LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL — As they entered the hotel, it didn’t take students in Simon Vaz’s Introduction to Business class long to realize they weren’t in Kansas anymore (and booked at an Econo Lodge).
Inside, marble everywhere. Chandeliers big and brilliant as starbursts. High-end flourishes.
And an intoxicatingly alluring aroma that was hard to identify.
It was … oh yes — the smell of money. Old and new money.
How a hotel makes a good first impression was the first lesson Beacon College students learned Monday during a field trip to the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort.
The group included Nilijah Alston; Chase Bartholomeo; Devon Brown; Taylor Creech; Kelvin Dent; Michael Grams; Sterling Jackson; Joshua Kincaid; Aaron Laganuff; Fahad Majid; Grady McGill; Sarah Rosser; Sondrina Sanders; Stephen Scott-Edwards and Eleanor Waring.
Checking into the chain’s winning business model complemented an ongoing class simulation project in which students manage a small 50-room hotel.
“Students get to see how a five-star hotel operation with the No. 1-rated customer service in the world is run and what it takes to consistently deliver that level of service,” says Vaz, an instructor of business and hospitality at Beacon College. “Students learn what it takes to work at such a hotel and what it takes to be successful. They also get to see how a hotel like this is marketed.”
Laganuff, for one, hoped to discover “what management skills are required to run a hotel.”
Led by Jennifer Schmelter, operational learning and development manager at the hotel, students toured dining and residential areas within the hotel and absorbed Four Seasons corporate culture.
First, however, they received a Four Seasons history lesson.
They learned Isadore “Issy” Sharp opened his first Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts in 1961.
They learned The Four Seasons started stocking the mini soaps and shampoos travelers stuff in their toiletry bags on checkout day that now every quality hotel provides.
And they learned that powered by the chain’s focus on luxury, the Four Seasons brand mushroomed from a single property to 98 hotels in 41 countries.
At 443 rooms, the Disney-area property — a nearly $440 million investment that was 15 years in development — is the largest jewel in the Four Seasons crown.
The hotel’s average nightly rate runs five times higher than the median Orlando hotel rate.
“Four Seasons wanted to set the bar, set the mark and be the best in the market,” Brian Plott, director of sales, told Vaz’s students.
During the tour, students learned Plott wasn’t kidding after they saw how a $17,000-a-night Presidential Suite with a panoramic view looks.
After that, Schmelter and Plott fielded students’ questions.
Brown, a business major minoring in entrepreneurship, put the “Q” in “Q&A.” While he plans to sew up a career in fashion, he peppered his hosts with questions about the business of business.
“What’s your most successful season?”
“You’re in it right now,” Plott said, adding, “Orlando is very seasonal.”
Alston fired questions in salvos.
“What’s the hardest job about the hiring process?”
“For us, it’s a very long process because we want to make sure the person we hire is a good fit for the company and we’re a good fit for them, Schmelter said.”
“How do you set the room rates?”
“It’s like a big chemistry project, really,” Plott said of the mixing and tweaking of rates based on market tolerance.
There was time for advice too.
While some may consider working at the Four Seasons as the pinnacle of the hoteling business, Plott reminded students that hospitality is “a humbling business and to truly serve, I think you have to start at the bottom.”
Meanwhile, Schmelter noted experience opens doors for college graduates.
“Coming out of college with experience on your resume is very important,” she said. “By coming out and having examples on your resume give you a little bit of an edge on others when looking for a job.”
Nearly three hours later, it was time for students to checkout after an experience that may have convinced some to check into, if not hoteling, pursuing the corporate life.
“The trip to Four Seasons was very fun to me,” Waring said. “I loved learning about the hotel business because it may be something I would be interested in doing.”
Brown agreed: “I got a lot out of the trip. It made me think about opening my own business. The Four Seasons has a great background and way of handling business. I really enjoyed the field trip. The Four Seasons really gives me hope to successfully open my own fashion company.”