World record study abroad: RIT tourism management students explore hospitality service in Dubai

Study abroad trip broadens students’ view of international tourist industry and Middle Eastern culture




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Students and faculty from RIT’s School of Hospitality and International Service Management combined culture and tourism management on a trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

It was the fifth year of the study abroad program sponsored by the School of Hospitality, based in RIT’s College of Applied Science and Technology. Since the program began, the focus remains on tourism management, service leadership, and helping the students understand how to provide world-class service in the highly competitive tourist industry. It also offers the students important insights about the culture and history of the Middle East.

The itinerary is a brisk excursion, taking place over a 10-day period during RIT’s winter break, to two of the tallest hotels in the world—the JW Marriott Dubai and the Burj Al Arab—to businesses located in the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world at 2,722 feet, to the Dubai Museum, Silicon Oasis with a stop at RIT Dubai and the souks, or marketplace areas in the city.

“The number of world records we stepped into was un-real,” said Chris Towne, a third-year student from Livonia, N.Y.

At each site, students like Towne were introduced to general managers, human resource professionals and hospitality coordinators to discuss day-to-day operational responsibilities, academic and professional preparation required to attain leadership roles at the different properties and customer service expectations at these luxury properties as well as popular leisure locations.

A continued favorite on the trip is a visit to SkiDubai. The domed structure rising 25 stories in the desert is as fascinating for its unusual activities in a desert, as it is for its energy and service efficiency, said Jessica Erickson, a graduate student.

“To see this in the desert is pretty incredible. There is real snow all year round,” she explained. “They provide everything from skis, boots, pants; they have it down to a science for the 2,000 people in there every day, more than 750,000 visitors annually. It was pretty impressive and talking to the managers about how to keep that running with that many people and that level of customer service, it is a massive undertaking, it was great.”

The itinerary continues to include the impressive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, located in Abu Dhabi, where the students take a guided tour of the facility, its art and architecture. The students marveled at its beauty, but also walked away with a better understanding of Islam and the importance of cultural tourism.

“Every day you saw something bigger and grander,” said Lauren Harmon, a fourth-year student from Webster, N.Y., who shared that Dubai was a combination of modern and traditional. “It’s also not as strict as many people believe. All my friends thought that I would have to be covered up completely, and I was surprised that it was really very Westernized there. It wasn’t anything like what I thought it would be,” Harmon added. “The city does not stop during call to prayer. I had a vision in my mind that when the call to prayer would come on, that everything in the city would just die-down, and there wouldn’t be anything or anyone during that time, but there is still a lot of movement going on.”

In each of the years traveling, there has been at least one Muslim student in the class who provides personal insights about Islam, traditions and practices, said Rick Lagiewski.

“Their willingness to share cultural and religious traditions from the region has been a wonderful experience for me and the students,” he said.

One of those students was Sondus Bellow, a third-year student from Saudi Arabia. The trip was also a chance to see Dubai, an area he was familiar with, but to experience it from academic and professional standpoint.

“This trip was really good, it allowed me to really experience the field, and this place. Is this the right place for me or not? Do I fit in? Am I going to be comfortable?” he said, confirming that he would seek a position with one of the many hotels in the area after graduation.