Chapter 7: Establishing an In-house Hotel Training Centre in a University: A case of an international college hotel training centre in Thailand
Nate-tra Dhevabanchachai and Kaewta Muangasame
Nate-tra Dhevabanchachai, Mahidol University International College
Kaewta Muangasame, Mahidol University International College
This chapter addresses the development and management processes of in-house hotel training centres by using the case of Salaya Pavilion Hotel and Training Centre, Mahidol University International College, Bangkok, Thailand. Once the desired infrastructure was built, relevant planning and development needed to be addressed for the human resources to carry the roles of a hotelier and a trainer, linking to an educational programme, and how the operation and training function together are determined. The case describes how students are introduced into the training programme and the issues involved in ensuring consistency if delivery of the programme from an HR perspective. The pros and cons of in-house training centres in universities are explored.
Keywords: hotel training centre, hotel training centre in a university, hotel and training, Tourism and hospitality management program, Thailand
This case study examines the process developed by the Salaya Pavilion Hotel and Training Centre (SPH) at Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand, to ensure students gain a quality internship experience during their early years of study. In particular it focusses on the need to develop proper job descriptions, establish clear organisational goals and develop standard operational procedures to ensure students gain the most from their internship. The authors also discuss the challenge of trying to be primarily a hotel training centre, but with the added bonus of being a commercially viable property.
The Salaya Pavilion Hotel and Training Centre was established in 1999. It aims to assist in student internship for a tourism and hospitality management (THM) programme and to cater the public in terms of a general hotel service. It is located in the sixth to eight floors of the study building within the Mahidol University International College, Thailand. The infrastructure has a 3- to 4-star market position and offers 43 rooms of six different types, food and beverage (F&B) service areas, two F&B outlets and five banqueting rooms. A total of 58 associates comprise the management team and staff. The associates carry dual roles of hotelier and trainer. The general manager is one of the faculty members of the THM programme. SPH is managed under the college, while a board committee approves important matters. The board committee is composed of a dean, associate deans, THM faculty members and a general manager. Guests are a mix of local and international visitors, including the university’s lecturers and students who account for approximately 60% of the clientele. Thus, the purpose of most guests in utilising the hotel services is related to academic activities, such as meetings, training activities and academic events. Non-academic activities include weddings and parties. About 15,000 in-house guests, 18,000 banqueting guests and 900 local and international site visitors use the facility each year. Annual occupancy is about 55%. The average room rate is 1,100 Baht (about US$40) per night and approximately 150 Baht (US$5) for F&B per guest. From 2009 to 2020, the annual revenue rose from 10 million Baht (US$330,000) to 27 million Baht (about US$900,000).
The vision set in 1999 was that SPH would be well recognised as an excellent training centre in the hospitality industry in Southeast Asia. The mission is to equip students with knowledge, skills and abilities to meet the requirements of the international hospitality industry. The philosophies of the training centre are as follows: 1) the centre should be operated by professional trainers and associates who are deeply service-minded and dedicated to satisfying customer needs in any environment; 2) every staff member should be involved in the development and implementation processes of long- and short-term plans to achieve set objectives; 3) the team should communicate effectively for the understanding and achievement of all goals. The organisational goals are clearly geared towards being a training centre. However, the operation has evolved gradually to become a commercial hotel and training centre.
Deale et al. (2010) found that the most effective learning approach for students is a combination of theory and practice, which also provides students with a significant hands-on opportunity. Students’ experience in actual operation with real problems and challenges, is a valuable learning aspect for them. Students’ comments and a satisfaction survey have proven the effectiveness of being trained under a real situation with real guests, which is called on-the-job training mix with some lecture, rather than a pure lecture-based training or unreal/make-up situations.
Students complete two internships during their programme. Internship 1 is conducted at SPH, while Internship 2 is completed outside in a real organisation in the last term before graduation. Internship 1 involves three batches of students with each group working for three months. Approximately 30–40 interns comprise a batch. Students earn 12 credits after the completion. To be eligible, students must earn at least 80 lecture credits, which means they are relatively junior. Interns are divided into four groups with each group rotating within four operational departments, namely, front office, housekeeping, F&B and kitchen departments, every 3 weeks. The internship and hotel operation are systematically scheduled and merged; 70% is on-the-job training, and 30% is lecture-based training. In terms of hotel associates, approximately 85% or 50 out of 58 persons are directly involved in intern training. Therefore, the guests are often cared by staff and interns within the real service time. With the full scale of 10 for each satisfaction rating, the annual average result of guest, staff and intern are 9, 8.3 and 8.5 respectively.
