THECOLLEGEHOTEL: Learning on the job

    THECOLLEGEHOTEL was developed in order to create opportunities for students to learn from an authentic hotel situation. The hotel is an initiative of the ROC (Regional Education Centre) of Amsterdam. Jeroen Ankersmit, founding father of the College Hotel, is director of innovation with the ROC in Amsterdam and Schiphol College. The ROC provides vocational training in the fields of hospitality, tourism, pastry-making, personal hygiene, technical services and security at lower secondary school level (VMBO) and intermediate vocational education level (MBO). The centre works in close cooperation with institutions in higher vocational education (HBO, i.e., at bachelor level). The most important reason for establishing the College Hotel was the large gap that exists between theory and practice. Students could obtain a diploma in a profession without having a lot of practice. This led to the idea of developing not only a hotel alongside the school (as so many hotel schools do), but a hotel in the city centre that would succeed in gaining a place within the hospitality industry. The main focus in developing this hotel was to provide students with opportunities to learn, in combination with professional and traditional hospitality. Students provide 80% of the services provided, and professionals provide the remaining 20%. The following figure gives some idea of the timeframe of its development.

    Some facts;

    Preliminary preparations: started January 2000, officially open: in May 2005.

    Operational form: private limited company

    Management support: formerly the Stein Group, currently the Preferred Hotel Group.

    Facilities: 40 different rooms, bar/lounge, conference & banqueting facilities, a restaurant that can seat 60, massage, porters, room service.

    Concept: boutique hotel, ‘Amsterdam School’ style of architecture, Dutch with a modern twist.

    Staff: about 30 permanent members of staff. Number of students: between 80 and 100 per day (ca 500 per year). Students are from the following training programmes: Hotel and catering, Tourism, Pastry-making, Technical Services, Security. Educational levels: lower secondary school (VMBO), intermediate vocational education (MBO) and higher vocational education (HBO).

    The concept is based on the following mainstays:

    The Design: The following key phrases were applied to designing the hotel: the building, its soul, craftsmanship, classical themes, traditions, students, experience, feeling at-home, out-and-about-town experience, quality, comfort, luxury, international.

    The Interior: Experience, emotion, a hint of classic, timelessness, surprising, eclectic, relaxed, sexy, pure, craftsmanship, dark/light, respect for the building.

    The Attitude: The hotel expects the following attitude from its entire staff: a return to old-fashioned values regarding service, visible craftsmanship, providing a service must be fun, professionalism and commodity knowledge are of the utmost importance. Treat guests as if they are your personal guests. No nine-to-five attitude, but thoughts and actions based on caring for the guests and the hotel. Excellent appearance; act like you are on stage; be on time (15 minutes before your shift starts); no smoking or eating in or around the building; team spirit. THECOLLEGEHOTEL is all about managing desires.

    The educational concept

    In practice it has always been difficult to combine education and commerce. Boundaries between public and private sometimes have to be stretched in order to create a meaningful learning environment that is rich in context. After all, you want students to experience what happens in the 'real world'. This means creating an environment and an educational concept without detracting from actual practice. Students therefore take centre-stage in this concept. Students do not walk around wearing a badge indicating their status as a ‘trainee’. For guests, the students are simply part of the staff. Every member of staff is given a realistic work-schedule. Every student has a job to do. This means that your colleagues are depending on you.

    Developments taking place within contemporary intermediate vocational education were taken into account when designing the educational concept. Learning within a vocational context meant converting established (end-of-term) examination requirements into properly defined competences. These competencies are linked with a position in the real world. A clear combination of learning and vocational competencies is essential for anyone new to the vocation.

    The educational concept of THECOLLEGEHOTEL was designed on the basis of this fact. Obviously, this concept must also be in keeping with the intrinsic features of a boutique hotel. Together, all these aspects make up the concept as a whole: the hotel's exterior, its interior, the profile of the permanent staff, the profile of students, the range of services, the team of teachers and the educational concept.

    What does THECOLLEGEHOTEL offer its guests?

    THECOLLEGEHOTEL offers its guests a classic though trendy environment in which a lot of care went into its design. Its rooms have a delightfully classic design. It is a place where you can enjoy meeting someone, or having lunch or dinner. It is suitable for businesses to hold meetings and accommodate their guests. The hotel provides high-quality hospitality and service with a smile that is sincere, though sometimes timid. Though errors and clumsiness cannot be precluded, any mishaps should be looked upon as mere details. Its authenticity is what will win the game.

    Which partners helped THECOLLEGEHOTEL to realise this concept?

    Important partners in this concept are the ROC for the schooling, the Municipality of Amsterdam that provides a subsidy to support the practical education and the professional hotel organisation that is prepared to cooperate in such a context.

    How did THECOLLEGEHOTEL organise the process?

    A number of (measurable) results were formulated in advance. Right from the start, attention was paid to:

    • more exciting education that is more geared to the perceptions of students;
    • improved preparation of students for the employment market;
    • reducing the student dropout rate to a minimum;
    • a higher pass-rate with more students gaining a diploma;
    • increasing the intake of new students;
    • more attention for this course of education by means of good PR;
    • encourage more innovative developments in education;
    • adjusting the school organisation, from 38 weeks to 52 weeks of education.

