The hospitality industry is experiencing growth even in times of recession. Between 2004 and 2014, the hospitality industry is expected to add 17 percent in wage and salary employment (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2006-07). A growing demand of hospitality workers can be translated into a growing need of hospitality educational programs to adequately prepare the workforce to meet present and future demands in this enormous industry. Programs need to provide an education that improves the employability of the hospitality graduates. However, employability of the future graduates will not increase until and unless they convincingly demonstrate the skills and competencies required in the workplace. In an education program, students develop skills and competencies through courses in various subject areas. In that aspect, the hospitality curriculum needs to prioritize the subject areas according to the perceived importance of the industry practitioners, and this prioritization has to be up-to-date to reflect the changing needs of the industry.
Although curriculum of hospitality and tourism programs have been examined in a plethora of research studies, little attention is given to hospitality programs housed in accredited colleges of business. Because of the limitations obligated by the accrediting bodies, important aspects of the curriculum such as course offerings, and credits become restricted to certain extent. As a result, there is a need to evaluate the curriculum of such programs separately from other hospitality and tourism management programs such as the independent ones and those housed in various different colleges.
Gursoy and Swanger (2004) investigated the curriculum of a hospitality and tourism management program housed in an accredited college of business. As part of their study, they ranked hospitality subject areas according to the perceptions of hospitality professionals, identified any gaps between the perceptions and the current curriculum and suggested a model of curriculum for hospitality programs in accredited colleges of Business. However, hospitality curriculum needs to be ongoing and relevant to the current industry needs and expectations. Also, the changing nature of the industry calls for recent graduates to reflect the changes and challenges of the industry. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to replicate Gursoy and Swanger’s (2004) study, and provide an updated ranking of the hospitality subject areas. In addition, the changing needs of the hospitality industry is highlighted through a comparison of their 2004 ranking with the current ranking of hospitality subject areas according to hospitality professionals’ perceptions. As such, likely changes to the 2004 curriculum model are suggested based on the findings of this study. The specific research questions that will be answered through this study are:
What are the current perceptions of industry professionals regarding the importance of course subject areas?
Are there any significant changes in the perceptions of industry professionals in the last five years?
Are there any gaps between the industry needs within the changing operational environment and the current hospitality curriculum?
Hospitality students have often been criticized for having unrealistic expectations of the types of responsibilities they may be given and consequently the types of skills they will be expected to exercise on entering the hospitality industry (Purcell and Quinn, 1996). At the same time, the industry often discounted a student’s formal qualifications on the grounds of lack of experience and frequently we hear the complaint that students are “overqualified but under experienced” for even entry level management positions (Raybould & Wilkins, 2005). In order to bridge this gap, the hospitality programs underwent several changes in its content, focus, and structure.
In 1996, Formica published a study of tourism and hospitality education in Europe and America that examined programs and future trends. In his study, he argued that there was an international movement that supported the emancipation of hospitality education from its vocational base to an academic field of inquiry. Formica’s claim was later supported by Morrison and O’Mahony (2003) in their case study regarding the liberation of hospitality management education. Rappole (2000) stated that programs have shifted from a home-economics focus towards a business-related one and Chathoth and Sharma (2007) noted this as the likely reason behind the change in curricular structure of hospitality programs in the United States. Most programs in the 1980s and early 1990s were geared towards developing the operational skills of the students, but during the past decade, universities were focusing on both operational and management-related courses as part of the curriculum (Chathoth & Sharma 2007; Rappole, 2000).
Developing a hospitality curriculum broadly involve three major components: substantive knowledge, skills, and values (Dopson and Tas, 2004). While operational issues such as working knowledge of hospitality services were important (Kay and Russette 2000), managerial and behavioral issues such as managerial skills were often considered to be more important (Okeiyi, Finely and Postel 1994). Thus, the hospitality curriculum should not only teach the students in crucial operational skills but also facilitate them to learn and demonstrate the art of management. To accomplish this purpose, it was necessary to incorporate the perspectives of the industry professionals into the hospitality curriculum. This was basically achieved in two ways. First, regular industry professionals were invited to visit classrooms as guest lecturers and industry experts, or to participate in executive education programs, as part of the curriculum review process (Lefever & Withiam, 1998). Second, competency models were devised through which industry practitioners ranked the competencies and content areas most important in the workplace. Educators then made a strong note of these important competencies, and likewise incorporated them into the curriculum.
