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The Happiness Measurement: How Hospitality Defines, Evolves Success at FAU

Dr. Peter Ricci, Florida Atlantic University - Steppingblocks

Season 2  |  Episode 1  |  Dr. Peter Ricci, Florida Atlantic University

Dr. Peter Ricci, Director of Hospitality and Tourism at Florida Atlantic University, measures the success of his students by asking: Where do you land and are you happy? He talks about the evolution of hospitality and the strength of the industry to adapt and survive.

Learn how FAU is breaking ground for a sustainable future in an unstable industry shaken by a global pandemic.

TRANSCRIPT

[0:06] ERIN KING

More people than ever are questioning the value of higher education. We're here to explore why they're right, why they're wrong and which institutions are rising to the challenge. I'm here with our Analytics Consultant, Dr. Jacob Bonne, and we're here today to discuss the outlook for an industry that's been crushed by COVID.

Dr. Bonne, can you introduce our guest?

[00:26] DR. JACOB BONNE

Yeah, I'm really excited to be here today with Dr. Peter Ricci, who's the Director of Hospitality and Tourism at Florida Atlantic University. Dr. Ricci is a hospitality veteran with 20 years of experience in segments including food service, lodging, incentive travel and destination marketing.

While filling the role of Hotel General Manager for almost a decade, Dr. Ricci served as an educator, but before entering academia full time as both an Associate Professor and Administrator. Thank you for joining us, Dr. Ricci.

Listen to this episode on Spotify!

[00:56] DR. PETER RICCI

Great. Thank you guys so much. What a great topic for a podcast for me outside of my normal hospitality stuff for peripheral, because hospitality education is going through a dramatic change right now because of COVID; and it's great to talk to you guys about what's going on and what our hopes are for what's ahead.

[01:18] BONNE

Absolutely. We've certainly been engaged in a variety of conversations around the impact of the pandemic on a variety of industries. And as I mentioned, as we were getting started, I live in Orlando and so certainly see that every day.

But we'd love to get started by hearing a little bit about how you're defining student success for your hospitality and tourism students, especially in light of everything that's happened in the last, now, almost two years.

[01:46] RICCI

Well, for me the hospitality industry has never in its history predicated that you have a college degree to go anywhere. You know, you don't even need a high school degree. Hard work and determination have always been what have made successes in this industry, and we're known for producing the world's top millionaire/billionaire entrepreneurs, whether they be airlines, hotels, travel companies, Hiltons, Marriotts, you name it, Disneys, they're all there.

So as I grew up, a bachelor's degree slowly became the preference for the managerial roles and more and more jobs from the 80s and 90s and early 2000s started predicating that the bachelor's degree was required or highly recommended, or if you didn't have it, you needed ten years of experience.

And then I noticed in the middle 2000s a flurry of senior managers coming to me who already had 20 years experience, and their companies were sending them back to school to finish their bachelor's or start it if they haven't started and complete it.

And then came COVID.

And right before COVID was a huge surge in micro-credentialing, and people really in the tech world were ahead of everybody else by having more of them available. So I think as we emerge from this, your focus credentials alongside the formal education are the way to go.

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Having said that, to answer your question, the way I've always determined success is where the students wind up in the hospitality world, or in the business world in general, and how fast they rise to positions of leadership, if that was their goal. If that wasn't their goal, then how happy they are with the overall industry.

I fell into teaching in a very strange way. I graduated, right after my bachelor's I went to law school for a semester and hated it, so I wound up doing my master's instead in recreation, parks and tourism. And actually, it's called Recreational Studies.

When I got a job in destination marketing, there was a local school in South Florida. Nova University (now it's called Nova Southeastern) that was looking for a part-time teacher, which they call adjunct, and I was the only one at the Destination Marketing Organization, the DMO, at that time that had a graduate degree. So I kind of fell into teaching as a part-time love, and I did it probably for 10 or 15 years before I ever went for my doctorate.

So I've always measured my students in their success by how happy they are in life and if they got the positions they wanted in our business and if we were teaching what they needed to get ahead. So it's kind of my thing. It's where do you land and are you happy? And it's a kind of a happiness, job satisfaction, anecdotal measurement.

[05:02] BONNE

I think that's such a great measurement, especially for an industry that's so focused on ensuring that everyone is having a great, positive experience, like that's the most hospitality measure I've ever heard I think, to think about it in terms of job satisfaction. And that's a really cool way to think about that.

