Zhuo Li (Catherine), Macao Institute for Tourism Studies
Alan Cheng, Macao Institute for Tourism Studies
Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM) utilizes a training hotel, the Pousada de Mong-Há (Pousada) to provide management and operational training to students who study hospitality related programs. This case study documents how teaching faculties and the hotel team work together to enhance students’ learning experience and practical understanding in hotel operations. The case study first examines the training model of the Pousada, followed with reflections and practical recommendations.
The Macao Institute for Tourism Studies (IFTM) was established in 1995 as a public tertiary institution in the Macao SAR, China. The Institute currently offers degree programs at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level in tourism and hospitality. These programs include a broad range of tourism and hospitality related disciplines such as hotel, tourism business, heritage, events, retail and marketing, and culinary arts management. In 2020, IFTM, a world-class tertiary institution specializing in tourism and hospitality education, was rated 1st in Macao, 2nd in Asia and 14th globally by QS World University Rankings in the category of Hospitality and Leisure Management. In addition, IFTM also ranks among the Top 50 worldwide in the 2020 Shanghai Rankings Global Ranking of Academic Subjects in Hospitality and Tourism Management. It is also the first higher education institution to pass the International Quality Review (IQR) from the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA).
IFTM has incorporated a practical component in all its hospitality programs so as to reinforce students’ learning of theoretical concepts by imparting more solid skills and knowledge to them. In doing so, it helps enrich their learning process. The Institute has achieved this goal by utilizing one of its training units, Pousada de Mong-Há (Pousada), to provide a real-world environment where students can gain relevant hospitality skills during their on-campus studies. The Pousada is located on the side of Colina de Mong-Há (a view of the facade of the Pousada is shown in Figure 1). It is operated and managed by a team of full-time staff of the Macao Institute for Tourism Studies. The training hotel contains 30 guestrooms and suites. There are superior rooms, premier rooms, deluxe rooms, accessible rooms and suites. The room-rates range from MOP700 to MOP1800 (US$90 to US$230). Leisure travelers are their primary target guests. The Pousada is located in the north end of Macao, some distance from the Cotai Strip, where large scale casino hotels and resorts are situated. Despite its limited scale, the Pousada provides a range of settings for student practice in front office and housekeeping operations.
Figure 1: Facade of Pousada de Mong Há
Practical learning has widely been used for decades as an effective learning and teaching methodology across a range of disciplines, including tourism and hospitality management studies, at most higher educational institutions. There is evidence indicating that hospitality students have benefited from practical learning in a number of aspects (Lee, 2007). These benefits include giving students a deeper understanding of the operations of hospitality organizations, as well as enabling them to reflect on their career expectations in a realistic setting. In terms of soft skills, after participating in practical programs, students find themselves more capable of adapting to change as well as having better leadership and financial management skills (Lee, 2007). In addition, a study of two management programs comprising practical learning elements showed that practical learning provided a platform for students to develop their management skills, as required in the contemporary business world (Gruman, Barrows, & Reavley, 2009; King & Tang, 2020). Therefore, the value and high importance of incorporating a practical component in a curriculum of most tertiary institutions is evident, provided that those practical components are well placed in the relevant curriculum.
This chapter presents the training model of the Pousada as a teaching hotel, with reflections on the advantages and disadvantages of this model. Recommendations are made for its future orientation as the leading iconic teaching hotel in Macao.
As illustrated in Figure 2, the main characteristic of the training model used by the Pousada is its ‘sequential manner’ whereby students are involved in the hotel during three of their four years of study. Students of the Hotel Program and Tourism Event Program receive relevant on-site training at the Pousada, throughout the first three years of their study. Part-time hotel helper opportunities are also offered to students throughout their four years of studies. The program combines both classroom and practical learning. In the classroom, students learn concepts and theories in relation to their program of studies. A number of hotel management related subjects are integrated with the Pousada to enhance students’ understanding of the elements taught. Students also have opportunities to learn skills and knowledge related to hotel operations through practicums, field trips, and practical projects as well as internship placements. The following section provides a detailed description of the Pousada’s role in providing practical training on subject integration and practical learning design.
First year of study
In their first year of study, students are required to complete two practicum courses, one in front desk theory and practice (Practicum I) and the other in housekeeping (Practicum II). The duration of these courses is normally seven weeks. After students have enrolled in the subjects, they need to attend two 1.5-hour theory classes per week. They also need to attend another seven-hour practical class per week where they will have opportunities to practice the procedures of taking room reservations, check-in, and check-out. Students practice through role-play with their peers as well as instructors. The primary learning objective is to give students a simulated front desk environment. During role-play, the instructor usually acts as the guest and the student as the front desk agent. Usually in the second last week of the practicum classes, the Pousada de Mong Há will invite students to their front office to both observe and practice front office operation related tasks with real hotel guests.