In the course of time, a wide number of studies were undertaken regarding identifying and ranking competencies of hospitality graduates. One of the first competency based studies in hospitality was undertaken by Buergermeister (1983) where he found human relation skills and attitudes to be a very important area for hospitality graduates. Among others, Tas (1988) put forward a hospitality curriculum by identifying 36 skills college graduates expected to possess from surveying general managers of 75 hotels. While, most competency based studies in hospitality management focused solely on the perceptions of the hospitality industry practitioners (Ashley et al. 1995; Breiter and Clements, 1996; Kriegl, 2000) a few incorporated the perspectives of educators along with the industry practitioners (Su et al. 1997; Tsai et al. 2006) and a few even added the perspectives of students to the group (Enz et al. 1993; Okeiyi et al.1994). Among the studies from the industry’s perspective, the majority focused on either the hotel industry itself (Tas 1988; Siu 1998; Kay and Russette, 2000; Tesone and Ricci, 2006) or the overall hospitality industry (Ashley et al. 1995; Breiter and Clements, 1996), with a few focusing solely on other sectors such as the food service sector (Horng & Lu, 2006; Okeiyi et al. 1994).
Notable works in the competency-based approach include Chung-Herrera, Enz, and Lankau’s (2003) presentation of an industry specific and future based leadership competency model. In their study, they identified and ranked 99 key hospitality work related competencies. In another case, Nelson and Dopson (2001) compared hotel managers, human resource specialists, and hospitality alumni’s perceptions of competencies necessary for success in the hospitality field. Eventually, Dopson and Nelson (2003) ranked 37 course content areas using the same three groups, and found several differences in their perceived importance of those course content areas.
Competency models were developed as a descriptive tool to identify, categorize and summarize competencies that might be relevant to perform a specific job effectively in an organization (Chung-Herrera et al., 2003). However, these competency models are often broad and generic in nature and lacks emphasis on specific hospitality skills. Employers, who generally do not want narrowly trained graduates, recognize the importance of generic competencies (Harvey, et. al., 1997). Raybould and Wilkins (2005) integrated a generic skill framework to rank important skill areas of hospitality graduates from both employers’ and students’ perspectives. However, the nature of hospitality workplace, demands mastery of both generic skill sets and hospitality specific skill sets. In that aspect, taking into account hospitality subject areas, and course content areas, provides an extensive representation of the skills and knowledge graduates will require at the workplace.
Chung (2000) laid out an effective plan for reforming the hotel management curriculum of Korean universities based on required competencies of hotel employees and career success in the hotel industry. Their study found significant relationships between competencies required of hotel employees and hotel management courses of universities, between competencies required of hotel employees and career success in the hotel industry, between hotel management courses of universities and career success in the hotel industry, and last but not the least between hotel management courses of universities and their contribution to career development in the hotel industry. While this method might be easier for the industry practitioners to identify with, it might be difficult for educators to reform a program’s curriculum based on such models because of the broad and diverse nature of such competencies. Since, there is a significant relationship between competencies required of hotel employees and hotel management courses of universities, in this regard, it makes more sense if the industry practitioners rank the actual subject areas and course content areas offered in the curriculum. However, the subject areas and course content areas in the hospitality program might be difficult for industry practitioners to identify with especially if they are not graduates of hospitality programs. In this regard, the concerned school has to rank the subject areas from the perspectives of their own alumni, who are now established hospitality industry professionals so that they can easily identify the subject areas and relate them to their skill requirements in the workplace.
Keeping the hospitality curricula rigorous, relevant, and current to the industry trends seems to be a clear concern of the hospitality practitioners. According to Dopson and Tas (2004) the biggest challenge for hospitality educators today is to determine clear objectives for the curriculum that takes care of the constantly changing needs of the industry. In that aspect, it is of utmost importance to close the gap between what is taught to students and what the industry expects of the students being hired (Dopsan and Tas 2004; Okeyi et al. 1994). Therefore, in addition to being an industry and faculty driven process, curriculum development needs to incorporate the changing needs of the industry, and foster innovation. In short, the process needs to be ongoing (Dopson and Tas, 2004).
