Wednesday, November 30, 2016

From the Big Easy to the Big Apple: UNO’s Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration Students Visit New York

A group of University of New Orleans Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration students traveled to New York City Nov. 12-16 to participate in a hotel industry convention, a hotel market study competition and other memorable enrichment activities.

Held annually in New York, HX: The Hotel Experience is North America’s largest hospitality trade show for hotel and restaurant owners, executives, directors, chefs and general managers from across the hospitality spectrum. It is a premier showcase for manufacturers and marketers of the industry’s latest technology, furnishings and other innovations. One of this year’s noteworthy exhibits was Relay, a robot capable of using a hotel elevator to deliver items to guest rooms.

Representatives from UNO’s Lester E. Kabacoff School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration attend the event each year as members of the American Hotel and Lodging Association UNO Student Chapter. Admittance to the trade show is a reward for active participation in the campus chapter of the organization, which was launched nationally about eight years ago according to Kim Williams, one of its founding members and director of UNO’s Lester E. Kabacoff School Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Administration. In addition, the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association provides $2,500 each year towards covering the cost of student travel. Remaining costs are covered by UNO’s Student Government Association and the Kabacoff School.

The students who traveled to New York are Nina Balan, Erica D'Aquin, Kayla Demma, Donte Evans, Lauren Loisel, Lacey Lombardo, Rami Qumri and Kristyn Williams.

This year marked the first time UNO students competed in a hotel market study competition convened by Smith Travel Research (STR), a leading provider of hotel industry data analytics. Prior to the New York trade show, UNO students were provided with relevant data and challenged to conduct a hotel market study of Memphis, Tenn., which has a tourism market similar to the one in New Orleans. While in New York, the group presented its analysis to a three-judge panel. Out of 25 undergraduate teams who participated, seven teams were named as finalists and 18 as non-finalists. The UNO team, made up of D'Aquin, Demma, Evans, Qumri and Williams, finished in third place among the non-finalists.

“This was truly an honor for UNO since we were competing against the premier HRT programs nationally,” said Williams, who serves as faculty advisor for the UNO student chapter.

“Our students were fantastic. As non-finalists, we were surprised to learn that we were judged in this category. We are very excited about our third place finish and our plaque!” she added.

Don Landry, one of UNO’s most successful HRT alumni and a long-time university supporter, played a key role in making the New York trip even more memorable for his fellow Privateers. Landry is the owner of Top Ten, an independent hospitality industry advisory company that provides networking, marketing, development and expert witness services to industry owners, operators, developers and suppliers. He arranged a back-of-the-house tour and networking session with the general manager, director of sales and marketing and director of human resources at the Hotel48Lex in midtown Manhattan.  This unique opportunity helped students learn how these managers started in the industry and gain valuable advice on how to excel in a competitive industry. Students also toured the lobby of the legendary Waldorf Astoria.

Another trip highlight was a presidents’ breakfast gathering for leaders from more than 30 chapters of the trade association. Co-presidents of the UNO student chapter, Kayla Demma and Nina Balan, were joined at the event by Williams and Bill Langkopp, executive director of the Louisiana Hotel and Lodging Association. Langkopp is a founding state partner of the national American Hotel and Lodging Association.

There were also opportunities for UNO faculty to engage professionally and represent the University during the trip. Williams was invited by the American Hotel and Lodging Association Educational Institute to participate in their faculty advisory board. She was one of approximately 20 representatives from U.S. and international hospitality academic programs who provided feedback on the institute’s educational products, such as textbooks and certifications, as well as insight on student needs and classroom technology. Williams and HRT colleagues Yvette Green and David Njite attended a networking event for hospitality professors from around the country.