The culmination of a semester’s long worth of hard work and planning will be on display at the 28th Annual Hospitality Gala on Thursday, April 20 at The Hotel at Auburn University as students in the College of Human Sciences Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management plan and orchestrate the signature annual event.
Guests will enjoy a reception with wine and hors d’oeuvres, a formal dinner featuring world-renowned chefs and winemakers, a live and silent auction and more in what has been the hospitability program’s signature fundraising event since 1992.
Dr. Alecia Douglas, associate professor in the Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management, has been instrumental in how the Hospitality Gala has evolved over the past 15 years.
“When I joined Auburn University in 2008 this was one of the courses that was passed on to me and at that point in time the partners and leadership team got together to take a look at what was done in the past and how we could elevate the event,” Douglas said. “We crafted our goals and objectives for the event, then associated it with the chef winemaker culinary experience and had our first Hospitality Gala in 2009. It was a rebranding of an existing fundraising event but what we know of the gala today is what started in 2009.”
Under the guidance of Douglas as well as Ithaka Hospitality Partners and leadership at The Hotel at Auburn University, students spend months planning and focusing on skill development such as sales, marketing, catering, culinary and operations and more before the night of Hospitality Gala.
“The students who are part of this course are students who are on the event management track and it is now considered the capstone course given what’s involved in the planning,” Douglas said. “It’s the first event they actually take ownership of from very early in the planning stages all the way through to execution. It’s a student-run event in the sense that it is planned and decisions are led from the design aspect of the event from the students and from this course itself.”
Another main focus of the Hospitality Gala is recognizing an honoree who has demonstrated excellence in the hospitality field. This year’s honoree for the Horst Schulze Award for Excellence in Hospitality is Auberge Resorts Collection President and CEO Craig Reid.
Reid is described as a dynamic hospitality industry leader respected for his expertise in hotel development, management and service excellence. Reid joined Auberge in January 2014, following a noteworthy career with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts that spanned more than three decades. As President of Hotel Operations, Americas, his position since 2011, Reid was responsible for setting the strategic direction for Four Seasons hotels in Canada, the U.S. and Latin America, a region that spanned seven time zones.
In choosing to honor Reid and Auberge Resorts Collection, Douglas said there were three main reasons.
“There are three ways Auberge is connected to our program with one being they are a leader in the ultra-luxury accommodation sector of the hospitality industry,” Douglas said. “They also have the new scholarship with our program and have recruited our alums in their properties and lastly, they are a featured stop on our six day, six night epicurean tour of California each May where we take select students to visit with industry leaders. They are engaging with our students and program in a number of ways.”
Beginning last year, Auberge Resorts Collection started the inaugural Nextgen Annual Scholarship program and pledged more than $40,000 in scholarship funds to four outstanding Horst Schulze School of Hospitality Management students to financially assist them in pursuing their passion for hospitality. This year there are 30 students enrolled in the Hospitality Gala class, or as Douglas refers to them, planners, and those 30 planners are broken down into four teams consisting of décor and design, auction, operations and marketing and registration.
When asked what’s the main importance of hosting the Hospitality Gala each year Douglas provided numerous reasons but the hands-on experience is something that stands out.
“There are real implications,” Douglas said. “We’ve had students in our class that have been hired by other companies as a result of what they do in this class and we’ve also had students get professional certifications over this course that will help boost their resume and I think it’s a great asset for students. They are working directly with event vendors to choose options for the evening that will cover the rentals, linens, floral design and the overall flow and feel of the event and that’s theirs to own.”
For more information on The Hospitality Gala or to purchase tickets, visit thehospitalitygala.org.