US Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association
A capacity crowd of 1,000-plus patrons packed into the Reichhold Center for the Arts to see rhythm and blues powerhouse Babyface perform his long list of hit records. Many patrons viewed the action on stage from a bird’s eye view in the new Sky Lounge.
Along with the plush couches and gleaming wood tables with ambient candles were a half dozen University of the Virgin Islands students, dressed smartly in black pants and crisp white shirts. Donning huge smiles, some offered patrons a cheery “Good night!” while others served drinks at the newly built Sky Bar. Some students assumed the role of waiters, taking orders from patrons, while others served beverages and light refreshments.
The students are all members of the University of the Virgin Islands Hospitality and Tourism Management Program, an initiative started by UVI President David Hall some six years ago.
The hospitality program curriculum was passed in 2010 and the four-year degree program began in 2012. To date, the hospitality program has 83 students with 25 taking classes on St. Croix and 58 on St. Thomas. That number includes transfer students from neighboring islands including the British Virgin Islands and Dominica. Three students from the inaugural class graduated from the program in May 2015. The students will receive a bachelor of Business Administration degree with a major in Hospitality and Tourism Management.
Along with general requirements, courses include Food Production and Safety, Resort Management, Cruise Line Operations and Management, Tourism Development, and Hospitality Strategy, among others.
In its relatively short life as an academic major, the program has racked up accolades and praise both on and outside the campus.
Most recently, in June Dr. Hall singled out the program for his quarterly President’s Appreciation Award.
“UVI’s Hospitality and Tourism Management Program continues to make an indelible impact in our community and the hospitality and tourism industry,” said President Hall. “Our students have excelled in this program and are a cornerstone of many high-end signature events on campus and throughout the territory.”
One month later, the hospitality program received national recognition, ranking number 26, in a list of “50 Most Affordable Small Colleges for Hospitality Administration and Management.” The survey, published on the site besthospitalitydegrees.com, features a picture from the UVI St. Croix campus, along with a summary of the program and tuition fees.
The program’s students are in high demand for Virgin Islands community events involving hospitality and tourism. Indeed, it was the students’ debut at the Reichhold Center concert that got the attention of a prominent restaurant owner on St. Thomas. After witnessing the level of service rendered to patrons by students that evening, Michael and Judy Watson, owners of Petite Pump Room restaurant, donated $1,000 to the hospitality program. In January, Michael Watson called the program’s director, Tamara Lang, and asked if six students within the hospitality major would like the opportunity to work alongside his catering team and serve at the Governor’s State of the Territory address reception.
More than six students volunteered and served the newly-elected governor and other dignitaries at the high profile event.
According to Lang, the students have twice catered the Fall Yacht Fest held in the British Virgin Islands, hosted by former Gov. John P. deJongh, Jr. Additionally, the students delivered catering and hospitality services during a recent VI Friendship Day activity—an event that boasted more than 500 high-profile guests and members of the public, Lang said.
She added, “Students are also doing catering events at private homes around the island.”
More recently, the University of the Virgin Islands cafeteria has collaborated with the hospitality program, allowing students to assume numerous roles in the front and back of the dining facility. Three of the program’s students concentrating on Food and Beverage Management are writing their senior business plan project on the UVI cafeteria. Another 15 students studying Customer Management are working in various sectors of the dining pavilion, interacting with patrons.
The program strives to achieve three main goals, according to Lang.
The first is to build a relationship between the hospitality program and the tourism industry. Second, to have students gain experience so they can secure jobs. And third, to receive funding for the program.
The goal to secure jobs is already being realized. Cathriellah Shabazz, a senior year student, participates in the program on the Albert A. Sheen St. Croix campus. Shabazz said her classroom experience earned her a job at a local hotel.
“I did an internship at the Tamarind Reef Resort at the front desk. It was like having one of my management classes in action. At first you hesitate, then you remember you know how to do this because you did it in class,” Shabazz said.
The management at the hotel was so impressed with her skills, Shabazz was offered a full-time position, and now takes her hospitality and tourism classes in the evening.
Along with their classroom training, students participate in activities such as the Ritz-Carlton Customer Service Training. Additional professional training is gained through the UVI Hospitality and Tourism Organization, which is comprised of students within and outside the major. Students are elected as officers to the group and plan workshops on a variety of topics from customer service to serving and clearing dining tables.
The combined in-class and community training has made the program a stellar one.
“They understand what’s required by the industry and they understand that service is paramount,” said Lang. “I instill that professionalism comes first.”