Students from the Rosen College of Hospitality Management were provided with a bird's-eye view on the development and marketing of I-Drive 360, a new attraction set to revolutionize International Drive.
Year after year of his 25-year tenure at Delta Airlines and six-year tenure at Universal Studios, Gary Swanson interviewed several Rosen College students vying for entry-level positions and noticed one thing: They lacked experience to reference and leverage in their job interviews.
"Like many of my fellow instructors who also came from the industry, what motivated me to go and teach full time is the huge challenge of making every UCF Rosen student more ready and more distinctly impressive and competitive in pursuit of hospitality jobs," said Swanson, who teaches Marketing for Hospitality and Tourism.
Swanson used his experience and industry contacts with Skål International, an organization for travel and tourism leaders worldwide, to partner with I-Drive 360's Director of Marketing and Sales John Stine.
"So much about business is about the case studies and inside these textbooks, [but] they are almost 7 years old," Swanson said. "But having a conversation with a job candidate who launched a project like this would be very impressive."
I-Drive 360 is a new attraction that will feature the highly anticipated Orlando Eye observation wheel, Madame Tussaud's Orlando wax museum and SEA LIFE Orlando aquarium, as well as several dining and nightlife options. Swanson and Stine developed several hands-on learning experiences for the students in the Marketing for Hospitality and Tourism to see the project being developed from the ground level.
In early September, students were updated on the progress of the attraction in a comprehensive presentation delivered by Stine.
Later on, they were led through an exclusive hard-hat tour of the construction site and afterward conducted one-on-one interviews with Stine and his colleagues for research on their own marketing plans to be presented later in the semester.
"He [Stine] showed us a whole different aspect and professionalism to our project," said junior event management major Emily Lang. "Instead of it just being some little presentation that we do in our other classes, this one motivated us to do better and we fed off of what he had to say."
Students also shadowed local hotel concierge desks and received feedback on how attractions such as I-Drive 360 can partner with hotels to deliver discounts and combination packages.
"I was really intrigued by being able to work with all these people to make sure I-Drive 360 is going to be a success," said senior communications major Megan Moulton. "It is definitely something I would consider being a part of in the future."
Moulton's team, Innovation Marketing, presented a comprehensive 10-point marketing plan that included promoting I-Drive 360 to travelers and guests by working with concierge desks and developing a website that would stand out to tourists.
"Getting to actually do it hands-on instead of reading from a book was really rewarding for us," Moulton said.
The challenge for Natalie DiLoreto and her team, Eye Wonder, was to keep up with trends and appeal to the diverse market that International Drive brings.
"The heart of every marketing plan is segmentation and targeting. Without it, you wouldn't know where to start," she said.
Students presented their marketing plans in the span of three separate classes and once they are finished, Swanson and Stine will review the plans together and choose a winner.
Their ideas may be implanted in the I-Drive 360's future marketing initiatives, and the first-, second- and third-place teams will receive free tickets to the complex's attractions.
"Our professor has given us this opportunity to really take control of our own destiny. If we do an excellent job here, who knows what else is in store for the future," said junior hospitality management major Aaron Rosenblatt.
As for what's next for Swanson's classes, I-Drive 360 is set to open in Spring 2015.
"I will be teaching marketing in the next quarter and will have another group take it to the next level, because it is going to unfold in front of their eyes," Swanson said.