children re-create a ribbon-cutting ceremony they
performed in 1952 as kids.
For now, it's just another sweltering day in July. The
dust has barely settled from the construction of the Kemmons
Wilson School of Hospitality and Resort Management. And for
the time being, Wilson School's director, Bob O'Halloran,
is the only one holding down the fort.
The school is just budding, with three professors (O'Halloran
is one of them) and about 30 students currently on board,
but the newly formed Wilson School already is on the verge
of blossoming into a program that supports several hundred
students, multiple research efforts and numerous partnerships
across the country.
road trip that changed the world
The Wilson School opened its classroom doors to students
in August, but its true roots stretch back to the summer of
when Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson had a lousy vacation.
Wilson, with his wife and five children in tow, set out for
Washington, D.C. Often stopping at motels that had poor quality
or charged extra for kids, Wilson dreamed up a hotel chain
where guests would enjoy things like free ice, television
and air conditioning. Then he turned his dream Holiday
Inn into a reality. Later, the hotel chain would dub
Wilson's lousy vacation "the road trip that changed the
Now a hotel industry icon, Wilson's good name is just as
valuable as his $15 million gift that made the Wilson School
possible. A fund-raising effort headed by Frank Flautt, co-founder
of Sandcastle Resorts, has drummed up an additional $2.8 million,
with hopes of hitting the $3 million mark soon. Flautt and
other hotel entrepreneurs say they feel indebted to the foundations
"Quite frankly, there wasn't a hotel industry when Kemmons
Wilson started," Flautt (BS '63) says. "The whole industry
as we know it today was created by Kemmons. He's phenomenal."
'inns'and outs of Wilson School
The influx of donations has given the Wilson School a tremendous
leg up; it has an excellent chance of being an immediate top-tier
program among those in the United States.
"We really are in an enviable position," O'Halloran says.
"A great thing we have going for us is to have the resources
dedicated to the program up-front. Many schools aren't that
The newly built Holiday Inn at The U of M will let students
learn by immersion. The fully functioning hotel, which is
managed and operated by professionals, will give Wilson School
students plenty of shadowing opportunities and hands-on experience.
"The students are entrenched in the hotel environment," says
Lorna Brown-Ray, marketing director of Fogelman Executive
Conference Center and Holiday Inn. "Their classrooms and the
hotel share the same building it's like osmosis. And
the more they learn in the classroom, the more they'll ask
and see when they're observing in the hotel."
There will be much to see at the campus facility. The building
spans 138,000 square feet and contains 82 two-room suites.
There is enough banquet space to accommodate 1,000 people.
Further, a spare-no-expense approach makes the hotel more
valuable to the students not to mention to hotel guests.
Amenities include an exercise room, full-service restaurant
and snack bar. There's also a demonstration kitchen and brand-new
computer labs, chairs and desks. As Brown-Ray puts it, "Our
students are getting the opportunity to learn with the same
high-quality equipment that top executives use."
O'Halloran says the fact that Wilson School is situated in
Memphis is another advantage. "You've got a cross-section
of hospitality places where students can work while they're
here," he says. "There are hotels, restaurants, nightclubs,
country clubs and casinos a short distance from here. Our
students will integrate academics and real-world experience
The city of Memphis does more than provide students with
internships. Area hotels and restaurants will be the source
of field trips and guest speakers even jobs after graduation.
care of business
Much learning takes place in the University's Holiday Inn,
but students will have their noses to the grindstone across
Central Avenue in the Fogelman College of Business and Economics.
That's because the students' major will be in hospitality
and resort management, but their degree will be a BBA.
"Students who take this major will have the same business
courses as other Fogelman students," says Dean John Pepin
('62 BBA, '64 MBA). "They're going to learn business concepts
in an academic setting as well as hands-on experience in a
In total, students must complete 48 credit hours of general
education classes, 45 credit hours of business core curriculum,
22 credit hours within the major and 13 credit hours of electives.
Cross-campus possibilities also are being explored. O'Halloran
cites one example: A food lab class for consumer science students
could also be relevant for Wilson School students.
Dr. Pepin says a lot of planning has gone into making sure
the curriculum will remain relevant for years to come. "We
sent faculty to numerous hotel schools for data-gathering
purposes so we could design the best possible set of courses,"
he says. "Our curriculum is a living document that will change
from time to time to stay ahead of the industry's demands."
O'Halloran and a board of industry advisers have been installed
to keep a finger on the industry's pulse. "A good curriculum
typically is fluid," O'Halloran says. "We want to make sure
our students graduate and get a job. We also want to prepare
them for the changes they might see."
Make no mistake about it Pepin and others at The U
of M say the curriculum may be fluid, but plans for the future
"We're a business school," Pepin says. "You know we can't
just ride the tide; we have to be prepared for changing business
Student recruitment is an ongoing process, and those involved
with Wilson School expect to see the enrollment of 30 swell
to 300 in just three years.
"We need to get the name of the school out there," O'Halloran
says. "With Kemmons Wilson's name, we should be able to attract
students from all over the country, even internationally."
The Holiday Inn at The U of M has already contracted 50 percent
of business needed for fiscal year 2003. Profits from the
hotel filter back into The U of M Wilson's donation
literally is the gift that keeps on giving.
"Alumni who use this facility should know it's another way
of supporting the University," Brown-Ray says.
Opening the School of Hospitality and Resort Management was
a fitting way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Holiday
Inn and the life's work of an industry icon. It looks like
the town that launched Wilson's successful career is about
to launch thousands more.
For more information about the Kemmons Wilson School of Hospitality
and Resort Management, visit wilson.memphis.edu.
also: An Exercise in Goodwill