The State of the Hospitality Student Pipeline: Insights from Industry Experts

In a recent series of interviews organized by the HSMAI Foundation and led by Lori Kiel, HSMAI Foundation Chair, HSMAI leaders and academic professionals discussed the hospitality student pipeline. The goal, aligned with the HSMAI Foundation mission, was to explore how the industry can better support academia to attract, engage, and develop the next generation of hospitality professionals. Key participants included Donna Quadri-Felitti, PhD, Director and Associate Professor, School of Hospitality Management at Penn State, and Kate Walsh, Dean and E. M. Statler Professor at School of Hotel Administration, Cornell College of Business 

Here are the main points from these enlightening discussions. 

Do Hospitality Programs Have an Enrollment Problem? 

The answer, it seems, depends on who you ask. Donna Quadri-Felitti highlighted several challenges impacting enrollment in hospitality programs: 

  1. Competition from Other Fields: Jobs in tech and real estate, among others, attract students who might otherwise consider hospitality.
  2. Misconceptions About Pay and Work-Life Balance: Many students hold misconceptions about the financial viability and lifestyle associated with hospitality careers.
  3. Changes in Industry Structure: Many sought-after employers no longer require staff to be on-property, altering the traditional career trajectory expectations.

Donna emphasized that the industry’s reputation can be revitalized by showcasing its complexity and the diverse skill sets required to manage significant assets, rather than reducing it to a “people business” alone. 

Kate Walsh, on the other hand, provided a contrasting perspective from Cornell. Walsh acknowledged that some schools are facing declining enrollment, but Cornell has been fortunate to have record applications. She attributed this success to their comprehensive program that spans operations, real estate, private equity, and technology.  

Industry’s Role in Driving Enrollment and Improving Reputation 

Quadri-Felitti suggested that the industry needs to visually and narratively shift away from traditional images, like the front desk, and begin to highlight the dynamic and multifaceted nature of hospitality. She stressed the importance of communicating the broad spectrum of skills necessary in the industry to parents and guidance counselors, making it clear that hospitality is much more than just working with people. 

Kate echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the need for industry engagement in classrooms, offering internships, and outlining explicit career pathways, including opportunities in corporate roles. She noted that competitive salaries and the chance to work with cutting-edge technology (e.g., machine learning, AI) are crucial in attracting students. 

Effective Models and Strategies 

Both academics agreed that some companies and schools are successfully navigating these challenges. Large, multinational brands often have the resources to create scalable initiatives and clear career paths, while smaller, independent hotels may lag. 

Quadri-Felitti highlighted the importance of real-time experience and faculty externships to keep curriculum relevant. She encouraged the industry to support faculty in spending time in the field to stay updated with current practices. Additionally, she called for the industry to help develop lesson plans and modules, providing comprehensive curriculum support to bridge the gap between academia and industry needs. 

Walsh noted that at Cornell, they have great data analytics around who top employers are, trends on salary, bonus, how long they stay for first and second jobs which helps guide students towards fulfilling career paths. 

Addressing the Talent Gap in Commercial Roles 

Both academics addressed the lack of interest in marketing, sales, and revenue management roles among students. Walsh suggested leveraging data and AI to make these roles more appealing. She recommended that industry leaders articulate their needs clearly and collaborate with academic institutions to integrate real-world applications into the curriculum. Sharing personal career journeys and practical challenges with students can also make these roles more relatable and attractive. 

Quadri-Felitti stressed the need to stop glamorizing roles in real estate and finance, highlighting the significant impact commercial professionals can have on business success. 

The interviews underscored the critical need for stronger collaboration between academia and the hospitality industry. By providing robust real-world experiences, reshaping the narrative around hospitality careers, and supporting faculty development, HSMAI members can attract and retain top talent. As Quadri-Felitti fittingly summarized, “We need to teach people how to learn,” emphasizing the importance of fostering lifelong learning and adaptability in the fast-moving world of hospitality. 

These insights provide a roadmap for how the hospitality industry can better support academia and, in turn, secure a bridge to our brightest future of talent in hospitality commercial functions. 

Categories: Revenue Management
Insight Type: Articles