Guest Columnist

Hospitality is not rocket science … or is it?


Stowe Shoemaker, from left, dean of UNLV Harrah College of Hospitality, LVCVA Host Committee Chairman Oscar B. Goodman and showgirl Dani Reeves are pictured at UNLV on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (Mark Damon/Las Vegas News Bureau)

Hospitality is the engine of Las Vegas tourism. And Stowe Shoemaker is the man who revs that engine until it’s ready to roar.

Since 2013, as dean of the UNLV Harrah College of Hospitality, which prepares future generations of hospitality movers and shakers to shake up and move our hospitality industry to ever greater heights, Shoemaker’s contributions are as vital to our allure as a worldwide destination as any Lady Gaga residency or Cirque du Soleil extravaganza.

Expertise? Shoemaker is a master in the fields of pricing, revenue management, consumer behavior and customer loyalty programs. Resume’? He’s worked with or consulted for British Airways, Landry’s and the Hilton and Hyatt hotel chains. He’s  even aided the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to improve patient satisfaction in its Division of Diagnostic Imagery.

 Academic chops? Note the Donald Hubbs Distinguished Professorship at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel Administration, and his membership in the executive education faculty at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration. Publishing cred? Chalk up his authorship of several books on hospitality marketing.

Granted, he’s not a rocket scientist, but the parallels between that specialty and his own field are surprisingly numerous. And as you’ll read below, few can match his knack for launching future hospitality leaders into Southern Nevada tourism orbit.


Let’s think for the moment about rocket science and what it takes to execute a successful launch:

  1. Success depends on many pieces coming together at exactly the right time.
  2. It takes many people working together to fulfill the mission.
  3. Discipline, focus, persistence and productivity are key.
  4. A single error can derail the mission.

Now substitute the hospitality and gaming industries for rocket science. I know it sounds crazy, but think about managing a dinner for 1,000 conventioneers, or rolling out a new human resources policy across multiple properties, or launching a new casino marketing strategy. These same elements apply.

Stowe Shoemaker

No doubt, hospitality is a highly vibrant and multidimensional discipline extending well beyond traditional notions of the industry (e.g., front-line customer service). This is why we at the UNLV Harrah College of Hospitality frequently talk about the art, science and business of hospitality and gaming education. There are various facets and demands to what we do, and we believe there is much to glean from other disciplines — even a highly specialized area like rocket science.

Our job as hospitality educators is to translate this understanding into something tangible for our students — tools that will serve them in the industry.

Here are some of the takeaways we instill:

The hospitality industry is complex. As the industry has matured, the complexity has increased. To deal with this surge in complexity, our industry calls for scientific reasoning with strong theoretical foundations to understand the complex problems facing their organizations. We must harness research as a means to create new knowledge and to better understand why things are the way they are.

Recently I have been meeting with industry executives to learn about the questions their organizations are confronting. I then connect these executives with our faculty. Our goal as thought leaders is to address these issues through scholarly research, which lines up with UNLV being named a Tier One research institution by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.  

Our industry is dynamic. To support an industry that continuously shifts and changes, we have to remain nimble in our approach to education. That is why we need to make sure we are teaching topics that will not only make students ready for their first job, but that will also give them the skill set to move to their third and fourth job. To make sure this happens, we are in the process of redesigning our curriculum to more closely reflect current industry needs. This updated curriculum, planned for fall 2019, will focus on building industry-relevant skills while allowing students more flexibility in selecting classes that align with their area of interest.

Our industry is based on precision. In this business, errors result in lost customers and lost revenue. That is why attention to detail is critical with details such as: Was the customer’s room clean? Did they pay what they expected to pay? Was their banquet dinner served on time? We as hospitality educators sharpen our students’ attention to detail by integrating critical thinking and problem-solving skills into their coursework and group projects.

In classes ranging from Food & Beverage Cost Control to Facilities to Hospitality Finance, students are exposed to a wide array of realistic “professional” scenarios. Our job is to encourage them to think on their feet. Their job is to come up with a product that is nearly flawless. 

The list of takeaways goes on, but the takeaway of this story remains simple: If anyone ever tells you that the hospitality industry is not rocket science, you have grounds to disagree. Though these disciplines may seem light years away from one another, the rocket scientist and the hospitality industry practitioner have more in common than meets the eye.

In other words, the hospitality industry may not take you to the moon, but it can give you a guest experience that’s out-of-this-world.

Voices of Vegas features guest columnists from all walks of public life in Las Vegas. With columns touching on local cultural, historical, social, civic, educational and humanitarian topics, among others, they weave a tapestry of perspectives that emphasize the dynamism, depth and benefits of the Southern Nevada tourism industry.

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STOWE SHOEMAKER, Dean, William H. Harrah College of Hospitality at University of Nevada Las Vegas

STOWE SHOEMAKER, Dean, William H. Harrah College of Hospitality at University of Nevada Las Vegas