Anucha Wood works until 5 p.m. at a Buckhead hotel, his shift ending a half-hour before his classes in the graduate hospitality program at Georgia State University begin. He always makes it on time to class, however, because the program’s classes are held in the Tower Place building, a short walk from his human resources job at the Intercontinental Buckhead Atlanta hotel.
With GSU’s Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality headquartered in Buckhead and its wealth of hotels, it’s a natural school-to-job pipeline for people seeking careers in the hotel industry.
“I have no idea how I would get a job at Intercontinental without the program,” said Wood, who moved to Atlanta from Thailand in August last year to get a graduate degree in hospitality in the hope of furthering his career back home.
Debby Cannon, the director of the School of Hospitality, said the location allows professors to bring in industry professionals frequently and set their students up for internships in neighboring hotels.
“We have wonderful partnerships with many of the top managers [who] come lecture,” Cannon said.
Along with the Intercontinental, Tower Place’s hotel neighbors include the JW Marriott Atlanta Buckhead; the W Atlanta Buckhead; the Grand Hyatt Atlanta in Buckhead; and the Westin Buckhead Atlanta.
Stacy McClouse, a former student, got her start in the hotel industry in Buckhead. She now works at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel & Convention Center in Cobb County.
She said GSU’s program isn’t focused on reading about working in the hotel industry, but having their students experience it firsthand.
“Their focus wasn’t on textbooks. It was to send you out to meet people,” she said.
She said Buckhead is a “phenomenal place” to learn the industry because of the amount of hotels.
“There’s a lot of flagship properties and a wide variety of brands,” said McClouse.
A class assignment tasked her with interviewing someone she admired in the industry. One of those people she interviewed was the then-general manager of The W Atlanta in Buckhead. The manager surprised McClouse with an interview of her at the end of their discussion, and McClouse got the job, where she soon got experience in almost every part of the hotel.
“I was hired for the front desk, but I restocked minibars, did room service and answered phones. I did almost everything outside of engineering,” she said. “If you work at a small hotel, you have to know how to do everything.”
GSU is one of the few universities that has its hospitality program in its business school, she said. Students learn all the core business skills, but also learn hotel management and event planning, McClouse said.
The school teaches students how to cater to millennials and people from other cultures, Cannon said.
They are taught how to make service flexible to cultural and generational preferences, such as that millennials want to have a memorable experience at a hotel, she said.
“It’s about making some in their twenties as happy as someone in their seventies,” she said.
The hotel industry is a test of flexibility for its employees. Both McClouse and Wood have experienced what it is like to work in an industry that truly never closes for business, even when most of the employees can’t make it to work in inclement weather.
Wood works in the human resources department, where he helps with benefits, payroll and employee questions. But because not enough employees could come in during the snowstorm in December 2017, he was temporarily on the same assignment he once had at his hotel job in Thailand — the restaurant.
“People are staying here all the time, so we couldn’t just close the restaurant,” he said.
McClouse said she was trapped in the hotel during major snowstorms in 2014 and 2017, but she said it was a unique experience that brought her team closer.
Several people who had been able to make it to work camped out in one room and slept in shifts.
They bought wine and microwave dinners at a corner store and watched movies when they weren’t on duty, she said.
“You and the people you work with are really tight-knit because you have to go through hell together,” she said. “You get really close to people.”
This story is part of Perimeter Business, the Reporter Newspapers’ quarterly business section. The Winter 2018 Perimeter Business is focused on the local hotel industry boom. Other stories include a look at why hotels are often in the mix of mixed-use projects, and a profile of hotel concierges, who work to be a “tourist’s tourist.”