The new generation hospitality managers: Being a student during the corona crisis

During the four years of their studies, Meeting Magazine and Efficient Hotel Partner follow six students from Hotelschool The Hague (Amsterdam campus). Twice a year, we ask them about their ambitions, dreams and vision for the hospitality industry. With the start of their first internship abroad, 2020 started out great. Unfortunately, they were unable to complete them due to corona.

Text: Marianne Kuiper, Efficient Hotel Partner
English translation: Jennifer Lam, Alumni

Goodbyes and a new beginning
It’s a busy day on Saturday 9 February 2020 at the Amsterdam campus of Hotelschool The Hague. It’s the day that about a hundred students, who started in February 2019, had to leave campus to make room for a hundred newbies. The first year of the four-year program, in which the students live together on campus, is over. Living on campus is an important part of the bachelor program, because the management of the campus (Skotel), is largely carried out by the students themselves. Checkout has started. Suitcases and boxes are piled high everywhere. Chatter and lots of laughter. Friendships for life have been built and now it’s quite hard to have to say goodbye. Today also marks the start of their first internship. The students will go on an internship for five to six months in a hotel of their own choosing in Europe or elsewhere. There’s lots of excitement in the air. Some will go far from home for the first time. An exciting time awaits them. Nobody knows at that time that it will be exciting in a completely different way.

At the beginning of March, all students have started their internship. They’ve just found their way in a new city and are full of excitement about gaining a new experience. And then corona breaks loose in all its intensity. Internships are cancelled and all students are ordered to return to the Netherlands or, if that is not possible, to their home country. This is easier for some people than others. We asked our six students how they have fared in recent months. Director of Alumni & Industry Relations Paul Griep explains how Hotelschool The Hague deals with these circumstances.

Razvan during his internship in the 5* Claridges Hotel

“I was quarantined like a prisoner” 

Immediately after checking out of the Skotel, Razvan leaves for his internship in London. He starts as a housekeeping supervisor in the 5* Claridges Hotel, which is special in its own way, because not many (male) students aspire to work in this department. Fortunately, he does not have to worry about housing, as Razvan is assigned a room in the opposite apartment complex, especially for interns. A nice bonus, because it is a hell of a job to find accommodation in London. “I quickly became friends with colleagues and had the time of my life. While the pandemic broke out everywhere in the Netherlands in early March, London was still relatively quiet. But the occupancy decreased day by day. I was transferred to the banqueting department for a big wedding. After that, everything came to a standstill”, says Razvan. The internship office sent all students an email with the compelling message to immediately end their internship and return home. Razvan continues: “There was hardly any direct flight to Romania, the only ticket I could get was 1000 GBP (1100 Euro). That was not an option, so I took the train to Brussels where I could stay with friends. Four days later I travelled to Romania. When I arrived, I was escorted by police to an empty family apartment where I was immediately quarantined for a fortnight. As a prisoner I sat there all alone. The police came by every day at random times to check whether I was at home. The highlight of the day was the food delivery. It felt post-apocalyptic. To pass the time I did sports exercises at home”.  After this lonely quarantine period, he went to live with his parents. Razvan has now been back in Amsterdam for a while, where he found a flat with a Romanian fellow student, which was not an easy task. “Landlords prefer it when homes aren’t shared as they fear it becoming a party hot spot. I understand that, after all, the temptation would be there. But I assured my landlord that this is not going to happen”, he laughs. In addition to his studies, Razvan works at The Student Hotel. He’s been able to combine work with studies as his study results have been excellent so far. “That way I can earn some extra money and partly provide for myself. My parents pay for my studies and I want them to be proud of me.”

Fauve arriving for London

“Was the turbulent flight a sign of times to come?” 

Quite quickly, Fauve managed to secure an internship at the 4* Bloomsbury Hotel in London. However, finding housing was a whole different ball game which costs her lots of blood, sweat and tears. Due to an unfortunate combination of circumstances, she had to look for a room for only herself in very expensive London. “Hours became days and days became weeks at my computer. At one point, I knew all the suburbs of London and the metro network by heart and was more aware of the housing supply than any real estate agent. ” Two weeks later than planned, Fauve finally flies to London. The flight is extremely turbulent. A sign of times to come? “For me, the decision to go abroad was an enormous challenge. But I certainly did not want to pass up on the opportunity to gain experience at one of London's most Instagrammable food & beverage hot spots, Dalloway Terrace and The Coral Room. ” The internship turns out to be much more fun than expected and the uncomfortable feeling quickly fades to the background. Fauve explains enthusiastically: “The Dalloway Terrace is completely transformed every season and decorated in style. In winter there are warm bear skins on the chairs, snowy branches on the table and festive lights are hanging everywhere. Cooking is done at very high standards and the menu is mouth-watering. I am not a stranger to fine dining, but at Bloomsbury I was amazed by all their original dishes. We had continuous menu tastings, as we had to be able to explain everything to the guest flawlessly, and were trained daily in upselling (= sales technique where you persuade the guests to order extra or more expensive items). The associated bonus structure for employees is very motivating", smiles Fauve. She continues: “The Coral Room serves trendy cocktails with a leading role for the bartender. Pure entertainment. The upper-class of London is a regular customer. Every day was a party.” And then, just when Fauve started to feel like a fish in the water, the corona crisis hits in all its fury. Everything changes in just a few days. Fauve takes the Eurostar back home with a heavy heart. She explains: “There was a fearful atmosphere in the train. We stood still in Brussels for a long time. It turned out that Belgium enforced a lockdown and we had to wait for permission to continue to the Netherlands. It was very surreal.” Fauve is still very disappointed that her internship was cancelled. “Now, all my classes are online and I’m at home every day. I really hope that there will be another possibility to continue my internship.”

