What are the advantages of taking time away from work for professional development?

Shara Walden: For hospitality professionals, the opportunity to spend time focused on their role and big-picture business needs without the demands of daily operations is almost impossible to find. The Professional Development Programme (PDP) creates an environment where business needs are front of mind, allowing the mental space to see different perspectives and examine problems from a fresh point of view.

The two-week intensive PDP immersion is the sweet spot; one can completely disconnect from the intensity of daily responsibilities and still transition back into operations with minimal disruption. Instead of commuting, time is spent networking with other participants and continuing the discussions long after classes end for the day. Individuals often talk about the ‘magic’ of Cornell’s Ithaca campus – it helps enable students to achieve a frame of mind that is open to possibility and eager to absorb new information.

What are some of the current trends in hospitality management explored in the PDP?

One example would be digital marketing and online reputation management. Any hospitality operation needs a strong digital presence to be competitive, yet many leaders started their careers well before online management existed.

They come to us for certifications in revenue management, marketing and advanced hospitality marketing, not just to drive strategy and decisions within their organisation, but to also level up on technology, theory, terminology and applications.

All of the PDP courses offer opportunities to apply concepts through advanced simulations and case studies. These tools allow participants to test ideas without risking those decisions at the property level. Individuals return home with a strong sense of the implications of individual strategic decisions, allowing them to create a blueprint for their next steps that is targeted and focused.

What should participants take into account when choosing a course?

PDP practices a robust process of constant evolution and reinvention. Celebrating its 90th year, the core principle of delivering cutting-edge educational opportunities is what has allowed this programme to thrive for almost a century.

PDP offers sequences of specially designed courses separated into tracks for different levels of experience, completed over up to four consecutive years. Our courses earn individuals a certification recognised around the world. Each area of focus has a different mix of required and elective courses to complete a certification, so participants can customise a PDP path that best complements their existing skills and the areas in which they would like to improve.

Level A courses are open to anyone with at least two years’ experience in the hospitality industry or a related field. Level B courses are designed for senior-level managers who typically have more than five years’ experience, or individuals who have completed all the required Level A courses.

How do you develop your courses to meet the current needs of the industry?

Most PDP faculty members also teach undergraduate or graduate-level courses at Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, so they are in tune with the trends and the current challenges that people in the industry may face. Faculty members are regularly invited to propose new topics and update coursework to reflect the changing landscape of the industry.

At the end of each participant’s PDP experience, we distribute a programme evaluation to collect feedback about the courses offered and the programme experience as a whole. That information is aggregated and used to inform change in programme structure, curriculum discussions and curriculum expansion.

What should leaders in hospitality be prepared for in the future?

Tomorrow’s leaders need to be able to anticipate and embrace change. Population fluctuations and changes in economic vitality are giving new demographics the resources to access international travel. Successful leaders will need to maintain a cross-border mentality; flexibility is critical. They will need to recognise that disintermediation continues to grow, and to be prepared to innovate, rather than simply accept the status quo. Travellers want to engage with their preferred brands outside of the confines of their stay. The challenge for tomorrow’s leaders will be to find new ways to adhere guests to their brand.