[05:21] RICCI

Well, our industry evolves and changes every decade, so in the 80s, when I was a high school kid and college kid, it was all based (the general managers rarely came out of their office) it was based on wine knowledge and food knowledge and global etiquette and formal dress. And that's how you succeeded. You were a leader who dictated and got things done through etiquette and service.

And then the 90s was more of a shift to, can we get things with this new thing called the internet and technology, and can we still provide personal service with some technology? Then the 2000s, after 9/11 and through the recession, technology was even a bigger part, and metrics became a part, and so did corporate-owned publicly traded companies and stock trades. So it became less of service and more of, were you a GM who could be good at laws and HR and metrics and profit and this and that.

So over time, and you see it in my career, I switched from a traditional hospitality teaching environment to a business school environment, because today's future leaders really need a business education more than they did in the 80s and 90s; because the leaders are measured by stock value, by efficiencies, by metrics, by Excel spreadsheets and all those kinds of tools which were not necessary in the early days of hospitality.

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You opened a shop, you hung your name, you cooked good food, you developed the following, and that's still an inherent ingredient, pun intended. But it's so business-oriented now that if you can't read a profit and loss statement, and you can't speak to the ownership groups, you'll never get a loan to start the business to begin with and you won't stay profitable. So it's a different business than it was in 2000, and it's a very different business than it was in 1990, 1980, and it will be something else in 2030.

So how I evaluate the students' success is still on how they're doing in their job and are they happy, but the ingredients in the courses and the curriculum needs to change every decade, at least, if not every year being reflected upon.

[07:51] BONNE

Very good point, and I think you mentioned the micro-credentialing. I'd love to dive into that topic a little bit. Many of the things you just mentioned were a part of the micro-credentialing that you all put together at FAU. Actually, the way we connected is that a year ago, at the onset of the pandemic, I participated in that not knowing where I was headed, on the other side of everything that had happened.

I think we saw a number published: 66,000 folks have participated in that.

[08:22] RICCI

Yeah, we're somewhere upwards of 66,000 or 67,000 that completed, and I think about 85,000 started it. We're getting ready for another one this coming year.

We've always had a for-credit certificate, the noncredit executive certificate we also had, but it was small, 50 or 100 people. It was face to face. This just gave me the opportunity to talk to leaders in the industry about what they felt were important areas, and our themes emerged of laws, sustainability, guest service, marketing, finance. Those themes prevailed in conversations. And then we just shook out some very basic tools.

I mean, you won't come out of this with a college degree. You'll come out with some basic fresh learning on what's going on now and things that are relevant and important now. And that's my focus going forward, is to update the certificate every two years and keep whatever popular themes are there, but add some new content every time we do it.

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But in hospitality we've had certifications. I mean, I compete with a friend. I went to grad school with to get a new certification every year and outdo each other. So I do them kind of for fun, but it helps me look at other parts of the industry that stay fresh. I have a digital marketing one. I have a revenue management one. I have a hotel one.

So if you demonstrated to me when I was a hotel GM that you had the personality, you might not have had the money or the time to get a college degree, but you did a certification in hotel analytics, maybe you did something in reservations call training, then I knew that you were doing something a little above and beyond to get into the workplace and prove yourself. And I considered that very positive, and I considered it very useful.

I think some of the younger students I teach today feel that they can do a one-month certificate and then compete as effectively with someone who has a bachelor's or an MBA, and they're different skill sets. To me, the bachelor's proves you were able to stick to a big goal, manage your time, manage your resources, manage your patience and get a little bit of a broad learning. You're also going to need the experience at work, because you've had a broad textbook internship kind of learning.

So they're all different pieces. The credentialing, I think is fantastic, because if I knew that I wanted to do website design, and that's all I want to do, I may not need a full bachelor's degree. I may need as many tools as I can to be proficient in website design.

So the conversations are emerging. I think the HR leaders are starting to look at things differently in terms of their acceptance level of credentials. You need to do also the due diligence of who gave the credential. How intense was it? Are the answers all over the internet where anybody can complete it? I mean, there's certain criteria that I think are important to justify what makes a good resume and what builds one's credentials.

I don't know where the future is on that, but I can tell you that most of the large companies, I don't see them shying away from a bachelor's degree. But I see them referencing people who have a bachelor's and credentials in their area of expertise.