Many universities in Thailand that offer tourism or/and hospitality management programmes have their own in-house training centres to serve their students’ internship needs. Examples include the DPU Palace Hotel of Dhurakij Pundit University, Vatel Restaurant of Silpakorn University, Ruankham Apartment of Mae Fah Laung University and Suan Sunandha Palace Hotel of Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University. Therefore, in most places, an important element of a quality curriculum is practical training, internship or experiential learning opportunity. Experiential learning can be referred to as a wide range of programmes, such as internships, practicums and cooperative education tasks, in which students have a chance to apply what they have learnt from academic classes in a job context (Lee, 2007). A hotel integration project or/and hotel training centre could be regarded as a form of experiential learning (Pang et al., 2013). An effective programme in a university setting is an ideal in-house facility for many institutions. The concept of an in-house training centre in a university acts as an internal training property for students with real guests. Pavesic (1993) emphasised that students learn by integrating theories and practices into real-life situations. Pang et al. (2013) indicated the benefits of such centres, such as: 1) students can learn from real-life experiences; 2) academic staff/researchers can utilise the property for further study; 3) students can test and apply their fresh and innovative ideas to the centre; 4) associates are encouraged to keep themselves up-to-date with the industry. However, managing and developing a training centre that serves the study programme in a university involve many parties, such as a management team, lecturers, students and hotel staff or even customers; they require strong competencies and human resource (HR) management (Pang et al., 2013).
The main goal of SPH is to be a hotel training centre that helps THM’s students develop their knowledge, skills and attitudes in the hospitality industry. A good Human Resources (HR) management system is therefore imperative for effective operation and management. First, a responsible management team must establish clear vision and mission of being both a training centre and a hotel. Second, the training must mirror actual hotel operations as much as possible. As such, it is critical to establish clear job descriptions, and organisational chart and relevant standard operating procedures for both students and associates.
To begin, formal, relevant job descriptions and specifications need to be developed based on the hotel’s goals. This step is essential for effective recruitment and selection to hire the right person for the right job for the right company. The candidates/hired associates must understand their dual roles as a service provider and a trainer. Thus, service operation and training experiences are advantageous. Subsequently, the right strategies for associates in training and development, a fair performance management system, reasonable compensation and innovative strategies in the motivation aspect should be solidly systemised for associate retention.
Then an organisational chart, similar to a real hotel organisational chart, should be well established from the position of the general manager to the positions of department heads and operational team members. This is another significant aspect in which students will learn and integrate themselves quickly into real service operation teams and systems. The students are part of the professional team members in the organisational chart of each department. They must be informed about their job position and descriptions in each working area from the first day. Accordingly, hotel and departmental orientations must be provided for students, just as if they were new, permanent associates.
To link the hotel and the THM programme efficiently, the general manager can be one of the faculty members who can help systemise work standardisation, service guideline leading, excellent training for students and all management-monitoring processes to produce a quality internship for the THM’s curriculum as a whole. Thus, the general manager manages the property just like managing a hotel by involving the student interns in the normal operations in each department. The interns report directly to trainer(s) and department heads and all work standards and procedures are to be communicated and trained so that the operation is as smooth as possible. The teaching team must be trained and led as if they are working in a real hotel to have the right setting and environment for delivering the work and service cultures to interns at all time. The working style and command line must be professionally operated and respected like in a real organisation/hotel setting. This method is the fastest way to integrate interns into a real operations and for them to adjust themselves effectively and understand the real work context within only three weeks in each department.
The creation of standard operating procedures (SOP) is the next imperative key element for effective training for managing student internship and, hence, must be in place for service and work standardisation. The SOP must be aligned with the work infrastructure, departments, products and services and facilities of the hotel as a base, yet it has to have a good foundation of standardisation. It must be used for students’ training throughout the 3-month internship such that the students are cultivated with a solid foundation of work standards. The SPH’s training strategy is 70–30; 70% is on the job training, and 30% is lecture-based training. The 30% is the process in which trainers prepare interns to understand work and service standards and operational guidelines from SOPs and additional lectures on certain knowledge, skill and attitudes. The remaining 70% is a hands-on operation with real guests, in which the interns are encouraged to handle real situations. Therefore, the teaching team must be trained and guided on SOP writing; importantly, the team must be prepared on the training programme such that they are equipped with training competencies to deliver and train interns on solid work and service standardisation.
The process begins by welcoming students with a hotel orientation, and then dividing them into four groups and sending each group to a different department. A departmental orientation is provided on the first day in each respective department, in which the interns are briefed on the role of the department, the organisational chart of the department, job description, important work procedures, certain rules and regulations, necessary information and their work roster. The first week is focused on SOP guidelines to understand work policy, service standards and all procedures with some opportunities to deal with guests together with the trainers. The second week allows students to be more involved in a real operation, in which trainers and students handle and deal with guests. Trainers are not involved in the third week. The last two days is the examination time on the knowledge and skills manned by the trainers. Attitude, professionalism and teamwork aspects are observed by the trainers from the first day. Students are evaluated in five aspects: knowledge, skills, attitude, professionalism and team work. In addition, THM’s lecturers who teach academic subjects are scheduled to test their services. At times, lecturers need to use their services due to certain activities. The feedback from lecturers and guests is counted for feedback-giving sessions. The last key performance indicator is for the entire batch to arrange a theme night, in which the students do all the event planning, from theme and concept creation to decoration, menu creation, service sequence design, room and venue setup, marketing and PR and selling tickets. This theme event enables students to combine all their knowledge and skills to demonstrate their competencies.
