Karishma Sharma, School of Business and Economics, The University of the South Pacific
Dawn Gibson, School of Business and Economics, The University of the South Pacific
Ella Bennion, School of Business and Economics, The University of the South Pacific
Hupfeld Hoerder, School of Business and Economics, The University of the South Pacific
As the tourism and hospitality industry continues to grow at a phenomenal rate, so does the demand for highly qualified and trained people (Gailliard, 2010; Jack, Stansbie, & Sciarini, 2017). Industry recruiters today are looking for graduates with skills beyond a university degree. While most graduates are adequately prepared in relation to job knowledge, many lack the required job skills (Gursoy, Rahman, & Swanger, 2012). To suitably meet the demands of industry, educators must work with industry to source qualified graduates as future industry leaders (Jack, Stansbie, & Sciarini, 2017). Many academic curricula are now inclusive of compulsory student internships to complement traditional classroom learning. Internships help students obtain exposure to practical work environments that are limited to the classroom (Zopiatis & Constanti, 2007), put textbook theories into action, and reflect on their career paths (Tse, 2010). Students who participate in internships can obtain a good sense of what it is like to work for organisations in the industry, and acquire practical skills through hands on experience and by networking in the workplace (Collins, 2002). Tourism and hospitality interns are also an important labour substitute in fulfilling the needs of the industry.
Institutions that offer Tourism and Hospitality Management (THM) and Hotel Management (HM) programmes are on the frontlines in ensuring graduates are well trained for top level positions. The School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, soon to become The School of Business and Management at the University of the South Pacific recognises the importance of improving employability skills for tourism and hospitality undergraduates, hence the development of the undergraduate THM and HM programmes which incorporate internship courses. These internship courses aim at blending theory with practical experience through experiential learning.
The purpose of this study reported in this chapter is to explore the determinants of student performance during hotel management internship learning experiences in the multi-cultural context of the University of the South Pacific. This qualitative study of student reflections and staff facilitation of internships will determine the factors that contribute to student performance with their working and learning experiences. This study was limited to students undertaking the Bachelor of Commerce in Hotel Management. It is mandatory for students undertaking the programme to complete a one-year hotel internship, which includes three courses: TS218 Rooms Division Practical, TS303 Food and Beverage Practical and TS304 Front Office and Sales and Marketing Practical in relevant departments within an approved hotel. The proposed research has practical implications for both academics who wish to further study student internship performance, sponsors and industry professionals and also serves as a framework for successful internship experiences for future hospitality practitioners in the South Pacific.
Importance of Internships to the Tourism and Hospitality Industry
The relationship between tourism education and internships has been discussed extensively in the literature. Internship programmes create opportunities for closing the differences between theoretical knowledge and real life practical experiences (Fox, 2011). A well-structured internship has an important role in developing specific competencies that HM students need as part of the general curriculum (Seyitoğlu & Yirik, 2015). Internship programmes aim to prepare students to be good leaders, making sound decisions with the theoretical knowledge they would have gained during their study. According to Walo (2001), internships play a critical role to increase the students’ learning capacities through active participation in various ways such as by observing and doing. Internships assist students with developing their critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills which are considered to be essential components of a good education by providing them with real life experience (Seyitoğlu & Yirik, 2015).
Internships increase students’ chances in finding employment when theoretical knowledge is combined with competencies in experience, skill, and self-development (Busby, 2003). However, Jenkin (2001) indicated that many graduates are drawn away from the sector due to negative internship experiences. Bad internship experiences may damage the students’ images within the organisation, and may discourage students from joining the industry after graduation (Busby, 2003). Student expectations before the internship experience are vastly different in terms of their perceptions compared to their satisfaction during the internship period (Cho, 2006).
Tourism and hospitality industry employment conditions are often criticised due to their inconvenient working hours, low wages and long hours of work compared to other sectors, which results in high turnover rates (Davidson, Guilding, & Timo, 2006). Continued globalisation is increasingly resulting in cultural diversity in tourism and hospitality workplaces (Weber & Ladkin, 2010). This creates real challenges for students to interact and effectively work with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Many issues may relate to intercultural communication between the employees and managers, as well as, the employees and tourists (Grobelna, 2015). Cultural sensitivities, awareness, and understanding of cultural differences are perceived as critical issues for both tourism and hospitality organisations and educators. A student intern’s motivation towards staying in the industry could be adversely impacted due to unbearable working environment and negative attitudes of superiors (Collins, 2002). However, both the industry and educators can benefit if tourism and hospitality organisations view students as a means to create opportunities for innovations in the workplace. Student interns may create and contribute towards new concepts, and provide organisations with fresh and objective perspectives (Aarons, 2019).
