Hotel Madison in Harrisonburg, Va., has developed a partnership with James Madison University, giving students hands-on experience in the hospitality industry. Moxy Hotels is giving staff the opportunity to learn from improv comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade to prepare them to work with guests in a fun, engaging way.
A hotel in Virginia and a global hotel brand have launched initiatives to benefit current and future employees. The concepts can be applied to hospitality organizations of all kinds, from private country clubs to public resorts.
The walls of Hotel Madison in Harrisonburg, Va., were built with a purpose of more than just serving the guests who walk through the lobby. The hotel has a special classroom space reserved for students at James Madison University to use, especially the Hart School, which is their hospitality program, the Harrisonburg-based WHSV-TV3 reported.
Eddie Bumbaugh, who serves as the Director of Public Relations for Hotel Madison, said one of the developers of the hotel is a JMU graduate, and knew the students needed hands on experience, so the partnership was born. “Could the Hotel Madison have used this space for our own purposes? Absolutely, but the priority was to partner and give students this unique experience,” said Bumbaugh.
Dr. Reg Foucar-Szocki, a professor at the Hart School for 29 years, said it is something that will set their program apart from other hospitality schools in the nation, WHSV-TV3 reported.
“It will just be a tremendous opportunity for our students to see first-hand what the industry is all about,” said Foucar-Szocki.”To be able to be here and actually interact with people who are doing it on a day-to-day basis just will help move our program to the national prominence that we’re hoping it will go to.”
Because the partnership is new, there will be a pilot program in the fall to see how the partnership will work. Students will have classes right on location, but not all students have to wait until next semester to get the experience. Seniors Natalie Batlle and Jonathan Weiss are working in the hotel right now, WHSV-TV3 reported.
Batlle, who is a senior in the program, started working with the hotel in the early stages of development. “To be able to watch it grow has been really cool, and seeing, like a hotel being built from the ground up, has been new to me as well,” said Batlle.
Weiss, who is also a senior, started working at the hotel a few weeks ago. “Being part of the opening team for the Hotel Madison has already been an eye opening experience, you see how much stuff has to go into even putting the lobby together,” said Weiss.
Both of the students agreed the experience they have had so far is priceless. “Simulation on the computer doesn’t give any justice to when someone is actually in front of you, and it’s really up to you to provide that level of customer service,” said Weiss.
Face-to-face interaction with guests is one of the best aspects of the experience she is gaining, Batlle said. “You get to know them, and why they’re coming to visit the area, or visit the hotel, and you don’t get that when you’re sitting in a classroom,” said Batlle.
“It kind of patches up some disconnects that I felt were arising until I had the chance to work in a professional setting,” said Weiss.
Students and faculty agree that what they learn while having hands-on experience will help them in the classroom. “I think our students will bring that real world back into the classroom, and I think that to me is the most exciting part,” said Foucar-Szocki.
Faculty also sees this as an opportunity to recruit for the program when potential students are visiting JMU, and see the hospitality students working at the hotel. “I just think this is going to be an amazing asset to the Hart School program,” said Battle.
Right now, only the culinary students have a lab to work in, but this partnership gives the students an “all inclusive experience” since they will have access to the ballrooms, conference center, as well as the rest of the hotel, WHSV-TV3 reported.
“The interpersonal skills already that I’ve gained with having to speak with everyone and having to figure out the things that we haven’t figured out yet, it’s just been a wonderful experience,” said Weiss.
Students will have the opportunity to work over the summers as part of their training, too, WHSV-TV3 reported.
Moxy Hotels, a Marriott brand, is launching an employee program that incorporates the methods employed by improv comedy troupes, encouraging staff to roll with anything that guests lob at them, Fast Company reported.
To help things along, the Marriott International hotel brand brought in some pros: the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB), the improv comedy group founded by Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh, Fast Company reported.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” said Vicki Poulos the senior global brand director at Moxy Hotels.
Since technology is taking care of a lot of the functional, transactional work at hotels these days, Moxy Hotels, which has outposts across the United States, Europe, and Asia, wanted its global staff to be prepared to work with guests from around the world in a fun, engaging way. “Employees at Moxy play multiple roles, wear multiple hats, and are always on stage,” says Poulos. “We wanted to create a training program that gives them the skills and the comfort to be ‘on’ all the time.”
So after an informal staff poll to make sure the staff wanted to be trained in the art of improv, Moxy brought in members from UCB to teach the improv basics. That meant learning to deal with the realities of hospitality in a funny, uplifting, and good-natured way. UCB helped Moxy create a training program, which incorporates the fun-fun-fun of improv comedy into interactions with hotel guests from around the world. The process involved, among other things, role-playing scenarios with UCB members masquerading as Marriott Rewards guests, Fast Company reported.
The hotel also created a series of improv training videos featuring UCB-trained actors, which will hopefully teach Moxy’s staff around the world how to be engaging, informative, and fun—but also professional—while working in customer service, Fast Company reported.
Moxy is letting guests join the action as well. “We are bringing Upright Citizen Brigade performers into the bars,” said Poulos, explaining that during hotel Happy Hours, brave guests can join in an actual UCB improv workshop and learn “how to get their improv on.”
“We like our guests to have a lot of fun,” Poulos said.
The “Hey Moxy!” improv workshops kick off May 20 at Moxy NYC Times Square, Fast Company reported.