UW-Stout students learn ‘the sky is the limit’ in new Forbes-based luxury management course

Hands-on learning in hospitality and service excellence, with off-campus stays, exemplifies polytechnic advantage
Abbey Goers | May 31, 2023

UW-Stout students interested in hospitality and service excellence had hands-on experiences in luxury this spring semester.

The new Service Excellence course, offered through UW-Stout’s School of Management, showcased what it takes to deliver five-star service.

“Service excellence is making sure everything exceeds the expectations of guests,” said Professor Eric Brey, who leads the course, supported by Forbes Travel Guide (FTG), which provided core service excellence content.

FTG is known for its independent annual ratings of luxury hotels, restaurants and spas in more than 74 countries. UW-Stout is the first university in the world with this FTG collaboration.

In a class of its own: UW-Stout offers Service Excellence course in new collaboration with Forbes Travel Guide

Unique offering gives students hands-on experiences in luxury to anticipate guest expectations
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The elective course is a general business offering, open to students in any major, including hotel, restaurant and tourism managementbusiness administration, golf enterprise management and entrepreneurship programs.

HRTM majors Alejandro Calixto Martinez, Riley Michaud, Sam Micoley and Sam Spoden were some of the first to enroll in the course.

With an emphasis in luxury management, Michaud, of Menomonie, believes the course further enriched her understanding of luxury management.

“The most fulfilling aspect of this course is the hope that it will evolve into a program that equips the upcoming generation of hospitality professionals with the skills to provide top-notch hospitality, regardless of their position or company,” she said. “I have set my scope to continue to venture into the luxury industry and grow my professional and personal skillset within the highest levels of hospitality.

Students in the Service Excellence course at Destination Kohler
Students in the Service Excellence course enjoying their stay at Destination Kohler / Eric Brey

With luxury, ‘the sky is the limit’

Students had the opportunity to stay overnight at Destination Kohler, a Wisconsin luxury resort in Kohler. They enjoyed food and drinks, used the golf simulators and participated in Kohler’s wellness programs, with a choice of Yoga on the Lake, Bold Cycle or Sports Core and access to the pool and hot tubs. They also met with management and employees to learn about the company and how it executes luxury on a daily basis.

Destination Kohler, 1
Destination Kohler / Eric Brey

“This was a chance for us to take a step back from learning about luxury and instead experience it ourselves,” said Micoley, of Greenville. “As a polytechnic university, this is a brilliant example of hands-on learning in the realm of hospitality and luxury.”

It was Martinez’s first time in a luxury hotel. “It was an extraordinary experience. After asking employees about the work environment, it was noticeable how much they loved their job. They explained how much the company takes care of them and it shows,” he said.

“Growing up, I came from a background where my family could only afford economic hotel lodging. Very few times was I exposed to fine dining,” added Martinez, a first-generation student from Reedsburg. “Experiencing this class was beneficial in establishing a foundation in what luxury means – it means discovering the next best thing. And with that, the sky is the limit. Taking these ideals going forward will allow me to create new ways to improve customer service.”

Building connections to interact on a higher level

Through FTG’s Leading Through Luxury video guides, students learned the elements of an effective service culture, as well as the foundations in food and beverage, spa settings, front office and housekeeping.

Students participated in activities to practice Forbes’ principles. They also met with guest speakers, including Robert Sereci, general manager of Medinah Country Club in Chicago; and UW-Stout alum Pete Hayda, managing director of sales and marketing at the Little Nell Hotel in Aspen, Colo., who shared about their backgrounds and personal work experiences.

“It was an eye-opener that most of the speakers were Stout alum. It showed us that even though we are a small school, we still can accomplish big dreams,” said Spoden, of St. Paul. “My favorite learning moment was realizing that hospitality will always be a big part of my life.”


Dining and cafe spaces at Destination Kohler
A dining hall and cafe at Destination Kohler / Eric Brey

Micoley’s favorite learning moment was going through the Little Nell’s Forbes evaluation. “There were many standards within that audit that I would never have considered, and it has made me more aware of my actions and communication styles for the future,” she said.

She and Martinez also enjoyed participating in a service energizer, which taught them the importance of daily service excellence practice, including how to approach different scenarios such as requests or complaints, listening to understand and owning resolutions.

At the beginning of the course, I thought that luxury was only for the rich,” Spoden said. “Now, I know it is more than that. It is knowing the guest’s name when they walk in the door or knowing special insights about the guest to assure the employee is engaging throughout the stay. Most importantly, it is building a connection and maintaining it during the stay. Going above and beyond, the connection is what makes luxury, luxury.”

Micoley agreed, adding, “The course gave us the opportunity to learn about an entirely different side of hospitality. The lessons we learned are also applicable outside of luxury and honestly changed the way I will communicate with others in the future. I feel that I have a better understanding of how to interact with others on a higher professional level.

Students at the golf simulators at Destination Kohler
Students at the golf simulators at Destination Kohler / Eric Brey

Micoley believes “UW-Stout’s hospitality degrees do a phenomenal job of providing students with a well-rounded education of this industry, and the course did a great job preparing us for a career in this field since we now understand the true meaning of luxury and the Forbes expectations.

“No other students in the entire world are provided the information we were taught, so we have instantly made ourselves more employable since we have knowledge that employers are looking for. Even for those not interested in hospitality, the skills we have obtained are applicable everywhere.”

Martinez and Michaud graduated on May 6. Micoley will graduate in December and Spoden next spring.

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