Skift Take

Getting to a front desk or to the top of a tourism board isn't always a straight path. We'll show you how people made it there.

Like most industries, travel is made up of a diverse network of professionals from all walks of life, career paths and educational experiences.


Some employees pursued degrees intent on becoming hoteliers or leaders of destination marketing organization (DMO), while others took a more unpredictable path on their journeys through the different sectors.

The Travel Alumni Spotlight is the latest installment of our State of Travel Education series, which is focused on showing how universities are preparing the industry’s future talent to be thought leaders and innovators.

This spotlight highlights individual stories to offer lessons for how different people reached their current positions. It will also show the many directions professionals entered the industry to evidence how success can be achieved along multiple paths.

Professionals from the digital, aviation, hospitality, and tourism sectors of travel will appear in this spotlight. Here are the first three stories.

Laurie Armstrong, Director of Media Relations at San Francisco Travel
School: University of California, Davis
Degree: Mass Communications

“At UC Davis, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do until my senior year. Up until then, I knew what I was good at – writing, theatre, music, travel – but wasn’t sure how that would translate into a major or a career. During the summer between my junior and senior year, I went with some friends to work at the Summer Repertory Theatre (SRT) at Santa Rosa Junior College. I was assigned to the box office and promotions department, my first exposure to PR.”

“That was a real ‘a ha’ moment and I developed my personal mission statement (long before ‘Jerry Maguire’). I would make my living telling people about things I liked. I returned to Davis, changed my major to mass communication and completed my senior project on my publicity campaign for the Student Musical Theatre productions.”

“After graduation, I went to work as a secretary at an advertising agency in Los Angeles. I was a terrible secretary but a good copywriter. That was the only job I’ve ever been fired from (and, looking back, with good reason). My resume at that time had a distinctly theatrical look to it and it caught the eye of the marketing VP at what was then the MGM Grand Hotel-Reno. That was my first real PR job and I think of it as my PR ‘boot camp.'”

“My career since then has just seemed to flow. I love representing one of the world’s greatest cities and working for an organization that encourages me to continue to learn and grow. Just like our marketing theme says, my job is ‘Never the Same. Always San Francisco.’”

Jeff David, Managing Director of the Knickerbocker Hotel
School: University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and University of California, Los Angeles
Degree: Architecture

“I took the road less traveled by, since I didn’t go to school specifically for hospitality. I’ve spent a decade in city hotels and another decade in independent boutique hotels and resorts, currently as managing director at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Times Square in New York City.”

“My first job out of college was at the Four Seasons Beverly Wiltshire in Beverly Hills, CA. I was the only one to show up in a suit to squeeze orange juice, part of my job at the time, and when i was done I always asked to do something else. I think that’s how I got to where I am today and how employers noticed me. At the Beverly I learned how a hotel operates, how culture is created at independent hotels and that hospitality is more of a lifestyle than a career.”

“My time at UNC Charlotte and UCLA also helped foster my interests in hospitality, and I got the hospitality bug of wanting to help people. I’m still accomplishing everything I wanted to do even though I didn’t go to school for hospitality. I’ve never spelled out a ten-year plan of my life, and the business side of hospitality has taught me to not be too daring with other people’s money.”

“If I had originally studied hospitality, I probably would have taken less risks and would have seen things in a more conventional paradigm. Design school really taps into the right side of the brain. I still would have found myself as a hospitality professional, but would have probably been a more conservative leader.”

Gary Weinstein, Director of Financial Operations for Compass Group
School: Cornell University
Degree: Hotel & Restaurant Management

“My educational experience was everything to me and was very instrumental for where I am today. My first job after graduating Cornell was as a manager trainee at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Washington DC. I assisted in opening the property under the leadership of Fred Alexander, who I learned a great deal from.”

“This could not have happened without the guidance, support, and a great educational background I was provided by all the professors at the Hotel School. I have worked since I was 18 in the hospitality field and have loved every minute of it, 28 years in operations and the last 15 years in the corporate office of Compass Group as a director of financial operations.”

Compass Group has more than 200,000 associates in all 50 states and two territories, ten provinces in Canada, and 50 more countries. We serve seven million meals a day in North America, from vending and office coffee solutions to restaurants, corporate cafes, schools, arenas, museums, remote sites and more.”


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Tags: hospitality, state of travel education, travel education

Photo credit: Students at Les Roches International School of Hotel Management. Les Roches International School of Hotel Management / Flickr

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