It's very hard for me right now, because I teach students and interact with MBAs that are going to all different pieces of the business. Some are going to theme parks, Some are going to casinos. Some are going to cruise lines. So for me, I take a potpourri look at certifications just to stay fresh in multiple areas. But if I were you, I'd do everything in analytics, or I would do everything in education analytics or whatever you can gobble up that will just make you have a broader viewpoint of the world.

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[12:40] KING

I want to talk about COVID's impact on the hospitality industry a little bit more. So FAU has a business podcast called "What's Happening?" You were a guest on that podcast, and you talk about hospitality's workforce problem and the qualitative and quantitative results from a survey that was sent out to hospitality and tourism workers in the wake of COVID-19. So can you share some of those findings as they relate to the state of the industry as a whole?

[13:05] RICCI

Sure. The fortunate outcome was that I have friends and colleagues now from 170 countries and territories because of the certificate. We have interacted with people of every level from CEO to just started yesterday to Jacob, who was considering it temporarily or whatever the case may be. That was fortunate.

When we did our survey, we sent it to about 50,000 people. We had about a 10 percent response rate, which wasn't bad. I was hoping for a little more because of our following per se, but it was sufficient. What was a little bit distorted was that we had an over response in college graduate people in the survey.

So I preface that by the answers. But the overall impact of people who worked in the industry for a considerable amount of time was that COVID impacted them in some positive ways and some negative ways. When it came to the industry itself they felt betrayed, because their jobs were terminated or furloughed or removed from them rather quickly with very little transparent conversation.

And it's because of the chaos level going on in the C-suite at that time, with all the businesses closed and people not knowing what to do next. I mean, even our society didn't know what to do next. The government didn't know. Education didn't know.

But these individuals were caregiving types of people. Hospitality historically requires lots of hours per week. We're open 24/7, 365. So these people had given their lives to taking care of others, and then basically had the rug pulled out from under them. Most hospitality workers work so much that they felt like they lost their other families or their real families in many cases.

So there was a sense of betrayal and that the industry didn't come through for them at a time of crisis where those who were left working were working even more than they normally did under very difficult situations, with masks, with extra cleaning and so on and so forth. So this started to create an exodus of people from the industry looking for jobs that had fewer hours, more work life balance and better pay. Pay came up considerably throughout the survey.

And what's happened is it's going like COVID is through society. It's in waves. The first wave of 20,000 people, they were happy to be off work and optimistic that they'd be back in a month. The second wave were concerned about running out of PTO and concerned about how long COVID was taking, but still optimistic. The third, fourth, fifth waves were better, and the more recent waves are more optimistic and back to work.

So if you step back. The survey indicated that as an industry, we probably need to pay better in the entry phases, have additional measures for work-life balance, so we don't get so tilted to workaholism, and reinforce the message that we are the world's most fun business to work in. I mean, I've been in it since a kid. I can't see working a desk job. I come to my desk once or twice a week, the rest up on foot. I'm in hotels. I'm visiting casinos. I'm talking to cruise line execs. I'm with Expedia people.

I mean, we're a fun, vibrant business. But we did tilt in the 90s and early 2000s more towards profit of a focus than our staff, and the staff were already burned out going into COVID. So they sent a loud and clear message that the industry needs to change if you want us back, and yes, we know it's a fun place to work, but we just want some better work-life balance and some better pay.

I think the industry is responding. I've been a part of the conversation whenever I can. Entry-level wages have risen considerably for our students. I post jobs myself every day, all day, every week, and those entry-level jobs are paying much better.

So the voice was: We felt betrayed. Do something about it. Now, we're at the point of the conversation where, what is the industry going to do and how are we going to get there? Because let me tell you, parts of the United States and parts of the world are super busy right now, with the pent up demand from COVID, not everywhere, but here in Florida we are super busy already; and we expect an incredible surge for the holiday season and then into 2022, an incredible season. So we need the staff and we need happy staff that want to be here.

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[18:29] KING

So let's keep this positive momentum going in the conversation, and I want to mention the fact that you were named the 2021 South Florida Tourism Professional of the Year and you also had a scholarship announced in your name.

In the midst of all of these crazy times and COVID for hospitality and tourism, your programs appear to continue to shine. So what do you attribute to the success?