Last but not least, to keep the training or internship lively and effective, the hotel’s sales and marketing team does marketing in a traditional way and digital marketing similar to other hotels to keep the real business going. Real guests are real teachers for students and trainers, which is the reason why an effective centre should be operated with real customers, providing actual experiences for students. This condition strongly helps students broaden their knowledge, and innovative ideas could be explored when situations are dealt in reality. Moreover, all aspects of evaluation must be conducted by guests, staff team and interns. This process can help the HTC’s team review the strengths and weaknesses of their operation and training aspects to improve and adjust the strategies and standards for enhancing the HTC further.
Reflection and recommendations
The case of SPH certainly has interesting points to be learnt from. This reflective discussion covers the period of 2009 to 2020. Three main thoughts are discussed. Firstly, the business goals should be readjusted in accordance with the change in the college’s management team such that the centre team can commit in the right direction. The original goal of SPH is to be a training centre. Nevertheless, over time, different management teams have diverse business mind-sets on hospitality education. This difference should be clarified through redefining relevant goals. The financial objective/model can be reshaped accordingly. SPH is not a profitable organisation, although the revenue is increasing each year and has finally covered all operational costs, except payroll. This financial improvement is still unsatisfying as a whole, which has affected the motivation of the centre’s team, whilst the dual roles in service and training responsibility are highly challenging. The payroll staff is an unresolved issue that has been discussed year after year. Whether the centre is a profit centre or supporting unit at times should be re-clarified with a business legal advice. Therefore, the first important reflective point is a clear relevant business goal because it is significant to the work direction of the team.
Secondly, the innovative direction could be reconsidered given the great opportunity to serve the public in many aspects due to the complete team of HR and their competencies and the infrastructure, such as disability training, elderly service or training, children camp and normal training curriculum for public. This centre is to serve not only the domestic market but also the regional or even international groups. This centre is only one in Thailand that is equipped with four operational departments which are the compulsory training curriculum for students who enrol in tourism and hospitality management programs, and certain reputation has been built along, given that it has been operating for over 20 years and highly active in the past 11 years. The asset of the team’s competencies should also be considered, including the good condition of the property. The second reflective viewpoint is hence a feasibility study on expanding or altering the business strategies and/or training services from the existing assets, from HR competencies to building aspects.
The last thought is the financial model of the centre. The financial aspect, especially the payroll, should be considered from the responsibility of the HR. If the centre’s vision is to capture business and training opportunities simultaneously, the payroll of the team should initially be divided into two parts in accordance with the dual roles of the team. A person who is expert in providing services might not have the training ability. Therefore, if the organisational vision is to play two roles, the payroll should be relevantly designed; 50% of the payroll is counted in the centre’s profit and loss sheet, and the other 50% should be allocated as academic payroll. In quality education, nothing is cheap, but it can be made surviving for the quality learning of students. Thus, a financial model should be carefully established.
An effective and quality hotel training centre tries to balance two factors: 1) sustainable profit and 2) quality learning of a group of people. The best format is achieved when the centre has made a good profit with great evaluations from guests, staff and students. Therefore, the management team should start right from the vision setting, which results in a relevant direction in the operation and financial management together with a well-aligned strategy for HR management.
What the society obtains from a quality hotel training centre are quality graduates with a strong foundation of being a hotelier/service provider. Here, students are learning not only about the technical skills of hotel and service operation but also about countless life skills because they are trained in real-life situations. Many nontechnical skills that could not be learnt anywhere during the university life could be learnt via internship. Students enjoy learning whilst dealing with strangers in a safe zone. In the meantime, guests are filled with enjoyment being served and cared by future leaders, namely, the students, and they are always willing to guide and give feedback. Importantly, guests often realise that they become a natural teacher when they use the services and they are proud of it. The last asset that the hotel training centre is creating for the society is a set of competent working team providing service and training students. They are continuously learning from training students batch by batch, servicing each of the guests and improving systems from various evaluations. Having a working group of staff who are competent in service excellence and training effectiveness is difficult to achieve. The centre provides the opportunity to produce quality graduates, proud guests and highly competent HR teams. Having in-house training has a few plus-points, but the constraint is balancing profit and quality training. Thus, any university that wishes to have an effective hotel training centre to realise a quality in-house internship for a study programme can certainly learn some strategies from this case.
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