The purpose of this study was to identify hospitality subject areas and rank them according to the perceptions of hospitality industry professionals. In addition the current perceptions of industry professionals regarding hospitality subject areas were to be compared to their perceptions five years ago to reflect the changing requirements of the industry. For gathering data from industry professionals, the same survey instrument developed using a four-step process by Gursoy and Swanger (2004) was used. The four steps included conducting a series of focus groups, developing the survey instrument to systematically measure the perceived importance of the course subject areas by industry and to investigate the gaps between hospitality curriculum and industry needs based on the findings of the focus groups, pre-testing the instrument on a sample of industry professionals using an on-line survey method and last but not the least revising and finalizing the instruments based on the pre-test results. Based on the feedback received by Gursoy and Swanger (2004) from their respondents, the survey instrument was modified in 2009. For the purpose of comparison only the common subject areas between the 2004 and 2009 surveys were retained. The final instrument was employed to collect data on hospitality industry professionals’ perceptions of the importance of the course subject areas.
Development of the Survey Instrument
The procedures recommended by Churchill (1979) and DeVellis (1991) were followed for developing the survey instrument. Initially, an item pool containing a total of 39 subject matter variables were developed or identified from the literature, current hospitality curriculum, and from a series of five focus groups conducted with the advisory board members, restaurant executives, hotel executives, university alumni, and hospitality educators. The content validity of the items that were identified from the focus groups and from the literature was assessed by ten faculty members. The faculty members’ feedback on content and understandability was gathered based on which the items were modified to enhance their clarity, readability, and content validity. Based on the same process any redundancy in the scale items was removed to improve the proposed scale. After the content validity check, it was pre-tested using an on-line survey method involving 50 industry professionals.
The survey instrument was modified one last time based on the pre-test. Each variable was measured using a 5-point Likert scale (5=extremely important, 1= not important at all) as to their importance for success in the hospitality industry. The final version of the 2004 survey instrument consisted of four parts – 40 subject matter variables, 128 course content variables, demographic information, and information regarding the performance of the company the respondent was part of. For this study, only the part that deals with the subject areas and demographic information are considered. In 2009 some changes were made based on the feedback received from the participants of Gursoy and Swanger’s 2004 study REPEAT. While the 2004 survey dealt with 40 subject areas, the 2009 one had only 33. 11 subject areas were removed from the 2004 survey, while 4 subject matters were added based on the received feedback, in the 2009 survey. The subject areas that were taken out of the 2009 survey instrument are: Fundamentals of Cooking, Math, Accounting, Economics for Decision Making, Tourism, Gaming/Casino Operation, Distribution Channels, Secondary Revenue Management, Beverage Management, Destination Management, and Dining Room Service Management. The subject areas that were added to the 2009 study are: International Tourism, Public Relations, Convention and Meeting Planning, and Food and Beverage Management. For the comparison, the 29 common areas between the 2009 and 2004 surveys were considered.
A self-administered survey questionnaire was mailed to the selected sample of industry professionals. An individually signed cover letter containing the name and address of the respondent was included with each questionnaire, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. A reminder was sent after 3 weeks, to increase the number of responses.
Descriptive Analysis was undertaken to rank the means of the respective variables from the survey. Independent samples t-tests were carried out to compare the 2009 rankings to the 2004 ones. All the data analysis was performed in Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) version 18.
The survey was sent to a total of 2340 target participants. 369 responses were returned, resulting in an acceptable response rate of 15.8%.
Profile of the Respondents: The demographic characteristics of gender, present position and company, education level, ethnicity, type of property, and size of the property were included in this study in an effort to provide a descriptive profile of the survey respondents.
Gender: The survey asked the participants to indicate their gender (male or female). Out of 369, 358 respondents indicated their gender. The number of male respondents was 177 (49.4%) while female respondents were 179 (50.6%).
