By Shirish Bokde
Spending 24 years in academics with total work experience of 30 years out of which 6 years has been spent in the hospitality sector. I have learnt the importance of commitment, Enthusiasm, Leadership skills and necessity of being organised. It’s been 14 and a half years I have been associated with Apeejay Institute of Hospitality. We as a team have worked relentlessly in making AIH a sought-after hospitality education institution. Our alumni who is being so successful in their careers stands testimony to the values AIH has added during their stint as a student. Recently the 12th batch of Apeejay Institute of Hospitality graduated, which was celebrated through virtual ceremony. The teachers and staffs feel so proud, that despite these difficult times all our students supported their teachers to complete the curriculum successfully. All online classes were learning for the teachers and the students, thanks to the technology.
The Apeejay Institute of Hospitality was established in the year 2007; it is located at CBD Belapur and shares it’s premises with The Park Navi Mumbai. Under the aegis of Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, AIH is also the center of learning for Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, the group’s Management Training Programme, Executive Training Programmes, Professional Development Programmes, as well as consultancy projects for the hospitality industry are some of AIH’s additional core activities. Not only academics but extra-curricular activities are also given equal impetus. Students have the advantage of getting hands-on operational training at The Park, Navi Mumbai, doing their internship from any of the Park properties or associated organizations and take up careers with the Park Hotels as well as other hotels.
The institute offers a 3 years Bachelor Degree programme in Hospitality Studies affiliated to the University of Mumbai, is recognized by the Government of Maharashtra and University Grants Commission. The institute also offers IATA Foundation in Travel and Tourism Diploma from IATA, Canada. I grew up in a disciplined service class family. My father worked in the railways and that made us move places and I got to study across the country. After completing my post graduate diploma in hotel management from IHM, Mumbai. I started working and continued with my higher studies and successfully completed Masters in Human Resource Development and Management and Masters in Tourism Management. I believe learning is what helps us evolve as human being and make ourselves a better individuals. This motivates me to continue pursuing my PhD in Human Resources from Amity University, Mumbai.
Working at AIH has been one of the best decision of my life as I get ample options to explore my ideas, creativity and innovations. I would like to thank Ms. Priya Paul who played a pivotal role in encouraging all of us to put our best version to work and never stop learning. We all look up to her. Mrs. Shirin Paul Ma’am has been mentoring us since I have joined. She has a very special connect with the institute and we feel humbled. She has always been very supportive and encouraging. I am also grateful to our management team Mr. Vijay Dewan for being a visionary leader, Ms. Sujata Guin for her timely interventions whenever I’ve approached her. Mr. Bhuvan with whom I work closely; has always been very supportive and also the team at AIH with whom I enjoy a strong bond.
The Integrated setup with AIH and The Park, Navi Mumbai gives us a clear differentiation and advantage to our students for teaching and training purposes. Most of our faculty members are involved in conducting training sessions with The Park Hotels team members online/offline. The experience drawn from these sessions in terms of learning gets incorporated in the sessions with our students too which adds to the credibility resulting in an outstanding unbeatable learning experience for our students. It’s been about 18 months now that the faculty team at AIH have been conducting online classes for our students and training programmes for the hotel team members. From time to time, we have online meetings to brain storm about innovative teaching- learning ideas to experiment with. We have evolved with time and are quite comfortable delivering quality education virtually. In this endeavour, even the students are encouraged to contribute by sharing ideas to develop best practises.
The Pandemic has made us adopt newer initiatives in student and faculty engagement and their development. Webinars and Virtual Master Classes are conducted on a regular basis. The invited speakers have been experts in their domains and have joined us from around the globe. This has been a huge learning resource for our faculty and students alike. Over the years the institute, staff and students have won many personal and organisational accolades. The institute was adjudged as the best learning centre in the country by Golden Star in 2011. Our team members have created various benchmarks with their contribution to the industry by way of conducting training, carrying out research or writing for reputed publications. The placements over the years have been excellent with our students taking up prime jobs within the hospitality and tourism industry. They also have won many inter collegiate events be it professional or cultural events.
We have a student counsellor in house who is trained in psychology, emotional intelligence and solution-based counselling. She conducts programmes for the students and if anyone needs specific help, he or she can connect with her. All our faculty are handling the student engagement and counselling in their capacities. We also speak to the parents on a regular basis. This pandemic has impacted the human lives like never before, it threw us into the uncertainty. Personally, I have experienced every emotion during this period; it was heartening to see the support from all my colleagues pouring in from all directions which I cherish as my wealth. The feeling of being loved and cared for.
The pandemic has changed the education system completely. We have started using technology greatly. We are glad that students are not suffering due to closed schools or academic institutions; they are getting education on a virtual mode. Once the institutions open, they can get back and continue. This is the biggest pro as far as the cons are concerned hands- onpractical are not happening though our faculty are conducting them online. Students get to see them and practise a bit but the element of tangibility is missing.
It’s a fact that pandemic has hit the hospitality sector very hard. But the good news is that since hospitality courses address the requirements of the service sector and also customer relationship management, other sectors which have not been hit by the pandemic attract hospitality students to join retail sectors. This phase also gave an opportunity for the students to pursue higher education, which many of our students have opted for. Some of them also took up entrepreneurial ventures and also join their family businesses and continue doing well adding to their experience.
Based on the above points, hospitality graduates have absolutely no reason to get worried about. Plenty of opportunities still exist. They just need to be connected with platforms providing such opportunities and further apply.
Shirish Bokde is Professor & Vice-Principal, Apeejay Institute of Hospitality, Navi Mumbai