Marie (far right) during internship in the kitchen at the 5* Marriott

“The internship is an important part of the bachelor program”

At the age of eight, Marie moved from France to the Philippines. She is used to living in different countries and adapting to the culture. Traveling and covering long distances is effortless for her. For her internship she preferred Florence, but it ended up being London where she was going to work in the kitchen at the 5* Marriott. “I was completely exhausted during the first few days, especially due to the constant pressure to perform at a high level. High tea is an important time of the day in English culture. Everyone in the pastry section is always ready to create the most delicious savoury and sweets snacks.” Her first real job and London life are going well. She initially wants to stay when the corona virus hits London, but Sam goes back to Spain and paying the rent by herself is too difficult. The Philippines are too risky, so Marie chooses to live with her grandfather and grandmother in Antibes, France. “It was quite enjoyable for the first few weeks. My two brothers also live there and we had a lot of catching up to do. But as time went on and I had to do replacement assignments online for school, things got a bit too crowded. Above all, I started to miss my friends very much.” When we asked Marie how she experienced the online Industry PRO-ject and the online lessons, she emphasizes that she would much rather have continued her internship. The internship is an important part of the bachelor programme and cannot be skipped. She explains: “As a person I have experienced growth through this crisis. You learn to appreciate the little things in life much more, to be satisfied with what you have and to enjoy what is still possible. But in terms of my studies, so far, I do not feel that I have made much progress. Ultimately, in the longer term, I expect everything to be balanced out.” Now that she is back in Amsterdam, she is working on her MO block. This means that as a second-year student, she must supervise a freshman with the practical subjects. “The situation is really bizarre. The 1.5 meter rule applies to all departments where practical lessons are given. Well, that's actually impossible to do.” Marie can't wait for things to get back to normal.

Sam (second left) and Fauve (left) at Dalloway Terrace

“Online education is highly exhausting” 

London is a popular destination and well-regarded. Sam also chooses this metropolis and also the Bloomsbury Hotel. “I soon realized that it was almost impossible to arrange housing in London from Amsterdam. After a few days, I was fed up with all those sites that didn't work and agents that didn't respond. They only want to rent out if you come and view the house and can get straight to the point.” She goes house hunting with her former Skotel roommate Marie while they are temporarily staying at a cheap hotel, so they have to find something quickly. Choices are limited and they end up with a flat in a somewhat uninviting suburb, an hour's journey to and from the hotel. “Well, I only slept there”, describes Sam, “My working days were quite long and afterwards we often went out.” The fun lasts exactly a month. Then she has to go home in a hurry, back to Spain, where her parents live. “I couldn't go back to Amsterdam, because I didn't have a house there yet and looking for one was not an option at the time. It took some getting used to being with my parents again. I was so used to doing my own thing. Everything was completely shut down in Spain, the lockdown forced us to stay inside for more than four weeks. We were given a daily timeslot to do our shopping and mouth masks were required outdoors. Walking the dog was the highlight of the day… Still, I had a nice summer once the measures were less strict and I was able to fully enjoy the sun, sea and beach.” The Industry PRO-ject that the hotel school introduced to replace the internship, in which she and a team had to map out various issues of companies and come up with solutions, is not very educational nor exciting to Sam. “It was quite different from company to company. I found it very difficult to do these projects online, with the team members being in other countries. I am a social "animal", which was one of the reasons for going to the hotel school. I find it exhausting to do everything online now.” Mid-August, Sam flies back to Amsterdam and starts looking for housing with Marie the same way as in London: approach agents, view houses and immediately make a decision. Together, they live in an apartment not too far from the hotel school where they look forward to better times.