The study undertook a content analysis of 45 internship manuals from the Bachelor of Commerce in Hotel Management at the University of the South Pacific. Students identified five key competencies from their internship experiences, as shown in Table 1. Each is discussed below.
|Improving own learning and performance
|Working with Others
|Application of Technology
Table 1: Competencies identified in the Internship Manuals
Improving own Learning and Performance
This was the most important competency acknowledged by the interns. All the interns identified the importance of specific skills or knowledge gained and learning outcomes achieved during and upon the completion of their internship. There was notable consistency with the interns in their reflections about the changes they had to embrace to complete their internship. Developing adaptation and flexibility skills was required by the interns to meet their goals. One intern expressed his need to adapt by stating:
Today, I started with my training in Front Office. Here in Laucala Island Resort, the operator, concierge and Sales & Marketing are all divisions that come under Front Office. I started off as the operator today. I went through an orientation on basic telephone etiquette, and roles & responsibilities of an operator. I was given the responsibilities of answering calls, and filling in the daily log document (R1, Male, 2019).
The interns surmised that their internships and the interaction and situations they were engaged in were the most helpful in their learning experiences. The interns found themselves more confident and competent in their role over time during their internships:
On the 4th October 2019, whilst working at reception, I’ve become competent in using terminals to assign a pre-authorisation/sale completion/direct sale on a credit card. I’ve also become competent in OPERA
When I first joined in the department, there were some challenges I faced for the first three weeks as I was new to all work on-going activities. Through motivation and a positive attitude, I was able to be flexible in taking initiative on learning new responsibilities. I now understand the real working business world reality.
By this time of my training, I was already taking calls from guests and answering their queries. Today I answered an overseas call and was able to book a 6-night room revenue. I was also able to upsell private speedboat service, private boat transfers and was able to a sell half a board meal plan. It was a deal that totalled F$35,000. I also activated routings on the booking, and used add on features on the booking as it was a 2-bedroom booking. I also created shares (R2, Female, 2019).
The interns also identified overall employability competencies that they now see within themselves. At the beginning of the internship, the interns undertook a self-assessment exercise of their employability skills developed by the Hotel and Catering International Management Association (HCIMA) now the Institute of Hospitality in the United Kingdom. Upon completion of the internships, students felt that they had better time management skills, more self-confidence, had developed the ability to make good decision, and the ability to keep calm in stressful situations.
I do believe that I have the skills and willingness to adapt to work; a mind-set that is open and ready to accept – and therefore overcome uncertainty at any time. I do believe that without adapting to change, a leader’s effectiveness is both limited and limiting because inflexibility not only precludes one’s personal growth but also that of one’s follower.
At first when I started, I always delayed the daily operation because of the amount of time I spent in checking in, checking out and billing out the guests. However, through daily practising and with the help of the staff, I was able to improve on my time management (R3, Female, 2019).
Many tourism and hospitality programmes design courses and activities to increase their students’ exposure to other cultures. Personal development such as cultural knowledge, improving language skills, and improving communication skills was a benefit for the interns. The interns also learnt about the different customs and traditions of different cultures, and how to communicate and behave accordingly:
Today I served a Chinese family of five who did not know how to speak English. It was hard/challenging to take their order. They had to use their phone to translate what they wanted into English. Nevertheless, I managed to serve them until they left the restaurant (R4, Female, 2019).
The interns valued the communication skills they acquired during their internships. All the interns learned interpersonal skills such as communicating effectively with customers and supervisors, as well as written skills such as report and email writing. The interns observed the manager’s communication style that helped them understand the value of good communication skills. The interns made observations about their manager’s communication style that helped them understand how important it was for leaders to develop good interpersonal skills. As one intern stressed:
On 9th September 2019, the front office had a meeting with the general manager because she had received numerous guest complaints the previous month. We were being reminded of the importance of communication and customer service skills (R5, Female, 2019).
Most of the interns wrote affirmative reflections about the development of their communication skills. The reflections included such statements as: “After a month of my training period, I was able to communicate effectively with my colleagues and managers”; “I have witnessed that through positive communication with my manager/director, work result is always positive”; and “I was able to improve my writing skills”.
