Campus locale sets Flagler Tourism & Hospitality Management students up for immersive field experience, expert mentorship

HTM students posing for group photo at Universal
October 28, 2022
By Anna Boone
Students in Flagler’s Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) Program have the advantage of studying in a city and state with markedly robust tourism industries. The backdrop of St. Augustine’s tourism industry is a built-in training ground for HTM students and Flagler is less than 100 miles from another hotspot of Florida tourism- Orlando. On a recent excursion from campus, HTM students had the opportunity to visit Universal Orlando Resort and learn about what it takes to run such a high-level tourism venture.

Ahead of the trip, Dave Rivera, director of the HTM program said students would get the chance to network with resort department heads and then “stay and play in the park.”

“So, they’ve heard about what it takes to run [the resort],” Rivera said. “Then they’ll get a chance to experience it as a guest, to give them a different perspective.”

The Oct. 20 trip was organized in partnership with Martha McClintock, a Flagler Class of 1988 alumna. McClintock currently sits on the Hospitality and Tourism Management Advisory Board and is the former president of the Flagler College Alumni Board.  

As the Regional Sales Manager for Universal Orlando Resort, McClintock was able to facilitate this day of experiential learning for the students.  

The visit kicked off with a morning of workshop activities. Students engaged with the resort marketing and sales team, discussed the oversight of all eight resort properties, met with the manager of client events who oversees experiences like Grad Bash, and were given a presentation on the organization and facilitation of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights.  

After the workshop, students were able to enjoy lunch and an afternoon exploring Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure theme parks.

The trip gave HTM students insight into a different type of tourism environment than St. Augustine offers. But they don’t have to leave the area to experience valuable field trips, apprenticeships, or internships.

In fact, “out of the classroom experiences” are built into the coursework, and students are required to obtain a certain amount of apprenticeship and internship hours.

“We’re able to use St. Augustine as our living laboratory,” Dave Rivera, director of the HTM program said.

Rivera said these requirements and experiences are extremely accessible through close industry ties with local establishments like Casa Monica, Treasury on the Plaza, Colonial Corner, The Alligator Farm, and the City of St. Augustine for events like the Spanish Food & Wine Festival.

“We want our program to be a direct reflection of how great it is to come visit St. Augustine,” Rivera said.

He said part of what makes St. Augustine a premier tourist destination is the town’s ability to maintain its personality and identity through profound cultural and historical ties.

Without the lodging and transportation infrastructure developed by Henry Flagler during the late 1800s, our modern perception of St. Augustine might be similar to his first impressions of the town- unappealing, or at least unremarkable.

“I did not form a very favorable first impression, I must admit,” Flagler wrote. “I came here from Jacksonville by way of the river and the Tocoi railway and got here just at night. The accommodation was very bad and most of the visitors here were consumptives. I didn’t like it, and took the first train back to Jacksonville.”

Fortunately, Flagler’s second visit was more pleasant and construction of the grandiose Hotel Ponce de Leon began shortly after in 1885.

“[St. Augustine] truly adopted Henry Flagler’s spirit of improvisation, adaptation and overcoming situations,” Rivera said. “And I think our program has partnered well with St. Augustine and we continue to have that same spirit and outlook.”

While the Hotel Ponce de Leon may have been the catalyst, St. Augustine’s tourism industry has blossomed to encompass an impressive dining scene, extensive lodging selection, bustling shopping district, lively entertainment options and a distinct historical attraction sphere.

It’s in large part because St. Augustine has become a “world-class destination” that Zach Cole, assistant professor and co-director of the HTM program, said HTM students at Flagler have such an advantage.

“We have the phenomenal restaurants and the good beach access and bars and entertainment that make St. Augustine why the locals love it just as much as the tourists,” Cole said.

With some of St. Augustine’s tourism industry gems “quite literally across the street,” Cole said there has been a conscious effort within the program to immerse students in real-world opportunities at every step of their academic experience.

“I think both Dr. Rivera and I have worked on encouraging students and building internships and apprenticeships into the program to go out and get jobs in the industry and work while they’re in school,” Cole said. “We’ve equally tried to integrate a lot of firsthand experience just right into the coursework, into the classroom.”

Within the Flagler community, decisions about tourism are made intentionally. One opportunity the College has is to give the public a glimpse into the history of the hotel in which it was founded.

Flagler’s Legacy, the College’s independently-run spirit shop and historic touring business, has dedicated more than 20 years to hosting student-led tours for visitors through the Hotel Ponce de Leon to share the intricate details of this architectural gem.

Director of Brand Experience and Merchandise Licensing, Sam Palmer, said part of the Flagler’s Legacy mission is to “educate the community on the benefits of tourism in the area.”