York College's newest academic program – a major in Hospitality Management beginning Fall 2012 – will be led by John G. Hughes, who is the former associate director/professor of Fairleigh Dickinson University's International School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. Hughes, who will serve as director of the Hospitality Program and as associate professor of Hospitality at York College, spoke to us about the program and its advantages.
Q: You have more than 25 years of hospitality industry experience. Can you tell us about your background, and how this will help you lead the new Hospitality Program at York College?
A: My career in the hospitality industry began at the entry-level during my high school and college days, when I served as a golf caddy, dishwasher, line cook, waiter, hotel desk clerk, night auditor, accounting clerk and sales manager, to name a few of the stops along the way. During this time, I decided I wanted to become a hotel general manager. I realized that if I was to achieve this goal, I would need to fortify my practical experience with a college education, so I went on to earn my degree in hospitality administration. I achieved my goal of becoming a general manager in my early 30s, and I went on to manage several large inner-city hotels in Texas. Eventually, an executive of Carnival Corporation became weary of competing with me and my team, so he hired me, and that was the beginning of my long career as vice president of operations at Carnival Hotels and Resorts in Miami, FL. In this capacity, I provided leadership to 40 luxury hotels and resorts throughout the Americas.
My mentors have been college educators, and they helped me at every stage of my career. By way of example, prior to joining Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU), one of my college mentors encouraged me to think about the possibility of bringing my life experience and skills to higher education. Shortly thereafter, I accepted an opportunity at FDU. This was the beginning of my 12-year tenure, during which time I was responsible for the growth of the school on two new campuses. During my time at FDU, I served as a professor and advisor for more than 2,000 students.
In a nutshell, I believe my leadership experience and the lessons learned from my education and mentors will help me lead the new program and its students into the future.
Q: Why is York College a good location for this major?
A: First of all, the legacy, leadership and pragmatic orientation of York College provides a very fertile environment in which to develop and sustain top-notch programs. Evidence of this abounds in the many successful programs offered by the College. The dedication statement found on the York College website sums it up for me: "We are dedicated to the intellectual, professional and social growth of our students. We help students develop a concrete plan to attain academic growth and career success. We encourage students to try in the ‘real world’ what they learn in the classroom. We prepare students to be professionals in whatever career they pursue."
While the new program is located within an innovative college, York is situated in the heart of Pennsylvania's #1 tourist area, in the Mid-Atlantic Region close to Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York. The hospitality and tourism sector is a major component of the regional economy. As a result, employment opportunities exist within the region for hospitality graduates and interns. Signaling the significance of the region, the following mega hospitality companies make the region home for their world headquarters: Marriott International, Hilton Hotels and Resorts, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Choice Hotels International, Interstate Hotels and Resorts, ARAMARK and Wyndham Worldwide.
In my judgment, York College is a perfect location for a new, innovative hospitality program.
Q: What are your plans for the program? What do you hope to accomplish?
A: My plan is to work synergistically with student, community, education and hospitality industry leaders and my colleagues at York College to establish and grow an internationally respected and innovative program of the highest caliber. My goal for the program is to be ranked in the top 10 percent of United States hospitality programs within the decade.
Q: How will a major in Hospitality Management prepare students for work in this field?
A: We will prepare students for work in this field by providing classroom learning experiences focused on communications, math, liberal arts, sciences and in the business disciplines necessary for effective practice in the hospitality business sector. Classroom learning will be connected to a continuous internship component, which will bridge classroom learning and foster professional development.
Moreover, our curriculum design will be evaluated annually by our students, faculty and board of industry advisors to assure relevance and quality standards. We can't help students learn about the importance of continuous improvement and innovation if we don't practice what we teach.
Q: What types of careers are available to students who major in Hospitality Management?
A: The hospitality industry is one of the nation's leading employers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2014, the hospitality and tourism industry in the United States will employ approximately 15.1 million people, and that 2.5 million people will be employed in managerial, marketing and other professional positions within the industry. These numbers are staggering. Management and supervisory positions abound in lodging, restaurants, catering operations, casinos, food and beverage distribution, golf and private clubs, institutional food services, events, cruise lines, airlines, transportation, entertainment venues, convention and tourism agencies and theme park operations.
Q: Historically, how important has it been for students to include international experience as part of their Hospitality Major?
A: The hospitality and tourism industry is of service to customers from around the world. Moreover, North American hospitality and tourism companies seek to expand their brands and operations in locations worldwide. In this vein, York's Hospitality students will develop their global understanding in the classroom and via their internship work experiences. Additionally, the leadership of York College is considering hospitality and tourism focused travel-abroad learning opportunities to maximize this vital student learning outcome.
Q: What qualities do you feel students need to possess to be successful in this field?
A: Common characteristics of great leaders and managers in the hospitality business include a spirit to serve, global understanding, business knowledge and people skills. So, it only makes sense that we at York College work with our students to develop strong competencies in each of these dimensions in the classroom and in monitored internship experiences.
Q: How do you respond when someone says that if a person wants to work in hospitality management, they don't need a degree; all they need to do is work various jobs?
A: I rarely hear this, but when I do, I usually smile, as this conclusion suggests a lack of understanding. Hospitality is a business as complex as any, if not more so. The services sector of the United States economy represents approximately 80 percent of the nation’s Gross National Product (GNP), and the hospitality and tourism business sector is a major component of the services sector. Graduates of this major will assume challenging management positions. The benefit of higher education and experience will provide the knowledge and skills necessary to manage and lead in this dynamic and highly competitive field.