In terms of housekeeping practical training, the Year 1 subject Housekeeping Management Theory and Practice involves the Pousada as part of its practical training and course assessment. Students first have to learn housekeeping-related practical knowledge in a mock housekeeping room. After they have completed 12 hours of practical training there, they are required to work with a full-time housekeeping staff member in a Pousada’s guestroom to observe and practice how to clean and prepare a real guestroom. During these training sessions, students will be led by a full-time staff colleague to learn how to clean the room and bathroom as well as to prepare a guestroom by following an industry standard. Students will be assigned to complete a few housekeeping tasks during the session. Students are then required to work individually to complete a role play of a “supervisory room inspection assessment” of a cleaned guestroom. In this activity, they have to follow a specific room inspection checklist. Such an assessment requires students to demonstrate their understanding of the room cleaning procedure. The assessment accounts for 10% of the overall course grade. The benefit of involving the Pousada in the Housekeeping subject delivery is that students are exposed to a real hotel organization. The opportunity to work in a real guestroom can enhance students’ understanding of the operational challenges in a real business setting. The challenges derived from involving the Pousada in the course, however, can be related to lack of sufficient “guest-ready” rooms for students to complete their assessment, due to fluctuations in hotel occupancy. In addition, the scale of Pousada is relatively small, so the situations presented to the students might not fully reflect the real challenges that they may experience in the industry.
Second year of study
The subject of Supervised Work Experience (SWE) has involved the Pousada by including a problem-based group project in the form of presentation and project execution that together accounts for 20% of the total course assessment. Students have to act as a consultant and based on a specific project objective set by the hotel management to propose and organize a real event that addresses one of the management issues faced by the hotel. The hotel’s management team later sits in on students’ presentations to provide comments on their proposal. Upon approval of their proposal, students are required to host the event to assess the effectiveness of their proposal. In the past, students have worked on projects related to green awareness, travel service design and tourism souvenir development. In these projects, the Pousada serves as a real organization for students to learn how to formulate a strategy that addresses a real management issue, further providing students with a real business environment to help them reflect on their business proposals. Integrating the hotel in the subject assessment provides a valuable opportunity for students to learn how to develop a business strategy to address a real management issue, while also exposing them to other management aspects of hotel operations. More importantly, it provides opportunities for students to interact with guests and provides guests an opportunity to know more about our students.
Third year of study
In their third year of study, students start to fulfil their internship in either the first semester or second semester. Internship carries 6 credits. Hotel and event management students are required to look for an internship placement in relation to their programs. Third-year students are encouraged to look for their internship placements with large-scale hotel properties so as to have their horizons broadened. However, the Pousada is always readily available as an internship option. The Pousada normally provides 6-month internship placements in the Room Division department (Front Office and Housekeeping). Depending on students’ interests, they can also have the opportunity to observe or work at the Housekeeping or Food and Beverage departments.
Pousada’s student helper program
Students can also become paid part-time student helpers. All students in IFTM, in their first, second, third or final year of study, are encouraged to work and learn on a part-time basis at the Pousada as a student helper in preparation for a career in the lodging industry. Here, they learn the skills and knowledge needed to operate a hotel from experienced full-time staff of the Pousada. By working part-time on a regular basis, students typically can hone their front office operational skills more effectively because of the valuable opportunities of real-life practice. Students normally start off as student helpers, where the Pousada’s small scale allows them to be exposed to different roles within a hotel operation, including front office operations, concierge, housekeeping and room services. Students who have worked for more than 6 months can be promoted to qualified student helpers to handle supervisory level tasks. With all the experiences obtained from working for the Pousada, these students are usually highly valued by hotels after graduating from IFTM.
Benefits and Challenges of the Training Model
There are several benefits associated with the current training model adopted by the Pousada.
Firstly, the Pousada is a teaching hotel solely operated by IFTM. Hence, IFTM is independent in making decisions on the standard levels of the service, operation mode, and how students can be involved and integrated. Because students’ learning needs are considered top priority, courses can be integrated in the business activities of the Pousada. Faculty members are strongly encouraged to work closely with the Pousada so as to deliver their courses embedded with a practical component, ensuring students benefit from their courses to the fullest extent.
Secondly, since the Pousada is a teaching hotel fully dedicated to providing professional practical training, there is a consistency in the quality and level of hotel practical training offered. The Pousada is at all times working closely and collaborating with the faculty to explore all possibilities to provide support to the students. For example, in order to enable first year hotel program students to acquire an idea of front desk operations and guest services, during their front desk and housekeeping theory and practice course (Practicum I), students will be shown to the Pousada’s front desk and guestrooms to observe how their room division is run by its professional full-time staff as well as how professional guest services are delivered.
Thirdly, in comparison to other commercial hotels, the Pousada operates on a relatively smaller scale. However, training opportunities in its Front Office Department expose student helpers to varied aspects involved in hotel operations that are not normally available in larger properties. Therefore the practical experience they gain is not limited to front office operations itself.