Working with Others
The interns also reflected on their experiences with working in teams and developing relationships with their superiors and colleagues. Most of the interns’ comments were coaching and training related. The interns described their colleagues as ‘being helpful’; ‘willing to explain and clarify’, and ‘willing to answer questions’. Some of the internship experiences were not always positive and highlighted strained relations between the colleagues and students. The students indicated that due to their lack of work experience, some colleagues caused problems such as rude and insulting behaviour, inappropriate treatment by superiors, and poor communication, which in many cases young interns found difficult to deal with:
On the 20th October 2019, during my internship at Front Office and Reception, a colleague, who had deliberately made me look bad and incompetent in front of a guest I was checking in, embarrassed me. While I was checking in the guest, and when I had to take a pre-auth of the outstanding accommodation, they gave two separate cards to settle each in, since this was new for me, I turned to the colleague to ask whether I should hold the outstanding accommodation as a pre-auth or as a direct sale. She started speaking loudly and in English, saying irrelevant things that were all just confusing. It was embarrassing, I slowly apologised to the couple and advised them that I was an intern and I wanted to clarify things before moving on with the check-in process (R6, Female, 2019).
On 3 October 2019, I had an argument with another staff member regarding her till being short and she had blamed me. I was very upset. Our manager agreed to help us and showed us a slideshow on the importance of teamwork (R6, Female, 2019).
Some of the interns discussed incidents such as the above that required correcting inappropriate behaviour with either their colleagues or customers. Solnet, Kralj, Kay, and DeVeau (2009) Lodging Internship Competency Model suggests there are factors that will impact competency development during the internship. Assessment and reflection by the interns on their interpersonal skills is one of these factors. However, such negative experiences were few compared to the positive experiences of training, mentoring and coaching.
The interns also discussed their team work and developing relationships with their colleagues. The importance of teamwork was covered thoroughly in all the courses within the Bachelor of Commerce in Hotel Management. Two interns reflected their ease in working in a team and learning from team based activities:
On 25 October, while on my shift, the Front Office department was very busy and we had a lot of check-ins. Since there were only two of us we ensured that we helped each other out. We were able to check-in guests quickly and although it was busy, we made it through teamwork (R7 Male, 2019).
I did establish a good working relationship with my superiors (managers, workmates and directors). At first when I joined, I tried to be confident and to excel in their expectations of me. At first I was nervous working with them because I had no idea about the job I had temporary filled. But with their help I was able to cope and establish self-confidence (R7 Female, 2019).
The interns also expressed some of the examples of situations where they encountered challenges with a particular colleague:
On 2nd June, I was rostered with a senior colleague for morning shift. Despite the fact that she was of a certain age where she could not see clearly or remember details. I had to compromise and help her by attending to certain requests that I was qualified to complete (R8 Female, 2019).
But, these types of situations do not appear to interfere with intern’s ability to build relationships within their team. Given that all the interns gained some development in their interpersonal skills when working in a team, it was clear that this competency was highly valued by the interns.
The results indicated that there were opportunities for the interns to learn problem-solving skills. The interns expressed their problem solving skills development in the following ways:
Problem solving fluency is crucial to survive and thrive in the present future. I learned that I need to be prepared for the problems that I can’t even imagine yet; and
I have learned to directly identify a problem clearly before deciding a solution (R9 Female, 2019).
Two of the interns discussed the problem-solving skills they used when presented with customer service related situations. Both interns identified similar operational challenges and expressed their reactions and solutions:
On 5 October 2019, I received a guest complaint regarding her room being wet. She was very upset and tired. I managed to calm her down and quickly looked for a room to move her to. I upgraded her room and got her a room with a good view. She was happy (R10 Female, 2019).
On March 14th, 2019 I attended to a guest call. The lady had complained about the clean-up service that was not done according to the time span they had requested. Therefore, I had to apologise on behalf of the department that was in charge of the task and made sure they received room service right away by contacting our Housekeeping co-ordinator to avoid any further issues. The room was attended to at the earliest (R10 Female, 2019).
One intern also reflected on how some employees were ‘only thinking of themselves’, which was something she needed to experience in order to learn how to respond to such behaviour. The intern described a situation where she felt it was right to report the issue:
On 11th October 2019, I had witnessed an employee from Front Office take money from the till and to give to one of her family members. I confronted the employee about her actions and she said they would bring it back in an hour. I considered her actions unethical and against company polices, so I reported the incident to the supervisor (R11 Female, 2019).
The student interns inevitably encountered problems or issues during their placements. They were relatively inexperienced and wary of problems they encountered. All the interns sought advice from their colleagues and asked for clarification. Such advice included the STHM Student Industry Liaison Coordinator (SILC) and Course Coordinator. They sought to understand the problems they faced by communicating and talking to people involved:
On the 12th September, 2019, during my internship at the Service Centre – Operation, it was my second day of training, I found it difficult to cram the numbers by heart, or to press certain keys on the console, but I didn’t hesitate to keep asking for assistance whenever I was not sure of anything. This was all on the basis of trying to relay accurate information to guests/or other callers in general (R12 Male, 2019).
