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Students relish experiential learning opportunities during T.H.E. Summit

By: Steve Orbanek
First Published: March 29, 2021
Topics: Faculty, Feature Story, In the News, Research, STHM School, Tourism & Hospitality, U.S.-Asia Center

When the Tourism, Hospitality & Events Global Higher Education Leadership Summit 2021 (T.H.E. Summit) came to a close this past weekend, Olivia Dan had to take a moment to stop and breathe.

Along with her fellow students, the senior tourism and hospitality major had spent months planning the virtual event, which was attended by nearly 5,000 individuals across various channels. Now, just like that, it was over.

“It was very much surreal. I don’t think I’ve honestly processed it still. I think it will really hit me when we go into my next class this week,” Dan said. “It has helped me with my communication skills, my facilitating skills and I would also say that it helped me as a leader, as I spearheaded some of the projects our committee did. It’s just been a wonderful experience overall.”

Co-organized by the Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management (THM) and the U.S.-Asia Center for Tourism & Hospitality Research at Temple University’s School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management (STHM), T.H.E. Summit, a two-day virtual conference, was held March 19-20. T.H.E. Summit was designed to bring both academia and industry together, so they could discuss how to cope with unprecedented challenges and explore opportunities to promote sustainable innovation in tourism, hospitality, events and related industries.

The event was no small undertaking and its reach was considerable; the thousands of attendees came from 81 countries and regions, and T.H.E. Summit featured several prominent keynote speakers, including Daniel del Olmo, president and CEO of SAGE Hotel Management; Virginia Messina, Senior Vice President, Advocacy, of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC); Mark Hoplamazian, president and CEO of Hyatt Hotels Corporation; and Douglas A. Tutt, CEO of Hcareers.

Like Dan, Ari Santana, who is double majoring in advertising and media production and also pursuing a certificate in event leadership from STHM, spent months working on T.H.E. Summit. Planning an in-person event of this size would have been a challenge. However, Santana found that the process becomes arguably even more complicated when a large-scale event like this is held in the virtual realm.

“This was really exciting because I had never done any full-scale events before. So it was not in my day-to-day skill set prior to this,” Santana said. “One of the challenges of a virtual event is that all of your correspondence is done digitally. That was a change. It was nice though because we had support from people who have been in this industry for awhile. There was always someone who could help and say, ‘OK, you have the right idea, but let’s just tweak it here or there.’”

Because of the event’s virtual nature, networking sessions differed from what you would expect at an in-person event. However, the student planners improvised, helping to create different games and activities that could be used for engagement sessions.

Contingency planning also was key and the students worked to ensure they were there to help with any potential challenges.

The hands-on, experiential learning opportunities that the students received through planning this event are inline with what students can expect out of STHM’s new Bachelor of Science in Event and Entertainment Management degree program. The new undergraduate degree program launches this fall, and is currently accepting applications for its first cohort of students.

Throughout T.H.E. Summit and evident in both speaker presentations and panel discussions was the theme of resilience. While no one was sugarcoating the impact that COVID-19 has had on these industries, vaccination rates are increasing and brighter days could be ahead.

“I want you to move your hand away from the red panic button because there is a way out,” said Tutt during his keynote presentation on day one of the summit. “It’s not until 2023 when we’re expecting business travel to recover to pre-COVID levels. It will take some time, but hopefully your hand is now firmly removed from the red panic button.”

A theme of empathy was also emphasized throughout the sessions.

“We have to remember that we should approach what we’re doing as human beings. Yes, we are all professionals. Yes, we need to maintain disciplines in how we operate to keep people safe and secure,” said Hoplamazian during his keynote talk on day two of T.H.E. Summit. “But first and foremost, approach things as a human being, and I think that will serve the purpose of our industry, which is to enrich people’s lives, to allow them to go see friends and families, to reconnect with old friends and to also conduct their business. We’re here to facilitate all of those amazing connections and to make those fulfilling and enriching, but first and foremost, we have to be human in how we engage.”

The messages resonated well, both with the industry and academic attendees as well as the students, many of whom plan to pursue careers in the tourism, hospitality and events industries.

One such student is Tahlia Suggs, who is pursuing a Master of Science in Hospitality Management and worked extensively with Laurie Wu, an assistant professor in the Department of THM and the Summit Program Chair, to plan and finetune all of the details surrounding the event.

From the start of the planning process, Suggs’ involvement with T.H.E. Summit was considerable. She was the support associate for the event, and was there to assist with just about everything, often creating PowerPoints presentations and marketing materials, even maintaining Excel spreadsheets.

Suggs has considerable career aspirations and to see T.H.E. Summit come together so smoothly is amongst her top accomplishments thus far.

“I hadn’t dealt with anything of this caliber. It’s an international summit, so we’ve learned international etiquette, how to deal with different time zones, email etiquette and that’s just the start,” Suggs said. “Right now, I am just a sponge, and I have taken in as much knowledge as I can. I definitely will look back and be very proud of what we were able to accomplish in just these past few months. I am going to walk away with so much in terms of both soft and hard skills. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been worth it.”