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With McKibbon partnership, USF’s hospitality workforce pipeline to expand

Veronica Brezina

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Philanthropist Les Muma and others celebrated the partnership between McKibbon Hospitality and the University of South Florida. Photo: USF.

The University of South Florida is gearing up to expand its hospitality program in the midst of a growing workforce shortage in Tampa Bay. 

USF’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, which is one of six schools in the USF Muma College of Business, has inked a partnership agreement with McKibbon Hospitality, which operates 100 hotels with large brands such as Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt. 

The partnership agreement with the Tampa-based hospitality group formally creates an accredited internship program for students to gain real-world, hands-on knowledge of working in the sector. 

The execution of the agreement comes on the heels of USF expanding the hospitality management major to the Tampa and St. Petersburg campuses in 2022. Currently, the degree is only offered at the Sarasota-Manatee campus. 

“We’ve been working with USF for over a decade now, but it wasn’t accredited. As USF’s program expands to Tampa and St. Pete, we wanted to have something more standardized although our relationship goes way back,”  McKibbon Hospitality President Randy Hassen said. 

McKibbon Hospitality operates hotels in Tampa, Clearwater, Sarasota, Fort Myers and Lakeland.

Hassen knows first-hand how important it is for students to become fully immersed in the field beyond the classroom. Hassen has a 30-year-long track record with McKibbon. He first started in 1991 as a part-time houseman at the Days Inn Athens and climbed up the corporate ladder over the years. 

Hassen said the ongoing recruitment challenge in the industry has always existed, and the pandemic has only intensified the need.   

Details on the exact curriculum have to be finalized, but the overarching goal is to allow students to get familiar with running certain operations of a hotel such as customer service, maintenance, marketing and housing keeping. 

Students will graduate with management training from hotels such as Marriott and Hyatt. According to USF, no other hospitality school in the nation has this kind of multi-hotel and multi-concept partnership. 

While this is a unique partnership, other partnerships between hotel management firms and universities are not unheard of. McKibbon has worked with Florida Gulf Coast University, and Central Florida-based Rosen Hospitality Group has been a mega player in the partnership space as the group works with the University of Central Florida. The UCF hospitality school is named the Rosen College of Hospitality Management. 


RELATED: Tampa-based McKibbon foundation makes $5M donation to fund new tech program at Florida university


“The McKibbon team wants to be part of the solution. This is a transformational time and this partnership is scalable,” said Moez Limayem, the Lynn Pippenger Dean at the USF Muma College of Business.

“For us, this isn’t a transaction. This is a partnership. We didn’t put an expiration date on the agreement because we are in this for the long run,” he said. 

As the partnership isn’t exclusive, USF can work with other institutions and there’s a range of different hotel products in the region students can be exposed to. 

“We are hoping this becomes the model for others to follow,” Limayem said. 

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