UGA is growing the hospitality and tourism workforce

Georgia’s hospitality and tourism industry continues to expand. As the second largest economic contributor to Georgia’s economy after agriculture, hospitality and tourism workforce development is critical. The University of Georgia is meeting the needs and preparing the workforce of the future through partnerships and experiential learning.

The UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel is a showcase for best practices in hospitality and tourism and collaborates with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences for an undergraduate program in Hospitality and Food Industry Management (HFIM), serving as a working laboratory opportunity for students in specialty. The HFIM program, which launched in 2019, prepares students to work in hotels and resorts, restaurants, meeting and event management, hospitality management, agritourism and other related fields.

The Georgia Center provides a key location for training

“One of the key attributes of the program is the central Georgia experience,” said John Salazar, professor and program coordinator. “Giving students opportunities to work on projects and the opportunities for part-time work and internships keeps them engaged throughout the curriculum. And I think that’s an important attribute that makes us very unique and competitive among other hospitality programs in the country.

“We want students to feel like downtown Georgia is a key component of their education as they move through the degree program.”

Access to the Georgia Center, a community service and outreach unit, is a great benefit to hospitality and tourism students. Most hospitality and tourism programs either do not have such a facility or have to send students off campus.

“Hospitality management is not a textbook,” said Isabella Losurdo, a fourth-year from Milton, Ga., who works as a concierge. “One learns by doing, and a lot of that comes from real-world examples like we get at the Georgia Center. We are happy to have such a place.”

Sarah Johnson works as a food and beverage intern at Center Georgia. She is one of four HFIM students to have an offer to join the prestigious Marriott Voyage Leadership Development Program upon graduation. “It’s an honor to get a job like this right out of college,” said Johnson, a native of Valdosta, Georgia. (Photo by Shana Montgomery)

UGA enhances Georgia’s economic prosperity by supporting the workforce needs of the state’s robust hospitality and tourism industry. In 2022, nearly 168 million visitors to Georgia generated a state record of $39.8 billion in direct visitor spending. Those visits generated $4.7 billion in state and local tax revenue and created a total economic impact of $73 billion, according to state figures. The hospitality and tourism industry supported more than 442,600 jobs in 2022 — an increase of more than 20,000 jobs from 2021.

“I am honored to be a key partner with the Hospitality and Foodservice Management major in cultivating our own future hospitality leaders for the state,” said Stacey Jones, director of the Georgia Center. “As part of community service and outreach, Downtown Georgia is uniquely positioned to understand the value of hospitality and tourism in the state. Educating and developing future managers is something we take great pride in.”

Developing program

Enrollment in the program has quadrupled from the first undergraduate class of 19 students. It is now the fifth largest undergraduate major in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, with 93 students enrolled for the fall semester of 2023. As of 2019, it is the second fastest growing undergraduate major at UGA.

To help the program provide even more industry skills to students and accommodate anticipated enrollment growth, the Georgia Center is in the early stages of planning a renovation. Proposed plans include investment in a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen, event management lab, beverage management lab and renovation of the Savannah Room restaurant. The changes will improve the study of restaurant operations, menu development, event planning and management, and customer service.

UGA ranks No. 1 among public universities and No. 4 among all public and private universities in niche.com’s 2023 rankings of colleges with a hospitality management program.

Fourth-year student Isabella Losurdo is gaining valuable work experience through her work at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education and Hospitality as part of the Hospitality and Foodservice Management program. HFIM has been one of the fastest-growing undergraduate majors at UGA since the program began in 2019. (Photo by Abbey Benefield)

Through HFIM’s partnerships at UGA, students can gain 400 to 600 hours of industry experience by the time they graduate. Working at the Georgia Center also helps them experience UGA’s community service and outreach efforts. Through its eight units, UGA Public Service and Outreach strives to improve the quality of life for Georgians by helping to create jobs and prosperity, developing leaders and addressing the state’s most critical issues.

“It’s very satisfying because everyone can be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves,” said Jay Lavender, a first-year student from Statham, Ga., who works as a janitor. “We provide great customer service to the Georgia Center, but our work also helps attract more visitors and UGA continues to have a major economic impact on Georgia.”

In addition, corporate partners help students build connections and gain better insight into the industry. Four students – Losurdo, Jodi Grace Henderson, Sarah Johnson and Kathleen Blasingame – currently have offers to join the prestigious Marriott Voyage Leadership Development Program upon graduation in the spring. The program places recent college graduates at a Marriott hotel in a manager-level position with full pay and benefits.

“These offers serve as great validation that our curriculum and our community service and outreach partnership is working,” Salazar said.

Angie Im, a first-year teaching assistant in the program, saw an opportunity to give her revenue management class real-world experience by partnering with the Georgia Center. The class works on revenue management projects using hotel and sales data. They will make suggestions for projects that Georgia Center can use to maximize revenue. I said that working with real data gives her students invaluable experience.

“I thought it was a really great opportunity for my students to collaborate and have a partnership for the project,” Im said. “It’s an ideal environment for students because it’s a really strong part of the hospitality and industry management program.

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