[18:55] RICCI

My faculty, I get super embarrassed with anything that relates to an award, I'm sorry. But I've been in South Florida since I was 14. I always tease my friends and say, you know, I'm 56. When you get old, you just start to collect awards. But it's more about the lifelong passion I have to help people succeed in this business, and I'm very impressed with the conversation that you don't need a bachelor's degree or an MBA.

There's a period I had growing up through the ranks with some people telling me, you must get an MBA. You know you want to go into business, you need an MBA. My parents had a sixth grade education, and that's all they had. And they became successful in their own right. Some of the world's top millionaires have no formal education beyond elementary school, so it's really the education that works for you.

Yes, I work in higher ed. Yes, I think a bachelor's is a great foundation for the business school. But those awards come from me finding these jobs for students. For 15 years later them calling me when they get their first general manager job. For always being an advocate for our industry. I will never stop fighting for this industry.

I think it's a fantastic place to work. It's great for a teenager who wants a part-time job. It's great for a retiree who wants a part-time job. It's great for a college-educated lawyer to have a full time job. You can be a doctor and work on a cruise ship.

I mean, every angle of our business has something. It's architecture. It's IT. It's customer service. It's finance. It's marketing. It's operations. It's everything. Yet it adds that fun little twist.

So the South Florida award, probably because we had so many people in the certificate from Florida that it was, like I said, I'm getting older. It's just my time to pass that thing. But the best part was, it was exactly 30 years since I had taught at an Academy of Hospitality and Tourism High School part-time, and it was the 30th year of the award. So it really had a special place in my heart for that one.

Plus on and off, I've lived here my entire life since the age of 12, and tourism is Florida's number one private employer; and if you've come to Miami-Dade or Greater Fort Lauderdale or the Palm Beaches, tourism is our lifeblood, just like Orlando, where Jacob is. It's just a different style of tourism. Here we're more beach and we're more cruise line and casino and things like that. Orlando shines on the theme park side and the attraction side. But the state in general is just a tourism powerhouse, and that's what I've grown up with.

And the scholarship. Yes, we just raised another $2,000 for it. Every year our goal is to give it to someone, and I love that because that will be a legacy long after I'm gone. And that's the thing I like. I want young people now to get in this business that will remember me when they're 56, and I'm not around anymore because I still think it's the best place to work.

[22:13] BONNE

You've touched on this a little bit in a couple of answers, but I'd love to just hear more wins. I think we've talked so much as a society about all the challenges that folks have experienced, but I'd love to hear if you've got any more stories you can share about the successes of your students, whether that be from the certificates or other folks who have gone on.

Certainly, if you've got those in the form of impact metrics or anything like that, that's awesome, too. But I think there's such a spirit of supporting the individual that you've got in your story that I'd love to hear if you've got any more, getting their first job after COVID and that sort of thing.

[22:52] RICCI

Absolutely. They're all over the place, and they're just fascinating. I mean, everybody's so busy, so I ask our alumni to tell me their story. What did you do in school? What did you do before school? What did you do after school? Where are you now, and send me a photo. Of that, I have about 50 of them on our Facebook page, so if you Google FAU hospitality alumni, it'll pop up.

But the stories, 99 percent of them don't send me their bio, so I can tell you that since I moved, when I taught in my prior institution, we had just emerged out of the business school. So my students there were business school students for the five years I was there. I can tell you that my business school students seem to far surpass in speed. They're level two management, but that really, you have to take that with a grain of salt, because most of them came to business school because they wanted to be managers.

So again, I say, it's whatever for you. I have young people who now own franchises that are in their twenties. I have people that are in their young thirties who have started their own companies, whether it's digital marketing, advertising, boutique retail. The stories are phenomenal.

The most heartwarming to me is that our industry serves everyone. So this is a great industry for minorities, for single parents, for people who just couldn't find a place somewhere else. I love Hard Rock International, because it accepts people of every look, race, gender, sexual orientation. So I always find a home in a lot of our companies that have similar cultural values like Hard Rock.

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But I have people who have left here at 22 and become general managers in six years, eight years, just trajectories that are incredible. And I'm talking across cruise lines, airlines, casinos, OTAs, theme parks. I just had a conversation today with one of my UCF grads who is still young, in my mind, and he's a vice president at Universal Beijing now. And I'm just like, wow, which kind of scares me, because I know I'm aging, but it's part of the life process.

I'm delighted. They're restaurant GMs...they're so creative...one of our guys from FAU, I think he was a Management major. I'm not positive, but he started Delivery Dudes. He was way ahead of the third party delivery service for restaurants, way ahead of the other ones before Uber Eats and all these others.

