Kansai Gaidai University educating future IR hotel managers

Last September, Kansai Gaidai University opened the nation’s first academic program focused on hotel management, explained Stephen Zurcher, the program’s director, in a recent exclusive interview with Asia Gaming Brief.

“We are training these people to become managers in the Kansai hotels and elsewhere. That is the entire focus of this program,” he said.

In spite of Japan’s reputation for hospitality within the broader national culture, formal education in the hospitality field has been lacking, and one consequence is that major hotel chains in Japan have tremendous difficulty acquiring qualified and talented hotel managers. Many of the largest chains end up hiring foreigners as their general managers as a result of this deficit.

The two-year Kansai Gaidai University “Service and Hospitality Industry Leadership Program” is taking dozens of English-language students and providing them with practical management skills, including internships at major hotels as well as exchange programs with advanced overseas hospitality programs.

Zurcher explains that the genesis of the program was his discussions with local hotel general managers through the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan’s Kansai chapter, where many of these local business leaders complained that Japan lacks trained and effective hotel managers.

A mutual acquaintance also put him in contact with Jason Hyland, president of MGM Resorts Japan. Hyland and the MGM team responded immediately and quite proactively, meeting university officials and learning about the new program.

MGM was “just overwhelmingly enthusiastic and supportive” and looking for ways to help, explained Zurcher.

When the public opening ceremony for the program was held last November 27, one of the main featured speakers was Ari Kastrati, senior vice-president of food & beverage strategy at MGM Resorts International, who noted, “We are proposing to create one of the world’s leading IRs, which will have a staff of about 10,000 people of which about 3,000 will be managers.”

Students who graduate before the anticipated opening the first Japanese IRs in 2024 may still get snapped up by MGM or other operators and then posted at overseas IRs for a period of time.

Many of the graduates are also likely to join hotel firms in the Kansai and elsewhere unrelated to the IR industry, such as the Ritz, Intercontinental, Hyatt, or Marriott.

While MGM has been notably proactive in building links with the Kansai region under its openly announced “Osaka First” strategy, the local government has yet to choose its IR operator partner. Whether or not MGM emerges as the ultimate winner, some of the students graduating from the new Kansai Gaidai University program are likely to find themselves working at Yumeshima and at other Japanese IRs in the years ahead.