Present Position/Name of Company: Over 180 different companies were represented in the study. Regarding present work positions, the respondents provided more than 200 different positions or titles, which were grouped into 15 categories based on their similarities. Some of the dominating categories included Sales/Marketing with 42 responses (11.4%), Finance/Accounting with 29 (7.9%), General Manager and Human Resource each with 28 (7.6%), Chairman/President/CEO/CFO/COO and Business Owners each with 16 (4.3%), Educator/Teacher/Trainer with 13 (3.5%), Other Managers (restaurant, F&B, convention, events, store, regional, training, guest services, other departments) with 43 (11.7%), and Retired/Unemployed with 26 (7.1%). Besides these major categories, there was an “Other” category for the grouping of many positions that were listed less than 3 times and did not readily fit into another group, such as Attorney.
Education Level: Out of 355 individuals who provided education level information, 298 indicated they have a bachelor’s degree (80.8%); 38 have a graduate degree (10.3%); 17 did some graduate level work (4.6%); 1 individual was a high school graduate (1.6%), and 1 person indicated other (1.6%).
Ethnicity: Of the 352 respondents who indicated their ethnicity, 328 (93.2%), circled Caucasian/White; 10 (2.8%) circled Asian American/Pacific Islander; 8 (2.3%) circled Hispanic/Latino; 3 selected Black/African American; 1 (0.3%) circled American Indian/Alaska Native; and 2 (.6%) circled other.
Size of Property: For lodging properties information regarding the number of rooms in the hotel was collected and for restaurants, number of seats information was gathered. If respondents worked in neither a lodging property nor a restaurant, they were asked to provide size information using other appropriate measures. Of the 195 individuals who responded to the survey, 92 provided the number of rooms information, 34 provided the number of seats information, and 69 provided the size information by reporting other measures such as total revenue, number of employees, square footage, and others.
Of the 92 managers who provided the number of rooms, 2 (2.2%) indicated the property had less than 75 rooms, 17 (18.5%) indicated the property had 75 to 149 rooms, 18 (19.6%) had 150 to 299 rooms, 29 (31.5%) had 300 to 500 rooms, and 26 (28.3%) indicated the property had more than 500 rooms. Most of the individuals who reported managing more than 500 rooms were regional managers, vice presidents, or presidents and CEO’s of hotel corporations.
Of the 34 managers who provided number of seats information, 6 (17.6%) indicated the restaurant had less than 100 seats, 13 (38.2%) indicated the restaurant had 100 to 199 seats, 8 (23.5%) had 200 to 300 seats, and 7 (20.6%) indicated the restaurant had more than 300 seats. A good number of the individuals who reported managing more than 300 seats were regional managers, vice presidents, or presidents and CEO’s of restaurant corporations.
Due to the diverse array of survey respondents, a great many different types of responses were received regarding measure of size. Thus, among the 69 respondents who chose, “other” in the measure of size category, measures such as square footage of convention/conference/meeting/banquet space, number of restaurants/stores/units, number of employees, number of hotels, amount of revenue generated, number of locations, number of accounts, and various others. In addition some respondents provided multiple measures of size.
Type of Property: 188 responses were recorded regarding the type of property the respondents were affiliated with. Of those, 99 (52.7%) selected lodging, 27 (14.4%) circled restaurants, 16 (8.5%) indicated managed services, and 39 (20.8%) selected other types which included vending, marketing/advertising, airlines, associations, distribution/suppliers, cruise lines casinos, clubs retail/convenience stores, cruise lines, health care, real estate/property development, banking/finance, and consulting.
Type of Ownership: In the “Type of Ownership” category 225 responses were recorded. Of them, 124 (55.1) properties were company owned, 68 (30.2%) were independently owned, and 33 (14.7%) were franchised.
Ranking and Comparison Results
The 33 course subject areas were ranked in the order of importance by the industry professionals. The ranking is provided in table 1. The top ten subject areas are Leadership, Internships/industry experience, Preparation for Industry Employment, Ethics, Overview of the Hospitality Industry, Revenue/Asset Management, Hospitality Management and Organization, Hospitality Operations Analysis, Foodservice Operations and Controls, Computer/Information Technology. The results were compared to Gursoy and Swanger’s 2004 survey results. Results show that 10 out of 29 hospitality subject areas – Hospitality Management and Organization, Principles of Marketing, Hospitality Marketing Strategy, Hospitality Operations Analysis, Ethics, Strategic Management, Service Management, Revenue/Asset Management, Study Abroad, and Innovation and Product Development – are significantly different compared to the 2004 rankings.