On 15th June, 2019 I had incorrectly posted a bill on Opera, and I had to explain to my supervisor so that she could rectify the mistake. I was then told by my supervisor to be more careful and pay attention to detail when it came to posting bills (R13 Male, 2019).
This shows that interns acknowledged they needed help from others with more experience and that they asked colleagues for clarification when they needed to address problems (Tse, 2010). An important part of the learning process and communication.
Application of Technology
Practical skills acquired by the interns were the fourth competency identified. Unlike most generic skills, these skills were specific to the hospitality industry such as customer service; reservation skills; revenue management; food and beverage knowledge; and sales and marketing.
While being at the Sales and Marketing department, the nature of the job was very fast going and it needed a person to be flexible. From the first day I joined, I had no idea of the responsibility that was needed. Through my positive attitude and eagerness to learn new things, I was able to perform the job, which was creating posters using brand standard, liaising with our designer and team member confidently, organising and overseeing advertising/communication campaigns (R14 Male, 2019).
On the 2nd of August, I learned how to process payments. Payments were processed through our online payment link where guests fill in the authorisation form which then allows us to process the credit card as this way it is much safer. Once this was completed the payment then was processed on the EFTPOS machine. Once the payment was approved it was then posted on Opera (R15 Female, 2019).
In this digital era, communication has transformed beyond face-to-face interaction. I usually communicated using technology to deal with clients and suppliers via e-mail and telephone and Facebook chat. This helped me communicate more effectively (R16 Female, 2019).
Kay and Moncarz (2004) also identified the use of information technology as essential skills for hospitality management and leaders. However, the findings indicated that the majority of interns lacked opportunities to develop technical skills outside of the Front Office Department; Finance Department; and Sales and Marketing. Often these technical skills were taught to them by fellow colleagues or superiors rather than through structured training. There was only one account of structured training that occurred during the internship:
On the 27th July I had an amazing opportunity to be able to attend a training workshop which was organised by Spencer who came from our head office to train the front office staff, especially the guest experience makers (R17 Female, 2019).
It is important to note that while there were some opportunities to use technical skills in most departments, the interns were able to develop multitasking skills based on their work experiences.
I am glad that I have the multitasking skills I was taught on my internship. For example, I spoke on the phone dealing with customers and at the same time sent e-mails to different suppliers (important documents) (R18 Female, 2019).
Supervisor Intern Evaluations
The supervisors who submitted evaluations of interns’ performance generally wrote positive and encouraging comments about their overall employability skills development and performance. All the supervisors indicated that they would welcome more interns from STHM. Their comments reflected appreciation for the interns’ contribution, observations of their strengths, as well as recommendations for future development and learning. The Front Office Manager from one of the internship locations stated:
The student performed very well in the front office department. Very good feedback from all managers and supervisors. Well done!
Another internship supervisor stated:
The student has shown that she has potential. Should she return I would suggest that she be more dedicated to attendance on her rostered days. More exposure with the Duty Managers will enable the student to gain more experience. She does not require improvement, however she is highly emotional, which is a good thing because she always tells us what she feels. The student was a great team player and a very good worker. Glad to have her in the team. All the best in the future (R18 Male, Supervisor, 2019).
The supervisors’ comments indicated that the interns were successful in achieving some level of skill development, particularly in areas that were consistent with desirable hospitality employment competencies such as the ability to work in a team, willingness to learn, and ability to communicate effectively. Two other supervisors provided a more balanced evaluation of the interns:
Compared to all the interns that I have trained, and have been through Front Office, she really picked up quickly but fear of making mistakes sometimes kept her back, and receiving complaints from guests or colleagues was what she feared at times. However, this comes with time and experience, but so far excellent work (R19 Female Supervisor, 2019).
She needs to concentrate more on time management and has to adopt the habit of seeking permission from supervisors when performing tasks beyond her limitations. Also to improve on her listening ability when given instructions (R20 Female Supervisor, 2019).
The main weaknesses that were indicated by the supervisors were interns lacked the confidence to handle guest complaints; issues with punctuality and time management; and they needed help with stress management. The supervisor evaluations provided some insight into the contributions made by the interns, areas of improvement, as well as potential employment opportunities for graduates.
