Olympic Hospitality

Olympic Hospitality

More than a dozen Robinson College of Business students, pictured beneath the bridge to Atlanta’s Olympic flame cauldron, studied both the city’s 1996 and London’s 2012 summer games this Maymester

Maymester at Georgia State sees Panthers from all schools of the university fan out across the globe for brief but intense study abroad experiences. Among this year’s offerings was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for students interested in event management: a hands-on preview of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.

Over the course of three weeks, 16 students from the Robinson College of Business immersed themselves in the planning, marketing and logistics involved in hosting the Olympics. Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality Instructor Deborah Robbe, who conceived and led the class, structured the program around a weeklong trip to London, bookending the experience with a study of Atlanta’s own 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.

“We’re comparing and contrasting the differences” of the two Olympics, Robbe said. With students in the class ranging in age from 18 to 27, some probably don’t even remember for themselves the Atlanta games, now 16 years removed; but, being a downtown campus, GSU was in the middle of Atlanta’s Olympic preparations as well as the event itself.

Robbe lined up a roster of experts who have been involved in various aspects of Olympic events over the years for the on-campus portion of the course. Dan Graveline, former executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center who oversaw the development of Centennial Olympic Park, shared his experiences working on the 1996 Olympics. Among the other speakers to address the class were General Electric Director of Olympic and Sport Marketing Christopher Katsuleres and representatives of ARAMARK, InterContinental Hotels Group and the Global Hospitality division of The Coca-Cola Company.

“Atlanta is the perfect place to teach hospitality, because all of these international headquarters are here and they’re very supportive of us,” Robbe said. “We’re four blocks from the World Congress Center and Centennial Olympic Park, and we have all these great companies. It’s a local phone call, and then you get international executives into your classroom.”

The class then flew to London for a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming Summer Games, which begin July 27. There, students toured many of the new Olympic facilities both temporary and permanent, such as the Velodrome, the Riverbank Arena and the Aquatics Centre, as well as storied venues like Wimbledon and Lord’s Cricket Grounds. The group met with London & Partners and VisitEngland, the tourism boards for London and Great Britain, respectively, to talk about event management and destination marketing, and learned about Olympic security challenges and risk management from a representative from the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games. Students also conducted interviews with London locals as part of a research component of the course.

After two weeks under the tutelage of seasoned hospitality leaders in Atlanta and London, the students returned to campus to finish out the term with discussion and analysis of what makes a successful Olympic Games and individual research papers.

Marketing and Hospitality Administration senior Heather Denny signed up for the Olympic Games Preview because it brought together several of her interests in one course: athletics, event management and traveling abroad. She says learning the ins and outs of executing a mega-event like an Olympic Games would give her the confidence to plan any event in her future career.

“This is a mecca of athletes and a unity of several countries,” Denny said before the trip. “To be a part of the Olympics is probably on every person’s bucket list, and to be chosen is a humbling experience that I will never forget.”