A look at the two ranking tables (2004 and 2009) reveal that highly important subject areas which were quite consistent in their perceived importance among industry practitioners include leadership, Internships/industry experience, Preparation for Industry Employment, Overview of Hospitality Industry, Foodservice Operations and Controls, and Computer/Information Technology. Leadership, the highest rated subject area, especially has been rated as one of the most important skills deemed of hospitality graduates a number of times in hospitality literature (Okeiyi et al. 1994; Breiter and Clements, 1996; Siu 1998; Kay and Russette, 2000; Kriegl 2000; Nelson and Dopson, 2001).
There were some major changes in the rankings over a period of 5 years. The ranking of Ethics went down from 1 to 4, service management from 10 to 18, Principles of Marketing from 12 to 19, and Hospitality Marketing Strategy from 14 to 20. On the other hand, Revenue/Asset Management went up 14 places to number 6, and Finance from number 18 to 13. Finance, accounting, and related skills were recognized as very important by hospitality employers in various studies (Getty et al., 1991; Umbriet, 1992; Ashley et al. 1995; Nelson & Dopson, 2001; Agut et al. 2003) in the past. In that aspect, this improvement in ranking of finance and related areas is consistent with past literature.
As mentioned before, t-tests revealed significant differences in means between 2009 rankings and 2004 rankings in 10 out of the 29 subject areas. 8 of those 10 subject areas had significantly higher means in 2004 compared to 2009. These areas include Hospitality Management and Organization, Principles of Marketing, Hospitality Marketing Strategy, Hospitality Operations Analysis, Ethics, Strategic Management, Service Management, and Innovation and Product Development. Ethics, especially, showed a very significantly high decrease in means (t (670.079) = -5.116, p = .000). Time and again, ethics has been recognized as the most important skill in the hospitality workplace (Enz et al., 1993; Nelson & Dopson, 2001; Gursoy & Swanger, 2004). This significant decrease in the ranking of ethics shows that it is not quite deemed as important in the hospitality workplace as it used to be. This decrease in importance can be accounted to two reasons. Firstly, following the wake of Enron, WorldCom, and Adelphia corporate scandals that shook the business community in early years of this new millennium, audit firms were increasingly putting a lot of emphasis on having stringent audit practices. Consequently, businesses all over the world were paying special attention to preventing corporate fraud through promoting ethical practices within the organization. This has increased the demand for ethics, as a top level competency/skill/subject area deemed of recent graduates in the workplace during the time period of Gursoy and Swanger’s (2004) study. However, the increased emphasis coming out of the shock the business community received from the corporate scandals has faded away a little as time went by. Moreover, business schools all over the world have been producing much better graduates reflecting ethical preparedness in response to those corporate scandals and the increased pressure from the business community. This can be demonstrated by the increased importance on ethics posed by universities in response to industry pressure. MBA programs that require students to take a course dedicated to business and society issues have increased dramatically over time: 34% in 2001 to 63% in 2007, and to 69% in 2009 (Aspen Institute CBE, 2010). In the accreditation standards of AACSB, formulated in 2003, an increased emphasis on ethics was made, and schools were mandated to integrate ethics across the curriculum to meet the accreditation standards, although there was no requirement of a standalone ethics course in the curriculum (Swanson, & Fisher, 2009). Having received better prepared graduates, it can be argued that the business community no longer rate ethics as important as it rated in 2004 because they are more content now compared to six years ago.
Secondly, the prolonged economic downturn has caused the business community to put more weight on other skills/subject areas. Consequently, this shifted the importance on other areas such as leadership and financial competencies, which diminished the relative importance of ethics. Also, in the beginning years of the economic downturn, firms were under shock, and had to operate under strict financial conditions prompting them to avoid any unnecessary lawsuits which might cause them to be ultra protective. Thus, they were in need of better ethically prepared employees, which are reflected in the 2004 rankings.
