At the Asian American Hotel Owners Association's annual convention, about 100 local college students from San Diego State University's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management experienced firsthand the meeting of the largest hotel owners association in the world.
"We basically started planning together; how can AAHOA and SDSU really come together in some unusual ways to get what I call a 'peek under the tent?'" said Carl Winston, Director of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. "How does a multi-hotel, multi-thousand-person conference really come into a city? And how can we expose our students to that in a meaningful way?"
Fun fact: AAHOA has over 18,000 members, and they own nearly one in every two hotels in the United States. This is why it is such an incredible opportunity for local college students to be invited to their convention.
Over the course of the event, groups of students participated in various activities. Convention Center staff provided two behind-the-scenes tours for students to see what goes in to hosting a massive convention like AAHOA. This included a look at our new recycling sorter, an exclusive preview of AAHOA's general session and inside knowledge about how we accommodated AAHOA's unique food and beverage needs.
"As partners in our local tourism and hospitality circle, we are proud to bring in students who will likely become our peers in the industry," said Dianne Javier, Senior Event Manager at the San Diego Convention Center Corporation. "We were able to give these students firsthand knowledge of how a massive convention comes together in our building."
"I really enjoyed being able to see the behind-the-scenes view of the Convention Center today," said Jillian Tower, SDSU Senior. "It gave you a good look at how many opportunities there are here as an event person and realizing it's not just a big empty room, or exhibit space. You have food and beverage, you have sales, you have marketing, you have signage, you have printing and there's so many different components that go into creating an event. It's really exciting to watch it all come together and watch something so big come to life."
One class of Events and Meetings students had the chance to hear from Akshar Patel, Senior Director of Conventions for AAHOA. As an experienced meeting planner, he imparted some wisdom and shared with the students how this association chose San Diego for their 30th anniversary convention. (You can see what Akshar has to say as well!)
"AAHOA has always strived for continuing education and professional development, so we want to be the number one resource for hospitality education," said Patel. "What better way than having [these students] be aware that they have somewhere to go for that type of education and networking. If nothing else, they'll be able to see the industry in many different facets, and we want to make sure we provide that to anyone who wants to be more developed in the hospitality industry."
Another class of students was able to see the tradeshow floor both before and after it opened. This gave them the unique opportunity to see exhibitor booths all across the hall before the full crowd of attendees entered. After that, the students were free to join the attendees, getting to explore the tradeshow, learn about the full scope of the industry and experience a professional conference.
"It goes way beyond what you can do on the campus," said Winston. "You can learn concepts, but until you see it applied, and understand that ecosystem as a professional you're going to live in if you're successful is huge. Particularly for my lodging students, half of the jobs are going to be from the people in [the] building today. Half! Think about that for a minute."
Another tremendous benefit that AAHOA offered is that each of these SDSU students were given access to their offsite events at Petco Park and the Gaslamp Quarter. When a convention grows to be as large as AAHOA, they often have additional elements that take place in the surrounding community. Providing the opportunity to attend two major convention activities is a significant donation by AAHOA.
"It's unprecedented," said Winston. "It's really more than even a partnership; it's just a great relationship with the organization… So this is a way for them to give and we're just beyond grateful. For those students who get to experience it, it's mind-blowing."