    There were three main aspects to designing the educational concept:

    1) content, 2) organisation, 3) communication.

    The content is about the educational units incorporated into the learning process at THECOLLEGEHOTEL. This meant transposing education from the school environment to the real-life context. It required adjustments in both the teaching packages and in the organisation, as the point of departure is a learning environment for 365 days a year.

    The organisation is about the way in which students are supervised and how the educational units will be concluded (by means of exams). The decision was made right from the start to recruit professionals from the business community as the hotel's permanent staff, as their employment contracts differ from those of people employed in education. This does not mean that teachers are not involved in the learning process within the hotel. The fact is that, as an educator, you are always responsible for your students wherever they may be learning. Teachers play an important role in preparing students for their work in the hotel and in coordinating matters between the school and the hotel.

    Communication in this context refers to internal communication. We are referring here to communication within the hotel and communication between the hotel and the school. A flat organisation was chosen right from the start. The hotel manager supervises his management team (department managers), and the department managers supervise the students. In turn, third-year and fourth-year students supervise students who are in their first or second year.

    What does this mean for the staff and students of the hotel?

    THECOLLEGEHOTEL is a unique combination of guests, students and professionals. The focus is on providing old-fashioned hospitality and service, combined with a trendy environment. This requires professional behaviour on the part of staff and strict discipline vis-à-vis the concept. For example, the lounge has a ‘catwalk’ along which students are expected to walk at the start of their shift. This promotes the self-confidence of being on-stage. The design included the intentional use of a lot of glossy black paint and mirrors. This helps students to become aware of places where dirty or grimy stains are likely to occur. In this way, students learn in practice what the critical points are when a hotel is used intensively. Similarly, the beds are designed in such a way that they cannot be made up by one person alone. This is where teamwork comes in. The hotel is full of this type of learning opportunities.

                In 2005 THECOLLEGEHOTEL received a lot of publicity from both the Dutch and the international press. The hotel received two prizes for its concept and design. (TCH was honoured with the prestigious Prix Villegiature Award 2005 for the 'Best interior design in a hotel in Europe').

    The nice part about all this is that the interest did not go unnoticed by the students. During one radio interview, a journalist asked a student how he felt about the fact that the hotel had won a prestigious prize. The student was on bar-duty and he said that the prize had given him more confidence than he used to have. He felt proud and could see opportunities for even more self-improvement. He also learned things every day from guests, because normally he would never come into contact with such people. This is just one of the many examples of what has been happening during the last few weeks. Most of our students are extremely capable of realising what they are learning and how that learning took place.

    A few quotes from students about their experiences:

    When I heard that I would be doing my work placement at THECOLLEGEHOTEL, I wasn’t too happy about it. Why not? Because I thought, well, students don’t listen to teachers at school, so how can I expect them to listen to me? I mean, I’m just a student myself. What if they refuse to do things they don't like doing, like cleaning the toilets? The first week at THECOLLEGEHOTEL was a training week. That's when the previous Duty Manager taught me how to deal with some students. After that first week, the new Duty Managers were on their own – and that meant me! Well, to be honest with you, it wasn’t so bad at all. The students are actually eager to learn. I think this has to do with the fact that we are not at school and that it is all real.

    Student at the hotel school, Amsterdam

    I’ve learnt what goes on in the kitchen. Obviously I already had an idea from the practical sessions at school, but you learn more here. It’s more authentic. It’s also nice that other students are also at the hotel. You learn an awful lot from one another. I think the supervision is better too, because it is a training hotel. At any rate, my supervision was really good. Working at THECOLLEGEHOTEL was an amazing learning experience for me.

    Student, hotel & catering, bar fast-food entrepreneurship, last school-year

    When the work pressure was really high, and the performance and results were even higher, you get the feeling that you’d be able to cope with any bar in the world.

    Student at the hotel school, Amsterdam

    What type of business model model is this? What makes are the revenue streams and cost structures?

    Part of the hotel's profit is comprised of the number of learning moments that it creates. Fewer students drop out and an increased intake of new students!       THECOLLEGEHOTEL's income also comes from renting out hotel rooms, with its extremely high occupancy rate of about 80%, as well as from Food & Beverage (restaurant), the Bar/Lounge and Banqueting.

    Right from the start, the bar/lounge in particular has been extremely popular with both hotel guests and guests from outside who know where to find the hotel simply because of its bar/lounge. The restaurant has also been quite busy right from the start. The hotel was owned by the ROC until 2010. As the primary activity of ROCs is education, the Municipality of Amsterdam asked them to sell it, though on the condition of a ten-year guarantee that the educative concept would be retained.

    Questions on this case study

    1. What do you regard as revolutionary in THECOLLEGEHOTEL concept?
    2. Could this concept also be applied in health care?
    3. Would you want to receive service from students (taking into consideration that you pay the normal tariffs for a Design Hotel)? Explain your answer.
    4. What do you regard as strong points of this concept and what are its weak points?