river cruises
Captured by Wolfgang Lehner

From river cruises to hotel management: a degree with the travel bug effect

In the tourism and hotel management industries, there are dream jobs all over the world. Study programmes at IUBH expertly prepare students for this – also delivering superb job prospects


All engines are humming briskly. The 135-metre-long ship had just left its landing stage in cologne – and Jennifer Böckmann was fairly nervous. As soon as all of the guests on the Rhine cruise ship had gathered in the lounge, it would be her job to give a presentation about all of the shore excursions they were going to enjoy: Mainz, Breisach and Basel were on the itinerary, along with a whole host of other places of interest. “That was the first time I took the microphone and stood in front of 200 guests”, recalls Jennifer Böckmann. At that time, she had just completed her first degree; today she’s a manager for the river cruise operator A-ROSA and in charge of 20 staff members.

river cruises

© Wolfgang Lehner

Captured by Wolfgang Lehner

The now 31-year-old first discovered the world of river cruises straight after completing her bachelor’s degree at IUBH. “I applied for jobs at various hotel chains”, she says – and that she finally ended up on a ship is something that she now says, with a smile, “was a happy twist of fate”. So she signed up with A-ROSA and now knows all of the tour operator’s destinations: She has seen the Rhine, between Amsterdam and Strasbourg, the Rhône, in France and, of course, the Danube. “It is a fascinating job”, says Jennifer, “where, from the outside, nobody sees how much has to be organised and planned in the background”. From the passengers’ shore excursions to allocating cabins to the obligatory safety briefing – the crew has a huge amount of details to take care of.

“Almost ninety percent of our graduates find a job within twelve weeks of leaving us”

“When I speak to people who are interested in the study programme, it is exactly this variety of opportunities in the travel industry that fascinates them”, says Helmut Wachowiak. He is the founding professor of the Tourism Management programme, which, ever since it started in the year 2000, has been one of the most innovative courses of its kind in Germany. The fact that the entire course is taught in English, that, thanks to various cooperations, the students gain a double degree with a foreign partner university and that they are able to undertake long internships, giving them a chance to get involved in the industry early on, makes its graduates highly skilled and sought-after professionals: “Almost ninety percent of our graduates”, says Wachowiak proudly, “find a job within twelve weeks of leaving us!” The mixture of content is a considerable factor in the success of the degree: In addition to general business know-how, a huge amount of specialist knowledge is taught, including industry-specifics such as developing destinations and market research as well as in the specialisations that each student can select according to their interests.

Compared to when the degree course started 15 years ago, today, the tourism industry is driven by completely different factors. The intention is to contribute to its development, says Helmut Wachowiak: “For example, we sponsor an innovation prize that is awarded to start-ups.” One of the most recent winners provides an excellent example of the direction of change: A website called “Beach Inspector” has revolutionised the search for the perfect holiday destination. Users can search its large database for their choice of beach – using criteria such as the best beach bars, the largest waves for surfers or the water quality.

Study programme in the “Hotel Schools of Distinction” network

Regardless of the technical developments, one thing has remained the same, Wachowiak says: “Along with China and the USA, Germany is the most important tourism market in the world.” That the sector is made up not only of large companies, but also a great number of small to medium-sized enterprises that are highly interesting employers is something that Rosemarie Delgado-Krebs knows well. The professor sits in her office where a student had just come by to discuss his master’s thesis on the topic of hotel management. “The level of contact with my colleagues and students is higher than I’ve experienced at any other university”, says Delgado-Krebs delightedly. She originates from the USA and had lectured in Florida for a long time. For nine years now, she has been at IUBH – and continues to follow a debate in the German hotel industry that she first came across many years earlier in America: the question of whether hotel managers really need an academic degree to do their job or whether a classic apprenticeship is sufficient. “In a hotel, you can learn how to use the internal computer system properly”, says Delgado-Krebs, “but the most important aspects of pricing, for example, and the entire thought process behind it are so complex that it really requires people to have undertaken a degree course.” A seal of quality of the IUBH Hotel Management study programme is the fact that it is the only one of its kind in Germany that belongs to the internationally renowned “Hotel Schools of Distinction” network. And it is for that reason, explains Delgado-Krebs not without pride, that the door is open for her graduates not only to interesting hotels, but also to large corporate consulting companies all over the world.

Sustainability is of economic importance

An excellent example of how the university is not only a place of learning, but also of research, is Willy Legrand. The Canadian professor had completed a science degree before becoming interested in the subject of hotel management. He now enjoys “a fascinating challenge, bringing these two disciplines together”. He does this by concentrating on the subject of sustainability in the hotel industry and summarises his credo by saying, “Good food and a healthy environment are important factors for holidaymakers when choosing where to go. And that is why hotels should also take an interest.” Sustainability has now become a game changer and a decisive factor: “In a hotel, the energy costs can be as much as 8% of the overall spending. That’s twice as much as it was 15 years ago.” For Legrand, sustainability is not just a question of image, but also of concrete financial importance. “Take water management, for example: If a hotel is situated in an area where water supplies are scarce, it cannot simply restrict the guests’ consumption to 10 litres per day. So, how you deal with that? Or the subject of food wastage: In luxury hotels, up to 40% of the food laid out for a buffet ends up in the bin. There is still great room for improvement.”

Award for master thesis about river cruises

For these reasons, Willy Legrand is working with colleagues from throughout the EU on the project “Tourism, Wellbeing and Ecosystem Services (TObeWELL)”, which collates new approaches to sustainability. It is not the only research project at IUBH to have attracted international attention. Sometimes students’ final papers have been the cause of considerable interest – such as Jennifer Böckmann’s master’s thesis, the graduate who is now working for the river cruise operator A-ROSA. “I looked into the relationship between the cruise operators and the towns that their ships dock”, she says. “It was astounding to see how much better the towns were able to make use of the potential arising from having so many cruise guests visit them.” At the world’s most important tourism trade fair, the ITB Berlin, her thesis earned her the ITB Research Prize for the best young talent. In spite of all of her experience, she is still learning. “In spring, I’m going to be on the big Danube cruise”, she says and sounds full of anticipation. Lasting over two weeks, the trip starts in Engelhartszell near Passau in south-eastern Germany and goes all the way to the Danube Delta in Romania. “I have concentrated on river cruises for so many years now”, says Jennifer Böckmann, “but this tour will be a completely new experience for me!”

More on this topic