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Jennifer Robison

Chinese Officials Seek Advice From UNLV Tourism Faculty

28 September 2005

CHINA AND LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Chinese officials are looking to nab some serious American trade secrets.

Expecting throngs of visitors during the Beijing Olympics and the Shanghai World Expo, the Chinese government is enlisting hospitality experts from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to impart details on the customer service that has made Sin City one of the world's most popular tourism destinations.

Ed Polivka, director of hospitality outreach services at UNLV's Harrah College of Hotel Administration, said faculty members are writing program proposals for Chinese officials in areas such as food and beverage, hotel management, crowd control and surveillance and security. Polivka said he expects training to begin in February.

"They are interested in learning Western management styles and the latest techniques for using computerized systems," Polivka said. "They want to take advantage of our experience in customer service and dealing effectively with groups."

Polivka said UNLV's training program could involve up to 20 instructors from the college, working with as many as 1,000 trainees beginning next year. Those trainees -- mostly government officials and hospitality managers -- will then impart their new knowledge to workers in the industry.

Because travel visas into the United States are difficult for Chinese visitors to obtain, UNLV faculty will travel overseas rather than host trainees in Las Vegas, Polivka said.

The Chinese government and hospitality operators will pay for transportation and housing of UNLV instructors, so the school will "at least cover our costs," he said. The school could also earn consulting fees above and beyond its expenses.

Polivka said China's entrance into the World Trade Organization in 2001 and its "establishment of a free-market economy" showed those in the country's hospitality industry "that they need to improve their ability to provide market-driven customer service."

Polivka said China will become the world's No. 1 tourism destination over the next 20 years, driven initially by two major events: The Olympics and the World Expo.

In 2008, Beijing will host the Summer Olympics. Numbers from the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Bid Committee show that the city had 458 star-grade hotels with 84,812 rooms in 2000; that figure will grow to 800 star-grade hotels with a 130,000 rooms in 2008.

In 2010, Shanghai will host the World Expo. The city will invest more than $3 billion in construction for the expo, and officials expect that 60 million visitors -- as many as 75,000 people a day -- will tour the expo over a five-month period.

Reas Kondraschow, senior vice president and managing director of Cendant Hotel Group International in New York, said Chinese hospitality leaders "have a huge hunger to understand how to operate and improve their levels of hospitality, service and food-and-beverage offerings."

Cendant has 40 hotels in China under brand names that include Ramada, Howard Johnson, Days Inn and Super 8. Kondraschow said international guests at his company's hotels expect staff to have good English skills, good hygiene, professional dress and a friendly demeanor. While receptionists and front-desk clerks in Chinese hotels generally have those attributes, such professionalism "begins to trail off with maintenance, housekeeping and food and beverage (personnel)," Kondraschow said. "And those are the areas where guests will have most of their experiences. So upgrading their associates in those aspects is very critical."

It's not the first time UNLV has developed training programs in Asia. Polivka said government officials from several Asian countries have visited with UNLV faculty to discuss training. Earlier this week, the university's hotel administration college announced it would establish its first international campus in Singapore, where it will open to 250 students in fall 2006.

Bruce Bommarito, director of the Nevada Commission on Tourism, said UNLV's training programs could reap rewards for local tourism. Within the next decade, China could "dwarf" all other foreign markets in the number of visitors it sends to Las Vegas, he said. Training Chinese leaders in customer service could boost the Nevada travel brand.

"Having instructors from UNLV there, and having (Chinese officials) know this is a Nevada customer-service standard we're talking about, could inspire more Chinese people to come to Nevada and experience it firsthand," Bommarito said. "It will send a message that this is where you get it done right."