Mark on his way to Dublin for his internship at 5* The Merrion Hotel

“I didn’t even get the chance to explore Dublin” 

Just like Marie, Mark had set his sights on Florence, Italy. To his great disappointment, this falls through. Mark goes to Dublin where he can fulfil his internship as a concierge in the 5* The Merrion Hotel. The Merrion Hotel (not to be confused with Marriott) is a fairly classic hotel with over 200 rooms. A typical old-fashioned, stately chic hotel where the rich and famous stay. “There were strict rules and a very large number of staff. No matter the occupancy, six concierge staff were rostered every day. Nothing was left to chance, which was a good thing as one day a whole horde of hysterically screaming girls blocked the entrance and climbed the windows because they thought Justin Bieber had checked in through the back entrance.” Mark was supposed to stay for five months and hadn’t even explored the beautiful city yet when he had to return home to Abcoude. “Occupation at the hotel dropped alarmingly, reaching a depth record. Not even comparable to after 9/11. Very unfortunate but I also felt relief that I had to go back. My girlfriend was in Rome and I was quite worried about the uncertainty about whether we would both return safely. I was not sick, but the feeling was the same. When you are sick you prefer to be in a familiar environment and to lie in your own bed.” Back in the Netherlands, Mark can choose between the industry PRO-ject and to start individually with a second year subject. “Part of this is APC. You are expected to do market research for "your hotel", which also involves making the budget. In this case we also had to take into account the effects of this corona crisis.” He regrets his choice halfway through. “It was extremely difficult to understand the material online. Unfortunately I only partly made it. The positive thing is that I can catch up on part of my internship at a later stage. That was a condition of this "deal". When Mark can start this ten-week internship is of course extremely uncertain at the moment. “I can't wait to go back. To be honest, I am quite done with online lessons.” For the time being he lives and studies at home and is awaiting the situation.

"Started a new study after having a good cry"

An exciting internship awaits him in Barcelona, but unfortunately that gets cancelled. Not because of the outbreak of the corona virus, but because of a combination of factors resulting in an early termination of his studies at Hotelschool The Hague. "I forgot to register for a resit of an exam." The school does not show any leniency. A tough lesson. “Yes, I am disappointed, I was very angry, but I quickly picked myself up. I'm not the type to dwell on something. You have to keep going, you cannot change it.” Tom finds a nice place in Amsterdam together with two friends from the hotel school and starts looking for a job. This wasn’t easy in times of the lockdown. Tom is not picky and takes on everything. "I packed boxes, I really didn't care, I just had to make money." Tom has now started a new study "international business" at the HVA. Sometimes it still hurts a bit when he sees his roommates busy with projects for the hotel school. But his friendships have certainly not suffered. "That's the advantage, my roommates are mostly at home, we often eat together and spend a lot of time together." He is also still a member of his sorority and is very active in the student association. He has been exempted from a number of subjects, which is why he can combine his current study with work. “I'm a go-getter, I can hardly sit still”, laughs Tom. “I quickly took on a managerial position at various catering businesses such as Hotshots and Plan West. If you roll up your sleeves and like to organize, you will stand out. ” Maybe a little too much partying and working during his hotel school days? It remains silent for a moment. “Well, I learned from it, but it’s time to focus on the future. I passed my first exam so I'm on the right track.”

PAUL GRIEP – Alumni Director & Industry Relations for Hotelschool The Hague
“Students are angry and done with online courses” 

The students are clearly not happy with the current situation. Paul Griep would also have preferred it differently. He is very concerned about his future alumni. However, a graduation ceremony is still a few years away for Razvan, Sam, Marie, Fauve and Mark. They are sophomores and are struggling with many different disappointments. Is there understanding? Paul answers: “It doesn't really matter what year you are in. Our students, naturally very critical, are angry and unanimously "done" with online classes. And yes, we certainly understand. They have opted for a school where physical lessons are given with a wide range of social aspects. The nicest parts of the four-year study are the practical lessons, the internships (twice, for five months) and the "outdoor challenge". These were all affected by corona and that’s a bitter pill to swallow.”
How does the school approach this situation and what priorities are set? “We are constantly working on alternatives such as hybrid education. From next semester onwards, students will attend a mix of online and on-campus classes. I have spent the entire summer working hard on this, skipping my vacation. We place emphasis on first-year students. They are given some priority compared to senior students. We are doing everything we can to keep the students in the Skotel because they still have to become part of our community. We have endless discussions with the GGD, put pressure on the government and do what we can to guarantee this, in our opinion, most important phase.” In March, the Skotel had to close from one day to the next. “Sadly, we had to send everyone back home. We also had to bring back all of our students who were on an internship from abroad and offer them emotional support. We did not want to run the risk that Schiphol would close, these were extremely uncertain times. Now, we mainly have to deal with a lack of space and fight against online lesson fatigue. For example, normally there is room for 165 students in the auditorium. With the 1.5 meter rule, there is only room for 29. A number of hotels including Zoku are lending a helping hand. That is greatly appreciated.”

Hotelschool The Hague regularly consults with the two other renowned hotel schools in our country, in Leeuwarden and Maastricht. “Yet we cannot be compared with each other. Every school has its own policy. These are exhausting times, let that be clear. And also challenging times. Whatever happens, our goal is that all alumni will not look back on just a memorable time, but on an extremely memorable time. Even though the corona virus tried to seriously ruin that time. These students are about to receive their diploma, the festive finale of the study. We always pay a lot of attention to this, but that has to be organized in a completely different way now.”

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