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
Guest speakers in the Service Excellence will include Pete Hayda, managing director of sales and marketing at the Little Nell Hotel in Aspen, Colo. Photo of the Little Nell Hotel in winter provided by Aspen Snowmass.
Abbey Goers | January 24, 2023

Strolling into a five-star location can make anyone feel like a celebrity. The attention immediately falls on them – the guest – the center of the hospitality universe.

Guests may not realize it, but there are dozens of employees at any given time, working to make their luxury experience possible. And this spring semester, students at UW-Stout will learn what it takes to deliver five-star service.

Faculty and staff in UW-Stout’s School of Management, led by Professor Eric Brey, are offering a new Service Excellence course with the support of Forbes Travel Guide (FTG), which is known for its independent annual ratings of luxury hotels, restaurants and spas in more than 74 countries.

The Little Nell, pool, looking east. Photo by Aspen Snowmass.
The Little Nell Hotel / Aspen Snowmass

“UW-Stout is the first university in the world with this FTG collaboration. It will set our program and students apart from any other program,” Brey said. “Our relationship with FTG provides a unique opportunity to integrate a service excellence mindset throughout our program and curriculum.”

The course was built through various faculty and alumni relationships with FTG and was encouraged by Chancellor Katherine Frank.

Faculty met to learn and discuss the material, including the core service excellence content provided by FTG, before the semester began on Jan. 23, with a focus on integrating the philosophies and key foundations throughout hospitality-related courses.

“Service excellence is defined by a service mindset, along with a destination’s setting and atmosphere, that is emphasized by employee training, resources and service outcomes. Making sure everything exceeds the expectations of guests,” Brey explained. “It is really knowing what they want before they know they want it and being prepared to fulfill those wants.”

The Little Nell, outdoor dining. Photo by Aspen Snowmass.
Outdoor dining at the Little Nell / Aspen Snowmass

“Now more than ever before, people are emphasizing the experience and purpose behind where they choose to spend their time,” said Hermann Elger, Forbes Travel Guide CEO. “Our collaboration with UW-Stout is a testament to the school’s commitment to preparing their students for success in an increasingly service-driven culture.”

Students excited to join Forbes Travel Guide course

With the growing number of five-star hotels in the Midwest, travelers no longer need to venture to Paris or Venice for a luxury experience.

Destination Kohler, a Wisconsin luxury resort in Kohler, offers fine lodging, spa experiences, world-class golf and outdoor adventures. Listed on Forbes Travel Guide, it features the five-star American Club Resort Hotel, the four-star Immigrant Restaurant and the five-star Kohler Waters Spa.

The growth in high-end hospitality in the region has generated a need for luxury service-trained individuals to cater to guests’ experiences and expectations.

The Service Excellence course for up to 30 students, is almost full. “There is an excitement among students about the course and what this will mean for their potential careers,” Brey said.

The elective course is a general business offering, open to students in any major with interest in service excellence, including hotel, restaurant and tourism management, business administration and entrepreneurship majors.

The Little Nell, March 2022. Photo by Aspen Snowmass
A night out at the Little Nell / Aspen Snowmass

Students will learn firsthand what day-in and day-out exposure to luxury means and how to provide service excellence through eight weeks of content provided by FTG.

Through FTG’s video guides, students will learn foundations in food and beverage, spa settings, front office and housekeeping.

FTG’s guides on Leading Through Luxury, including the elements of an effective service culture, best daily practices, team member accountability and addressing guest concerns will help students build the soft skills needed in the industry as they participate in individual and group exercises to practice service excellence.

Guest speakers will include Robert Sereci, general manager of Medinah Country Club in Chicago; Pete Hayda, managing director of sales and marketing at the Little Nell Hotel in Aspen, Colo.; and the management team at Destination Kohler. Brey and faculty have a longstanding partnership with Sereci, Hayda and Kohler.

“The Little Nell Hotel is proud of our working relationship with UW-Stout and is excited to support the addition of the Forbes Travel Guide content into their hospitality program,” Hayda said. “This curricular addition will certainly give their students an advantage after graduation.”

Students will also have the opportunity to have an overnight stay at Destination Kohler, where they will eat, live and breathe luxury, Brey said. They will experience luxury to know what guests expect and to understand how employees need to think ahead of those expectations.

The Little Nell, winter interior room. Photo by Aspen Snowmass.
A room at the Little Nell Hotel / Aspen Snowmass

Brey and faculty are also working on a luxury minor, with possible approval next year. The minor will incorporate key courses to cover all aspects of the luxury space, with a plan to make the minor and course readily adaptable to teach internationally.

“The course opens up recruitment worldwide for students to come to Stout,” Brey said.

Experience in service excellence could lead to upwards of a 20% increase in starting salaries to meet the needs of luxury environments, he added.

A renovation to meet hospitality needs

The hotel, restaurant and hospitality management program is housed in Heritage Hall, which received priority approval for renovation from the UW System Board of Regents. The renovation is ranked No. 1 in the Chippewa Valley and No. 3 for major academic building renovation projects.

Major renovation of Heritage Hall ranked No. 1 in Chippewa Valley, third for UW System academic buildings

A critical renovation project of one of UW-Stout’s busiest classroom and lab buildings has taken a major step forward.
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Additional hospitality-related programs in Heritage Hall are real estate property management and golf enterprise management. The state job outlook for these graduates is expected to grow between 6% and 15% by 2025.

UW-Stout was recently ranked No. 13 for Best Hospitality and Hotel Management Schools in the World by CEOWorld magazine of New York and was named one of the top 30 universities in the nation for its connections to business and industry, including hospitality partnerships with more than 100 notable national and international businesses.

The hotel, restaurant and tourism management program is ranked 6th on the list of the top online bachelor’s programs in hospitality management based on return on investment.

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