Industry Collaboration Empowers Hotel Sales and Marketing Education
The Residence Inn by Marriott and the Courtyard by Marriott, built by Stonebridge Companies, are much more than nice places to stay on the Pullman campus. Since 2014 the company and the facilities have provided unique learning opportunities for WSU students interested in hospitality business management, marketing, sales, and construction management careers.
Providing training and hiring grounds for WSU students was part of Stonebridge founder Navin Dimond’s (’85 Bus., Engin. & Arch.) vision from the beginning. During the construction phase of the Residence Inn, a class of WSU students worked with the company to develop the hotel’s sales and marketing plan. Students accompanied hotel leadership on sales calls to local Pullman businesses to gain practical experience, and once the hotel was built in 2014, students were hired for full- and part-time positions.
Austin Pfeifer (’15 Hospitality) was in the 2014 class. “Seeing my class have direct payoff in the real world was exciting,” he says. “It gave me invaluable insight into the inner workings of a hotel at a level I had never seen before.” He worked his way up from a part-time, front desk agent to the front desk supervisor, and has the opportunity to become the assistant general manager of the Pullman Courtyard by Marriott.
Pfeifer’s classmate, Mohammed Abdulwahid (’15 Hospitality), always wanted to open his own restaurant. This class taught him how to create a marketing plan before pursuing his dream of creating a concept for a restaurant to be established in every state, he says.
During the Courtyard’s construction phase in 2016, Stonebridge tapped WSU construction management and hospitality business management majors to research whether the Courtyard’s modular building units would be viable for future construction in the hotel industry.
Industry instructors bridge theory and practice
The successful model of the 2014 sales and marketing class, and the collaborative relationship with Stonebridge over the years, was the impetus for Hotel Sales and Marketing 497, a new course for hospitality students taught onsite at the Residence Inn and in Todd Hall this semester.
Gordon Palm, Stonebridge regional director of sales, approached the hospitality school to propose that a team of Stonebridge executives teach the class, facilitated by Jenni Sandstrom, a hospitality business management clinical assistant professor. A 2015 graduate of the Carson College hospitality Ph.D. program, Sandstrom brings 25 years of hotelier expertise to the college and says learning from hotel industry leaders bridges a gap between classroom learning and professional practice.
“Stonebridge’s proposed course content aligned nicely with concepts we are teaching in our lodging curriculum, with the added element of direct input from industry experts,” says Sandstrom.
Each week, a different executive delivers a lecture on sales and marketing topics. Students are working alongside Residence Inn hotel staff to develop a marketing plan that will benefit the Residence Inn and the Courtyard by Marriott.
“Stonebridge has the great privilege to provide the WSU students with career knowledge and education as they move into future business opportunities within the industry,” says Palm. “We hope that upon graduation these students enter the industry with practical hospitality sales knowledge and skill.”
“Having new perspectives and seeing different personalities every week helps me stay engaged because everyone has something different to add to the content,” says Jackie Chestnut, a hospitality business management senior. “This class gives you a good idea of what sales look like in a hotel, and it is valuable in every aspect of the hospitality industry.”
“I plan to work my way up the hotel sales ladder to become a hotel executive,” says Jackson Warfield, who will be graduating with his hospitality business management degree in May 2017. “Learning to effectively conduct a site tour, sales blitz, and marketing plan will help me in the future.”
International collaboration provides global industry experience
Prior to launching the spring class with Stonebridge, Sandstrom spent fall semester abroad teaching a Hotel Sales and Marketing class at Cèsar Ritz Colleges in Brig, Switzerland. She worked in concert with Hotel De Londres, a local boutique hotel in Brig, to engage students in solving some of the hotel’s marketing problems. One of the challenges students tackled was improving the hotel’s social media strategies.
“The students determined the hotel was missing an opportunity to attract additional Swiss customers, its biggest market, because social media posts were in only German. Certain areas of Switzerland are English speaking,” says Sandstrom. “Students recommended that the hotel post in English and German to attract a wider net of customers and helped the hotel target audiences on Pinterest, Snap Chat, and We Chat.”
As a final group project, students developed a marketing plan and presented it to Hotel De Londres management and owner representatives.
“We looked forward to working with students from all over the world, as we believe they will have a different view on our product, the area, potential unique selling points, but also constraints,” says Lilian Roten, Hotel de Londres owner. “It was refreshing to work with young and motivated newcomers to the industry. As a small boutique hotel, we have very limited resources to do thorough research. It was good for my team to see what it takes to do a solid sales and marketing plan by the books.”
Working directly with industry executives to solve real-world hotel problems opens new opportunities for marketing and other majors who may never have considered a career in the hospitality sector, says Sandstrom. The outcome is that students get jobs.