Hospitality Education As A Multidisciplinary Field Tourism Essay

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Hospitality education as a multidisciplinary field, which brings the perspectives of many disciplines, especially those found in social sciences to bear on particular areas of application and practice in the hospitality and tourism industry (Reigel, 1995). As an applied discipline, hospitality education has a close and strong linkage with its industry in order to educate hospitality students by keeping shoulder to shoulder with the current industry trends (Goodman & Sprague, 1991). However, a shortage of skilled and specialized labor has been an ongoing issue in the hospitality industry, because of which often workers from other fields are hired to cope with the industry demands. Between 2004 and 2014, even in times of recession, 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 and a shortage of skilled and specialized labor can be translated into a growing demand of hospitality educational programs to adequately prepare the workforce to meet present and future demands in this enormous industry. Hence, the need for providing quality education is more than ever. Consequently, programs are striving hard to provide an education that improves the employability of the hospitality graduates. In that aspect, the hospitality curriculum needs to prioritize the subject areas according to the 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 has been 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?

Literature Review

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.

Formica (1996) published a study of tourism and hospitality education in Europe and America that examined programs and future trends. Later research by Morrison and O'Mahony (2003) supported Formica's claim that there was an international movement that supported the liberation of hospitality education from its vocational base to an academic field of inquiry. 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).

As a result, curriculum review of hospitality programs increasingly involved regular industry contacts who make classroom visits or participate in executive education programs (Lefever & Withiam, 1998). Alternatively, 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 done 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. Nelson and Dopson (2001) compared hotel managers, human resource specialists, and hospitality alumni's perceptions of competencies necessary for success in the hospitality field. 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 have been 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). Researchers in the hospitality industry have used competency models to identify, and rank competencies, and eventually suggest reforming the curriculum of hospitality programs. 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, Finley and Postel 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. 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.

Data Collection

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. A self-addressed, stamped envelope was also included. All the surveys were sent on with a reminder on

Data Analysis

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, number of ships/vessels/catamarans, 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) reveals 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 and accounting was recognized as an important area by the hospitality employers (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. Marketing related subject areas were 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. On the other hand, a couple of subject areas showed significantly higher means in 2009 compared to 2004. These include Revenue/Asset Management and Study Abroad, which were both highly significant (p < .001).

Highly important subject areas which were quite consistent in their importance among industry practitioners include leadership, Internships/industry experience, Preparation for Industry Employment, Overview of Hospitality Industry, Hospitality Operations Analysis, 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).

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. The curriculum totaled 29 semester credits, with each course consisting of 3 credit hours, which was within the established number of credits required after the general education core and business core classes are accounted for. 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 Management, and Tourism were replaced with International Tourism as a 300 level elective. Distribution Channels, Secondary Revenue Management, Fundamentals of Cooking, and Gaming/Casino Operations were removed from the 2009 model because of their lack of importance as solo electives. Moreover, Beverage Management has been replaced with Food and Beverage Management as a 300 level hospitality core course.

Certification: The separation between lower division (Freshman/Sophomore) and upper division (Junior/Senior) coursework, evident in the model, reflects the required certification [1] of the accredited college of business where the hospitality program is housed. Certification requirement in a major includes completion of 60 semester credits, a 2.5 cumulative grade point average, and at least a C grade in specified courses. [2] Students are not allowed to enroll in any upper division required or elective course until and unless they complete the certification requirements. For non hospitality majors, who want to minor in hospitality or other business area or who is just interested to take a class at the upper division, it is mandatory to be certified in their own major. The minimum requirement to graduate for students in certified majors is a 2.5 cumulative grade point average.

Elective Program: Like the 2004 model, electives are suggested to be offered once in a two year rotation keeping in mind the limited available credits for hospitality curriculum in accredited colleges of business. Three electives are recommended to be offered each semester. Keeping in mind nature of hospitality education, it is strongly recommended that industry professionals whose areas of expertise fit with the subject matter are brought in as temporary instructors or guest speakers to facilitate the learning process for the future graduates. This collaboration will allow students to learn the topic from professionals who can give them a much more relevant, up-to-date, and practical overview of the subject matter. Industry can form direct links with future employees, and the students can network directly with the employers. In addition, industry can spread word and information about their products and services. Faculty, on the other hand would benefit from networking with industry professionals for potential internships and research streams. Thus, it will be beneficial for all the parties involved.

Future Research

Although this study provides an up-to-date ranking of the hospitality subject areas, it does not provide the current ranking of hospitality course content areas. In this regard, the five year change in rankings of the hospitality subject areas only gives an incomplete picture of the changing needs of the hospitality industry. Thus, comparing the course content areas with past ranking, along with this study, will provide a comprehensive overview of the changing needs of the hospitality industry. This will also let hospitality programs to update their curricula and make them more rigorous, current, and relevant to the changing needs of the hospitality industry.