Moving away from ethics, marketing related subject areas were also rated significantly less important in 2009 compared to 2004. 11.4% of the 2009 respondents were associated with Sales/Marketing compared to 8.9% in 2004. In this regard, it was expected that the ranking of marketing related subject areas would improve, but the results are contrasting indicating that the importance of marketing related subject have indeed gone down. According to IBISWorld industry reports, the overall lodging industry showed positive growth in revenue from 2004 to 2007. However, the report also showed huge decrease in revenue growth in 2008 and 2009. Especially in 2009, revenue decreased by as much as 9.4% for hotel and motel industry, consistent with the projections made in 2008 (IBISWorld, 2010a). This decrease in growth has caused the hospitality industry to be ultra-protective of their expenses. As a result, there has been a decrease in the importance of marketing oriented subject areas, which accounts for a good chunk of costs in hospitality industry. The same reason can be cited for the significant decrease in hospitality operations subject area. A better argument can be presented from the employment perspective. Because of the sudden economic downturn in the lodging industry, it can be argued that firms have reduced their hiring practices in areas that greatly add to the cost of the hotels such as marketing, operations, and innovations and product development. Same holds true for managerial level positions, which accounts for the decrease in the perceived importance of subject areas such as service management, strategic management, and management and organization. However, reflected in our analysis, it can be pointed out that firms are looking for leaders, who can think out of the box, and bail them out of the financial crisis, which accounts for the high perceived rating of leadership subject area. Especially, it can be argued that hospitality firms are looking for employees who can lead from the front and make their decisions, instead of relying on other people such as the managers. Thus, it can be argued that, hospitality firms are trying to cut down the costs of employing specialized managers by trying to promote leadership qualities on their regular employees.
The subject areas that showed significantly higher means in 2009 compared to 2004 include Revenue/Asset Management and Study Abroad, which were both highly significant (p < .001). Study abroad has shown an increase in its mean over the last five years, but it is rated the lowest among all the subject areas in this study, and its mean is still very low (M = 1.50). In that aspect, we conclude that the relative importance of study abroad has not gone up to a level that needs attention. For the perceived importance of revenue/asset management subject area, the economic condition can be attributed. The recent decrease in the growth in revenue in the lodging industry has prompted the hotels to use improved techniques to maximize revenue, minimize costs, and increase the return on their assets. Additionally, it can be argued that hospitality programs were unable to produce graduates with finance skills reflecting the needs of the hospitality industry arising out of the economic crisis. Consistent with this logic, a recent study regarding perceived student preparedness in a well-reputed hospitality and tourism management program housed in an accredited school of business showed that students are least prepared in skills involving finance (rahman, 2010).
Suggested Curriculum Model
Gursoy and Swanger (2004) suggested an industry driven model of a hospitality curriculum for programs housed in accredited college of business. Based on our study, some suggestions and improvements are offered to make the semester-based model more rigorous, relevant, and up-to-date.
The model of hospitality curriculum was developed based on three different components: business core requirements, hospitality core requirements, and hospitality electives – incorporating the ranked subject matter by hospitality industry professionals. Based on the limitations regarding number of credits in the hospitality program and on the suggestions from the focus groups and advisory boards, some subject areas, such as ethics and leadership, were embedded throughout the curriculum. The curriculum model did not embed those subject matters in the business cores and in the general education cores as business core and general education core classes were outside the hospitality program’s locus of control. The Senior-level hospitality capstone course integrated all curriculum areas in the program. Subject matters with a mean ranking of 2.0 or lower were suggested to be part of elective courses and were recommended for Sophomore or Junior level. Like the 2004 model, learning a second language (M = 1.76) and studying abroad (M = 1.50) were not deemed essential for success in the industry by the professionals surveyed and hence were not included in the model. Similarly, Entrepreneurship (M = 2.34) and Real Estate/Property Development (M = 1.61) courses, which were thought to be as part of other electives under a different department or program in business, were kept outside the curriculum model. For the 2009 model, electives such as Destination Manag