example. "There's nothing like a snow emergency to show which leaders will rise to the top. Keeping a positive attitude and helping out wherever necessary in a tough situation is a great reflection of a person's inner most character."

The Academic Perspective: How do the Hospitality Programs Liaise Students With Brands?

Many hospitality Deans and Advisors have noticed recent internship trends, yet not every school is on the same page. Dr. Ricci observes there is "an ongoing debate in academia regarding whether or not to charge students via credit hours for internships. Some Deans feel there should be an academic component to the internship such as reflection essays, but I believe students should apply what they have learned in the field to their coursework. That's enough of an academic component for me." In addition to this trend, Dr. Ricci has noticed that "everyone is trying to require more internship hours than they did a decade ago."

Boston University's School of Hospitality Administration requires at least two 400-hour work experiences, and an abroad work experience for its students for fulfillment prior to graduation. Florida Atlantic University also requires a hefty 1,000 hours in the industry before graduation. Hospitality professionals in academia know that internships are absolutely here to stay and imperative to increasing the competitiveness of their graduates.

Douglass Leff noted the exceptional impact the PSU Career Service Center had on his career: "Penn State did a fantastic job assisting students secure summer internships and full-time jobs. Our school would arrange times for various companies to present opportunities to the students as well as interview potential candidates. In addition, trips were scheduled to New York City, Atlantic City and Las Vegas to give students more face-time with industry professionals." Douglass found face-time especially important, as he landed his Front Desk Supervisor position with Revel Atlantic City through the Penn State trip. "This networking event led to the opportunity to run the front desk at a 1,400- room resort and casino. It gave me a true perspective of what this industry is all about."

Some hospitality programs including Cornell University and the University of Delaware have established hotel and food & beverage operations on campus for their students to operate as part of their hands-on undergraduate experience. For example, while Horwath's Oliver Tang was a student at Cornell, he worked two banquet shifts a week at the Statler Hotel located on campus.

"My experience in the banquet department at Statler gave me the full exposure to the back of the house operation of the F&B department. I had worked in front of the house roles before, so this back of the house work completed the full-picture of hotel operations for me. I find this very beneficial for my consulting career. By having hotel operations experience, I am able to offer some advice to help make design better in terms of guest experience and operational efficiency."

At the University of Delaware, students operate gourmet restaurant Vita Nova. Dr. Kline noted, "there's a lunch class and a dinner class, where students experience, reflect and discuss what they've learned through serving guests."

Internships: How do we Prepare for the Next Generation of Hoteliers?

Naturally, internships in all industries are important, but in the hospitality industry in particular, the more experience a student can have "servicing" clients and guests, the stronger that candidate is at graduation. With industry disruptors and new players like Airbnb, Lyft, Uber, and other non-traditional companies, opportunities for students are even more plentiful.

Many students look to the Career Services sector of their hospitality schools for help landing the internship of their dreams. But HVS's Yoshihiro Kanno says this isn't the only outlet for the proactive student. "Most companies hire interns in the last year of their hospitality programs. They usually come through connections in the industry. Career services are helpful, but if you have a particular company with whom you're dreaming of interning, you should use alternative routes as well. Reach out in any way you can. It shows you truly want the internship and are being proactive, which is a trait the companies seek in their interns." Networking through LinkedIn, professional industry events, and joining the professional association for a desired sector could lead to that one connection who can jumpstart a students' career in the hospitality industry.

Co-authored by Jovanna Fazzini, Assistant Director of Finance and Accounting, Boston Marriott Cambridge Hotel

Reprinted from the Hotel Business Review with permission from

Leora Halpern Lanz

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Leora Halpern Lanz
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