So we have very niche areas in hospitality where you can thrive and grow. Whether it's starting restaurants. It's Norwegian Cruise Line, I have them everywhere. There's just so many.

My little heartfelt tidbit for you, Jacob, because you're in Orlando, is Disney. Who doesn't grow up in Florida being a Disney fan, of course. But Disney cast members were the least bitter, super huge group within the certificate during COVID, post-COVID and the most delighted to return to Disney now. And it's something that's beyond anecdotal to me, because there are way too many similar stories and comments from our Disney associates.

So that only made me feel closer to Disney. I haven't gone to Disney in a while, because I'm an old man now; but I live in Florida, so I'm going to go back at some point. But I could see the cultural vibe there throughout their comments.

Funny for you and Erin, probably, we have over 3 million comments, so far. I stopped tabulating, keeping, reviewing, etc. But they still come in every day. There's not a day that goes by. This week I've had probably 50.

"Just got my job back as an event planner."

"Just got back to Celebrity Cruise Line."

"So happy I took the course."

"I'm a VP now at such and such hotel management group."

I mean, positivity is here. And I got in a low place during COVID like everybody else, because I was getting 5-12,000 emails a day of everybody who was losing their job, and they were looking to me as an answer. I'm like, I'm just a kid who was a dishwasher/busboy turned teacher. I don't really have the answers for you.

What are your thoughts Jacob and Erin on micro-credentials. What do you hear outside of the hospitality world? In banking and finance and retail, what are other people thinking about them?

[28:13] BONNE

I think that they are, as you said, a great asset to add and expand your portfolio. I think we've had some other great conversations with folks, and I've had some great conversations with colleagues, about leveraging micro-credentials to travel into other industries.

And in fact, we have another episode that we recorded earlier this week with a guest who's focused on helping folks break into data analysis and analytics as a field. So he was really sharing with us some of the strategies that he's seeing as folks transition to that second career phase or other place. And this idea of micro-credentialing as a way to complement a foundation that you have with a bachelor's degree, I think is really interesting and something that higher ed as a whole is going to have to continue to respond to in order to change with the times, as we've talked about.

[29:17] KING

The parallel to that is the new gig economy. So you're talking about micro-credentialing, and that's what happens on the educational side, but then when it actually comes time to make the money to get that job, the job itself might look different.

So we had a guest on, Justin Nguyen, who's the founder of Declassified College, and he talked about the creator economy. And I think the creator economy goes along with both micro-credentialing and this gig economy we're talking about.

[29:46] RICCI

Absolutely. And another thing is people are overwhelmed with information and prices. You can't price yourself out of the market. So one thing I'm very cognizant of is hospitality workers, especially when they're new, they're working hourly. They might not have much money. So we priced our certificate super cheap. And for the value, you're interacting with leaders at the highest level while interacting, watching their videos, and you can reach out to them on LinkedIn. And I haven't had one yet who hasn't told me that they get 10 or 5,000, 10,000 new followers, so it connects people.

But it can't be a fortune, because you can't be saddled with student loan debt forever. So I'm all about micro-credentialing on the pathway to who you are. I did get a resume about, I don't know, about a month or two ago from a student. She had just started at FAU, and she wanted me to look at her resume. And her second page, and I'm not lying, she had 15 micro-credentials, all spelled out what they were from all different things and all different fields. And I said, I can see you're putting in a lot of effort to learn and grow, but you really need to tailor this resume. So put your analytics and your IT ones on that resume and do this.

So I caution people not to just badge gather, as I call it. They're just hunter gatherers for badges. That's not going to impress me as an employer. A focused decision of who you are and what you want to be or what you want to do will impress me a lot. And I'd rather hire someone who's halfway through their bachelor's and had to be a single parent, but kept working hard and got two or three credentials in where they want to go. Or lost their job temporarily for COVID and decided to fill in that void with some lifelong learning. I'm all about lifelong learning. I think we learn every day.

So don't dwell on 2020. Focus on the tail end of 2021 and where we're going beyond, because hospitality has been through so many cycles, and I'll zip through: gas crisis SARS, Zika, 9/11, tsunamis, hurricanes, COVID, you name it. And we survive. People will travel. We want to travel. And you should learn the way you learn best and get the tools that make you get to where you want to be.

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