Industry Update
Opinion Article14 October 2019

Looking To Move Into Academia From Hospitality Or Become An Expert In Analytics And Big Data?

If So, The University Of Delaware May Have Just The Program For You

By Stuart Pallister, Contributor to Hospitality Net

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With many hoteliers contending with torrents of data, it's perhaps timely that the University of Delaware is launching a PhD program in Hospitality Business Analytics this fall at the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics. Although the plan is to start off small - with just two candidates taken on in the first couple of years - the University wants to scale the program up in the coming years and will be looking to attract industry professionals.

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In an interview with Hospitality Net, Professor Srikanth Beldona, Graduate Director at the Department of Hospitality Business Management, said data analytics is becoming critical for the hospitality sector.

"Data analytics is here to stay because of the volume of data and the speed of the data that's being generated. It may take new shape as it goes forward, but I think the analytical piece will be there for some time. Companies are only now recognizing there's a lot of data out there but they're not doing anything with it."

The original focus of analytics, he says, was primarily consumer data. "What are consumers doing? What are they thinking and what are they purchasing? But data analytics - big data - is not just that. It's the vast range of data from other domains that you can connect to consumption behavior and profitability."

Data analytics goes well beyond consumer-related information, he says. "You have data streams coming from weather, traffic, the whole topography. There's a phenomenal amount of data that has to be collated and you start looking for associations."

The University wants to attract hospitality professionals as well as master's students to the PhD program. Industry experience will be essential. "I would like to see people from industry who are in areas like digital media, customer relationship management or revenue management, people who are involved in setting up loyalty programs or are involved in designing and working on revenue management software. And, of course, social media strategists."

Dr Beldona has already been sounding out interest at conferences in Asia and elsewhere. "We've been talking to people who are showing tremendous interest in analytics and the interest in China and South Korea is amazing." Many universities want their faculty to attain PhDs, he says, adding that they've even requested that Delaware "set it up in a way that you can come and teach there." In addition, several universities in Hong Kong have already indicated they would be interested in sending their faculty to take the PhD program and would "sponsor that faculty member all the way through."

For now, the plan is to focus on rolling out the program in Delaware itself. "The PhD's a totally different ballgame, unlike a master's program where you just go and teach and walk out. PhDs are about engagement and interaction. There are a bucket load of ideas. We have to be realistic."

He says that, while in Hong Kong earlier this year, 'high-level industry leaders' from major hotel chains showed a lot of interest in the program. "We would typically look at anybody with a good understanding of the hospitality experience. They must have worked at a managerial level, in areas such as operations, revenue management, digital strategy or information systems integration."

While ideally candidates should have an advanced degree, this will be the first PhD in hospitality to take candidates with bachelor's degrees, he says. "We will consider exceptional candidates who have only bachelor's degrees who have very good academic foundations in mathematics and exposure to statistical methods. If the person has done calculus in their undergraduate degree, that would be important."

In short, the Department of Hospitality Business Management will be looking for candidates who are able to handle data from various streams whether it be financial, human capital, social media or geographic data, rather than just being able to crunch numbers. "We're looking for people who can analyze potential scenarios that can come from big data and properly make associations."

Candidates though will be expected to spend at least one of the four years on the Delaware campus. While that may pose major issues for industry practitioners who may find it difficult to take time off from their careers, particularly if they have families, Dr Beldona says it will be difficult for candidates to complete all the coursework if they're not on campus, especially as not all the courses are available online.

In addition to coursework, the PhD candidates will have to produce a dissertation or three journal papers. "Our program is going to have deliverables even on an annual basis, so every summer they're going to be involved in a research project and will have to produce quality papers which have to be submitted to top journals. So, they can't just do the dissertation and go away."

While there may be scope for greater flexibility in the future, that may be some time off. Dr Beldona acknowledges industry professionals wanting to get into academia will have to make some tough choices if they are seriously considering applying for the PhD program now. "When I speak to industry executives, people I know personally, they ask me what the program is like and how they can get into academia. They want these skills but it's hard for them to imagine taking a break for four years and earn a relatively paltry amount, compared to what they're earning at that point."

When asked about the cost, he replies that the two candidates in the first intake this fall will be fully sponsored. "Everything is going to be taken care of in terms of tuition and they'll be given a stipend on an annual basis which is easily livable for one person." To bring a partner as well, he says, would require "a little more support."

"Because this is the department's first PhD program, it's going to be difficult for us to try everything." (The Lerner College of Business and Economics though already has a PhD progam in financial services analytics which is sponsored by JP Morgan). "Logistically, these types of programs need a phenomenal level of detail and attention. How good our program is, will depend on how good the product is. So, we did talk about flexibility, all these things. If in two to three years the program matures, settles down, and we see the scope for it, we'll certainly look at it."

The University already has a Master's in Hospitality Business Management but is now considering changing this to Hospitality Business Analytics. If given the green light, that would be a two-year program, perhaps even one year if accelerated, and as it could be taken part-time, it might be of interest to hoteliers.

So why consider the University of Delaware? Dr Beldona says it is a top-tier institution which is "uniquely positioned from the perspective that the College and University are taking significant initiatives regarding data science and analytics."

"We are strategically located midway between Washington DC and New York City. Many companies have their headquarters close by and we interact with a lot of them." The University, he adds, has an "amazing academic environment with world-class faculty."

To find out more about the PhD program in Hospitality Business Analytics at the University of Delaware, click here. If you would like to contact Dr Srikanth Beldona about the program, click here.

Stuart Pallister

Journalist turned communications and digital media practitioner in higher education.

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