Fourthly, management has placed strong emphasis on the hospitality management philosophy of service quality and customer care. The management team has nurtured a culture and strong sense of customer care among the full-time and part-time workers. The philosophy has contributed to the success of the training hotel. For example, the Pousada started to gain popularity among overseas visitors by being frequently mentioned favorably on Trip Advisor within the first several years of becoming a training hotel. It is currently named one the best hotels in Macao by the Telegraph, a famous British daily newspaper. Therefore, the philosophy of service quality has not only contributed to the growing popularity of the Pousada but also has become a motto for the students receiving hospitality training there. This philosophy has continued to be their core value for managing and improving the service quality of their property.
Whilst there are benefits associated with the training model, at the same time there are several challenges the Pousada is experiencing. The foremost is the current intense competition in the lodging industry. According to the Macao Government Tourist Office, there are currently around one hundred 3 to 5 star deluxe hotel properties in Macao. Because of this intense competition, this small Portuguese-style hotel with 30 guestrooms, has started to experience large fluctuations in occupancy rates. The current business model might also be attributed to its unstable business performance. Unlike other commercial hotels, profit making is not the primary concern of the Pousada because its prime mission is to provide professional hotel training opportunities to students. Thus, inconsistent levels of occupancy throughout the year might influence students’ overall learning experience. In terms of providing practical training opportunities, high occupancy rates play an important role in helping enhance and enrich the learning experience. For example, with more guests, students tend to have more guest interactions, enabling the students to learn more effectively through a real-life situation.
Class scheduling to include the practical component in a course for students is another challenge. With the current study load of most students, it is difficult for them to complete some of their practical learning activities in a normal semester, meaning some may need to complete these practical components during summer holidays. For example, in the second year of study, students have to complete a practical component of a course named Supervised Work Experience. This practical component requires students to work at least 20 hours in a hotel property under an assigned mentor or supervisor. If students decide to select the Pousada as their practical training site for this requirement, they can only complete this requirement in their summer holidays.
The third challenge for the Pousada is its small scale compared with other new hotel properties continually emerging in Macao. The Pousada is often recognized as a type of boutique accommodation; there are limited functional areas for offering guest services (i.e., housekeeping, front desk and food and beverage services). In this context, students’ exposure to a full range of hotel functions during their practical training is limited to an extent.
The final challenge may be that as an independent hotel, the Pousada does not operate within a business network as other chain hotels do. Its independent operational model might limit the development and formulation of its marketing and branding strategies. Although the Pousada is an independent hotel, it may consider operating in partnership with other properties with similar business values on the assumption that it can operate in this manner with its current framework as a government-owned hotel property.
The Pousada de Mong Há, the sole government-funded teaching hotel in Macao, serves to provide relevant training to its hospitality students. An introduction to this teaching hotel was provided. Then its training model was described. The main characteristics of its training model were reflected upon, with a discussion of the main advantages of the model and challenges it faces.
The Pousada plays an important role in preparing the students in many aspects for their career upon graduation. However, given the existing scale of the hotel, the integration of hotel operations in the students’ practical learning process is limited. The Pousada may consider the following (recommendations) to continue to be the iconic teaching hotel in Macao:
Firstly, the Pousada may embrace a higher level of participation in delivering practical courses to students. For example, it may contemplate working with the broader faculty. At this stage, there are only two course units that incorporate the practical component provided by the Pousada. However, IFTM faculty may review all their current course units to seek out the possibilities of whether more course units of all their programs could include a relevant practical component or activity with the support of a teaching hotel, dependent upon the current capacity of the Pousada. In this way in the future, the Pousada can continue to pursue its mission and vision, while aligning itself more closely to modern-day common practice at tertiary institutions around the world, namely, offering practical elements across a wide range of disciplines.
Moreover, the Pousada may become a teaching hotel where research relevant to tourism and hospitality can also be undertaken so as to inform IFTM as well as the tourism and hospitality sector for continuous improvement purposes. For example, certain business units of the teaching hotel may be selected as a unit of analysis for research purposes so that the results generated may inform the current policies and practice of the teaching hotel.
Secondly, the Pousada, given its existing operating scale may consider expanding to include more functional areas in its establishment. These functions may include those that provide guest services in relation to spa, conventions, and Food and Beverage outlets of a wider variety of cuisine, as well as different retail outlets for leisure and family guests. Its Concierge Department may also consider providing a wide range of personalized services to guests. These personalized services might include organizing local tours to explore the local neighborhood where the Pousada is situated.
If the Pousada can realize the above ideas, it may be able to position itself as a teaching-cum-research hotel. The Pousada can also parallel other larger properties currently emerging in Macao, most notably in the aspect of hotel facilities.
Acknowledge: The authors would like to thank Dr. Helena Lo, Ms. Gloria Wong, Ms. Ivy Un, and Mr. Ryan Wai for sharing their valuable insights about Pousada de Mong-Há.
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