Students pitch hotel recreation plans to executives

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – It’s not everyday that college students stand in front of corporate executives and pitch a detailed plan to improve an aspect of an already successful business.

However, Penn State students often have such real-world opportunities, including those enrolled in Resort Recreation Practicum in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management (RPTM).

Under the direction of Patty Kleban, senior instructor, students analyzed existing recreation programs and recommended new resort recreation programs for The Reeds at Shelter Haven in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. Students also identified potential recreation programs for a sister resort, The Riverhouse at the Odettes in New Hope, Pennsylvania, which is under development.

“This is about engaged learning opportunities. We can do a lot of teaching in the classroom, but getting students out and providing them with hands on experience key to supporting what they are learning.  It has personally and professionally rewarding to watch it click for these students,” Kleban said.

First, students stayed for three days and two nights at The Reeds where they met with executives and other staff members. Next, students conducted their own research, including a survey with past guests. Finally, students developed plans for new recreation programs specific to each hotel. In April, students presented their recommendations to the executive team.

Students pitched concepts to attract families, couples and wine and brewery enthusiasts and made recommendations for programs for both the high-season and off-season for the resorts. The proposal also included recommendations to further support guest interaction with nearby natural resources such as the beach in Stone Harbor and the Stone Harbor Bird Sanctuary.

At the Riverhouse, students recommended building on the established partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Students found that the partnership is key in the development of The Riverhouse because of the resort’s location adjacent to the Delaware River in the Delaware River State Park.

The students recommended directing guests to many of the existing outdoor programs offered by DCNR as a cost-effective way to tap into local experts in outdoor recreation programming and to support community neighbors.

Julie Yeager, director of sales and marketing at The Reeds at Shelter Haven, said the company will be using students’ research to enhance summer programing by offering vacationers a complete resort experience with activities and recreation that embraces the natural, local resources.

“We were all very impressed by the students' dedication, interest and professionalism during each phase of this practicum,” Yeager said. “It was wonderful to work alongside this talented group as they studied each property's distinct characteristics, demographics and locations to best determine the next steps in our programming and recreational growth. The recommendations they presented were well thought out, creative and targeted our guests’ needs while being mindful of our brand.”

Partnering with Penn State for this practicum was a mutually beneficial experience, said Ron Gorodesky, managing director and Penn State hospitality management alumnus.

“It was the perfect collaboration of seasoned professionals and aspiring hospitality and resort recreation talent,” he said. “It allowed for us to approach our programming needs from a completely new perspective while providing these students with real, in the field experiences at a destination hotel operation.”

Students presented their work to Gorodesky and Yeager; John Daily, general manager; Patrick Deeley, director of restaurants and catering; and Krista Ostrander, director of corporate sales.

For student Vanessa Delahanty, the experience allowed her to learn more about resort recreation through hands-on experience. Delahanty will be interning with The Reeds this summer.

“By working directly with The Reeds, I was able to expand my knowledge further than anything I could learn solely in a classroom,” she said. “This experience has prepared me for my internship by allowing me to be on-site and really get to know the property. I think this is such a great opportunity because most interns do not see the site in advance or are not nearly as familiar with the business before their first day. This experience has greatly increased my excitement about my upcoming internship.”

This is the second time Destiny Rodriguez has enrolled in the Resort Recreation Practicum. The first experience included Marriott Vacation Club in Orlando.

“Both experiences gave me hands on experience that you can't find sitting in a classroom,” she said. “Being able to look through customer surveys, map out the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of a successful business as well as hearing first hand issues and concerns of employees, was such a valuable learning experience. I came to Penn State knowing I wanted to major in RPTM, but it wasn't until this year, through participating in this course, that I fully understood my love and passion for the major.”

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Last Updated April 26, 2016