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Students learn hospitality, tourism fields through three-week European trip

Field study 18 months in the making becomes reality May 9

Contact: Heather Smith

When learning how to become a hospitality or tourism professional, it may be beneficial to become your very own client. At least it has been for a group of Central Michigan University students.

The group of 10 students — each studying hospitality services administration — spent the past 18 months planning each and every detail of their own three-week study abroad trip to Italy and Switzerland and learning a great deal about their industry along the way.

All of that planning will finally become reality as they embark on their adventure May 9.

Divide and conquer

Under the leadership of professor Gary Gagnon, the group worked in functional and destination committees to plan logistics — hotel, transportation, tours, events, etc. — as well as details such as education and training, food and beverages, and finances.

"The committees took the lead on their own cities, making hotel reservations, arranging transportation, and planning tours and other special events," Gagnon said.

The group's itinerary consists of vineyard visits, boat tours in Switzerland, a night walk in Rome, a cooking demonstration in a 12th century kitchen, a meal in an Italian home through the Eat With Me program and so much more. And for much of it, the students will be their own tour guides.

The students also had to manage the entire budget, giving them a great deal of responsibility.

"Being on the finance committee has given me experience in what it is like to make a budget, allocate our spending and stay within our budget," Midland junior Abigail Currie said. "Professor Gagnon truly took a step back to allow us to learn and gave pointers along the way."

Laingsburg senior Dale Boettcher also credits their freedom to make decisions.

"Professor Gagnon trusts us to make the best accommodations for when we're on the trip and allows us to schedule events that are not only going to be extremely educational, but exciting as well," Boettcher said.

D​estination research

In preparation for the trip, the group met regularly to discuss articles related to their destinations, sample Italian and Swiss food and wines, and more. They even visited Mount Pleasant's Camille's on the River for an evening of tasting foods inspired by their destinations and pairing those foods with European wines.

"We have read about and sampled Italian and Swiss food and wine for months in preparation for our field study," Gagnon said. "We have studied and sampled cheeses, meats, oils, breads, coffees and wines in an attempt to understand them in terms of their history and location in various regions."

Gaining career perspective

For this group, this hasn't just been vacation planning. The experience over the past 18 months has taught them more about their industry and, for some, helped to steer their career direction.

"This planning process has helped me improve numerous skills that will be applied in a future career, such as how to use my time efficiently, paying more attention to small details and managing an itinerary that will be enjoyable for an entire group of individuals," Boettcher said.

"When we first started this process, I thought I wanted to go into the sales side of hospitality. However, planning this trip has taught me that there's another field of hospitality that I was potentially overlooking and that was tourism-planning specialist. Now I have more options for future career paths."

For Bay City sophomore Claire Forrest, this experience has made her look at the industry differently.

"Hospitality is a different world every day that you step into," she said. "For myself, my focus has been on hotels, and this experience has made an impact on the way that I view and engage in the international travel and tourism industry."

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