It is a concern that student performance during internships is often compromised. Although the success of the internships is determined by the organisation, the academic institution, and the student, identifying what knowledge and skills the students have learned, gained, and achieved upon the completion of their workplace experiences is crucial in ensuring successful internships (Tse, 2010). The objectives of the study were:
(1) To examine the academic and internship performance of students in terms of employability skills, and
(2) To determine the significant relationship between the academic performance and the training performance of interns.
The main findings of this research were in line with the literature that analysed how internships were beneficial for students (Aarons, 2019; Gault, Leach, & Duey, 2010; Seyitoğlu & Yirik, 2015). The internship enabled the students to develop generic and specific skills, while gaining work experience. Gault, Leach, and Duey (2010) posited that the most desirable employability skills when hiring new graduates were:
Communication skills (oral presentations, proposal writing and written communication), academic skills (analytical skills, computer applications, creative thinking, information search and problem solving), leadership skills (leadership/teamwork and relationship building) and job acquisition skills (résumé writing, job interviewing and job networking) (p. 47).
The interns reflected on numerous opportunities in the internship manuals to develop their employment skills related to improving their own performance, communication, working with others, problem solving, and numeracy. These findings were significant because competencies were aligned with the concept of ‘workplace readiness’ for the tourism and hospitality industry. (Meuter, Bitner, Ostrom, & Brown, 2005).
All the interns reflected on their positive experiences and the challenges they faced during their internships. Consistent with the findings of previous studies (Gault, Leach, & Duey, 2010; Seyitoğlu & Yirik, 2015), communication, using ICTs, problem solving, teamwork, time management, leadership, having good judgement, taking the initiative, being adaptable, and assuming responsibility were some employability skills that have been extensively practised by the interns during their placement. The interns also faced many challenges which included their struggle with learning new knowledge, the changes required by them to adapt to new roles, taking on duties during the internship, negative attitudes from other work colleagues who did not have tertiary qualifications and poorly trained supervisors who had a negative impact on the internship experience (Seyitoğlu, 2019). The majority of internship supervisors stated that interns were an asset to their organisation, and ranked them medium to high on achieving employability skills, whilst acknowledging more learning and work exposure would increase their prospects of employment.
The qualitative data showed that student interns did not see their classroom learning as complementing their internships, but rather reinforced the additional learning of new skills and competencies. Studies have examined the performance of tourism and hospitality students, through internships. Blair and Millea (2004) evaluated the impact of internships on student grade point averages and found that work experience had a significant impact on the outcome. Petrillose and Montgomery’s (1998) exploratory study analysed the connections between curricula and internship practices and found many positive outcomes. International internships may prepare students better for their chosen career. Unfortunately, the cost of international internships has meant that STHM has only had two, one to China and the other to Singapore.
The findings also provided evidence that employability skills and competency developments prepared graduates to work in tourism and hospitality and other service industries. Workplace practicals have taken greater prominence in curricula (Blair & Millea, 2004). Baker, Caldicott, and Spowart’s (2011) case study of an Australian university found their students to be better equipped for the workplace and enhanced learning opportunities due to their curriculum design integrating workplace practices. Solnet, Kralj, Kay, and DeVeau (2009) examined the development of competencies of lodging students. Robinson, Ruhanen, and Breakey (2016) analysed the reflective journals of food and beverage students in Australia. Lau, Jones, Ng, and Shum (2012) studied the learning experiences of events management students. All these researchers have examined how practical learning has impacted student development in different vocations and shared the same conclusions.
The research findings also indicated that internships were benefical to the students’ knowledge, skill development, self-confidence, and motivation. Yiu & Law’s (2012) study had similar findings namely, that experiential learning encouraged deep learning for students. Moreover, Lee (2008) compared hospitality students’ perceptions of learning through assignments and internships. The findings revealed that the students developed a number of different skills which not only impacted their career expectations, but also their ability to adapt to change due to experiential learning in the workplace. Interestingly, course coordinators observed that on return for their last year of study, interns raised the level of discussion in tutorials by sharing their internship experiences with those students who undertook double majors and did not do the one year internship programme.
The main findings of this study were that an internship in the hospitality industry developed generic and specific tourism and hospitality management skills required in the workplace and also enhanced the students’ motivation, self-confidence and urge to persevere and learn more whether their experiences were negative or positive. The study illustrated and confirmed the benefits of internships in terms of nurturing students’ abilities. Furthermore, as discussed in Table 1, the five competencies of Employability Skills bridged the gap with formal learning at The University of the South Pacific and their one-year experience and prepared these students for employment in tourism hospitality and other service industries such as banking, retail, insurance and education.
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