LGCC program training next generation of hospitality professionals
BY SHANE MILLER
Last month’s grand opening of the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport was the most anticipated hotel opening in the borough in decades, but Queens is adding new hotel rooms at a fast pace. Today, there’s over 100 hotels in the borough, according to Professor James Giordano.
“Long island City is booming and the airport hotels are doing well,” he told This Is Queensborough during a break from one of his classes. “It’s a major contributor to the borough’s economy in terms of taxes and employment opportunities.”
For 25 years, Giordano has been a professor in LaGuardia Community College’s two-year Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Management program, where he trains the next generation of hospitality professionals.
“It traditionally was strong on the travel agency side,” Giordano said of the program’s focus. “But as that business changed, the hospitality and hotel management side became the primary motivation for students to enter the program.”
Giordano said after graduation students either go straight into the hospitality industry or pursue a four-year degree in the field, with many going to City Tech, the only CUNY school with a four-year hospitality program. Some do both.
“The students really focus on their careers,” he said. “They’re not sure exactly how they fit in, but they know they want to enter this career and that motivates them.”
That includes students like Emily Hayden. The second-year student first developed an interest in the field working a front-desk job at a Midtown hotel. She currently works at Public Hotel in the Lower East Side, and hopes to pursue a career in sales management.
“Working at the hotel made me want to get into the field further, and I decided to go back to school and make it my major,” she said.
Students are also required to complete an internship, which often leads to a full-or part-time position. Second-year student Kristina DeSena is interested in events planning and is currently interning with Four Seasons Event Planning in Whitestone.
“My internship has been a good experience because it’s a smaller company and they’re new, so I’m getting to do a lot with them,” she said. “I’m also taking the Travel, Tourism and Hospitality Marketing class, and I’m learning skills that I can use in any field.
“One thing that I noticed is that the field is definitely growing both here in the city and around the world,” Hayden added. “The program is great at LaGuardia and I’d love to see it grow even further.”
Students learn everything from hotel and front office management, marketing for tourism, the technology and software used in various sectors of the industry, and convention and event management. A group of Giordano’s students were able to experience the latter firsthand when they visited the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s annual Business Expo at Citi Field in May.
They also learn what motivates people to travel.
“They learn about different parts of the world and countries and what attracts tourists, weather it’s weather, culture, natural environment, or the food,” said Giordano.
First-year student Stacy Mendoza, who has been working in the industry in various roles since she was 14 years old, said her class has discussed ways the travel and tourism industry is changing. One surprising influence is climate change.
“Some places that are usually cold may have milder temperatures and places that are normally warm are colder, so it affects where people choose to travel,” she said.
Giordano said the program stresses customer service. Good people skills, he said, is the most important trait employers in the hospitality industry are looking for.
“It’s something we try to teach, but it’s a challenge of course,” the professor said. “Especially with technology, everyone wants to go online and text and email. In the program, we put an emphasis on presentation skills, so in every class they have to complete a presentation to overcome that anxiety of speaking to a group or strangers.
“It helps chisel away at their reluctance,” Giordano added. “It’s like a muscle, you have to exercise it to build it up. Typically, by the time they graduate they have more confidence.”
With two major airports, over 100 hotels, and the focus on attracting tourists to visit restaurants and cultural attractions in the outer boroughs, graduates from the program have plenty of opportunities.
“The industry is growing at a rate of 6 percent a year in New York City, more than double the rest of the country,” said Giordano. “But so many of the skills they are learning here are transferrable to just about any field.”
Jen Khedaroo contributed reporting to this article.