UTRGV launches hospitality, tourism degree

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is moving further along a planned and approved degree program for hospitality and tourism.

The university had a “soft launch” for the program in spring 2019, when it offered a handful of courses for the degree, but now UTRGV will make it official in the fall with a complete list of courses offered.

UTRGV’s hospitality and tourism management bachelor’s degree is part of the Robert C. Vackar College of Business & Entrepreneurship, and A.J. Singh, the founding director of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program, arrived in the Rio Grande Valley in 2018 to help start it.

The “soft launch” was meant to gauge how many students were interested in the program, Singh said. The first introduction course had seven students enrolled, but that figure is now up at 33.

The class introduces fundamental concepts to the profession and gives students a better idea of where they can specialize, he said.

Singh has over 40 years of experience, working in both industry and academia at the Michigan State University. But practical experience is also necessary for these students when they go to the industry, he said.

The program has a 21-hour credit “business core” that also includes introductory classes in hospitality and tourism in addition to general education courses before going into the program. Elements such as food and beverages are essential to the profession, he said.

“Essentially all of our classes will really build… on a business core, which is one of the strengths of the program,” Singh said.

Some of these foundational courses also include microeconomics, business statistics and financial accounting.

The courses offer traditional style classroom settings with lectures and textbooks, but will also include speeches from  industry leaders to instill a practical skill set.

“We want them to be strong business people. Even though this is a hospitality program, I would like our students to have the flexibility to work in any kind of business,” Singh said.

This versatility should also prepare them to work internationally, Singh said, noting that he also has international experience, working in countries such as India before moving to academia.

Research into the industry is also one of the draws of the program’s mission, as well as measuring the economic impact of events in the area, he said. This helps create effective marketing strategies and highlights where efforts should be focused in the future.

The area is also ripe with tourism from Winter Texans who come to the Valley each year.

Hospitals are also looking at ways to make the stay for their patients more comfortable, Singh said.

Although it is in its early stages, Singh hopes at least 300 students will declare their major in hospitality by the program’s fourth year in existence.

There are four certificates students can choose from when undergoing the program: Healthcare Hospitality, Restaurant Entrepreneurship and Management, Event and Destination Management, and Lodging Asset Ownership and Management.

Singh also said there may be opportunities to partner with the City of McAllen, a major trade hub.

“A large part of what we want to do as the hospitality program in the Valley is to be a resource for the community, continuing education is I think going to be a big part of our program,” Singh said.

He has also been speaking with convention and visitor bureaus in the region because there’s also potential there for outreach and continuing education, he said. For example, they are planning for a concierge training program in a partnership with McAllen Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The concierges or the front desk staff are really the face of the community, so (when) a guest comes and stays at a hotel, they’re the one who can really sell the community if they are well-trained,” Singh said.

The university is also in discussions with other entities to bring a hotel with training components for UTRGV students to use, which would be a draw to the program. Though, he noted, nothing has been finalized.

“There’s a tourism base here, but it’s also kind of a underexplored tourism base,” Singh said, pointing to Winter Texans and the bordertown culture.