When Cihan Kubanoglu took over as dean of the University of South Florida’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management in August, one of the questions he asked was how the college was different compared to other programs across the state.
This led him to identify a potential partnership with one of the country’s largest hotel operators so that students at his school could receive on-the-job training while pursuing their education.
That partnership became a reality in November, as USF and McKibbon Hospitality signed an agreement that will transform the school into a leader in educating the next generation of hospitality managers in the state’s most important industry.
This partnership will help propel the school to expand from nearly 200 students—all of whom are located today at the University of South Florida’s Sarasota Manatee campus—to more than 500 students spread across the Sarasota Manatee campus, St. Pete’s campus and Tampa campuses in the next couple of years, Kubanoglu said.
“It is an incredible opportunity for our students,” said the dean. “When they graduate, after completing this program, they will be able to land a management job so quickly.”
This program will certify students majoring in the shadows at McKibbon Hospitality. McKibbon operates 92 hotels across the country. The company operates 17 hotels in Tampa and three in Sarasota.
Randy Hassan, president of McKibbon Hospitality, said the company is “fully embracing” the partnership, in part because the hotel’s CEO knows how important it is to have talented people in the industry, and how important on-the-job training is.
Hassan said that when he was in college at the University of Georgia, every four years he worked in a hotel.
“I learned as much in the hotel as I did in school,” he said. “…If you want to be appointed to a managerial position, you need work experience.”
McKibbon hopes to shape the next generation of hospitality managers by transforming their hotels into educational environments.
“Anyone in a hospitality will tell you that no two days are alike,” he said. “And the textbooks don’t even begin to cover the wide range of opportunities they will experience on our property.”
Kubanoglu said the program will consist of three levels where students can learn hotel operations and leadership at the executive level and at the corporate level that will focus on real estate and hotel development.
Tourism employs more than 1 million people in the Sunshine State, according to the latest annual report from Visit Florida.
The same report put the direct economic impact of tourism on the state’s GDP at 49.8 billion for 2019. The indirect and induced GDP numbers came in at 21.2 billion and 25.5 billion, for a nearly 100 billion impact on Florida’s economy in 2019.
The 2020 figure was not included for the impact on GDP, but the number of visitors was included.
In 2019, the state welcomed more than 130 million visitors. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of visitors has dropped to just under 80 million.
But Visit Florida notes in its annual report that tourism for 2021 has rebounded and may soon set records again.
The tourism and hospitality industry employs between 60,000 and 70,000 people in Sarasota and Manatee counties, said Elliot Falcioni, executive director of the Bradenton District Bureau of Visitors and Conventions.
However, finding workers has been a challenge and Falcioni sees the USF-McKibbon partnership as one way to address the labor shortage.
“Manpower development should be a big focus,” he said. “We’ve seen unprecedented growth over the past several months. It’s not just our region, but the whole of coastal Florida.”
Lisa Cross, CEO of the Sarasota County Economic Development Corporation, described the hospitality industry as an “important component of our local business community” and that USF has been “effective in producing talent in the industry through its program offered at the Sarasota Manatee campus.”
“They play a vitally important role in producing strong talent for our local economy and we believe this partnership with MakeBone will only increase the school’s contributions to our economic health and diversity,” she said. “We are particularly pleased that they are partnering with companies and paying close attention to our local labor needs. Whether they send us trained hospitality professionals – a huge driver of our economy – or nursing graduates, the importance of their role in producing local talent cannot be underestimated.”
Patti Brylska, a first-year student studying tourism and hospitality at the University of South Florida, said she plans to pursue a master’s degree at USF after she graduates and is excited about how the partnership will strengthen her final years in college.
She is particularly interested in the fact that the program will show students the many different ways they can fit into the hospitality industry.
“It would be amazing to be able to see exactly where I am,” she said. “We will be able to learn everything that is in the classroom actually in the field.”