Eight officers and members of the School of Hospitality Business’s Real Estate Investment Club traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico during spring break to study various aspects of hotel investment and development under the guidance of school Alumnus and Hall of Fame member Hugh Andrews (BA Hospitality Business ’71, MBA ’72) and his team at International Hospitality Enterprises, Inc.  The students were accompanied by the School’s Assistant Director of Undergraduate Academic Programs Jeff Yingling and his family.

Every other spring break for many years, Mr. Andrews has sponsored a group from the School, providing accommodations at one of his many hotels, with Assistant to the CEO for IHE Rubén Estrada (BA Hospitality Business ’00) overseeing every detail.  Rubén worked closely with club advisor Dr. A.J. Singh to develop the group’s itinerary.  In fact, Rubén accompanied the students nearly every minute, taking time from his busy schedule to display a very special hospitality to fellow Spartans. Rubén met Mr. Andrews as a student when Mr. Andrews visited campus in the late 1990s. He has worked with IHE ever since, becoming an indispensable right-hand man.

“Mr. Estrada set us up with an outstanding itinerary,” says Audrey Koutny (BA Hospitality Business ’18). “We toured six IHE properties, and at each one had a unique experience.  Each executive we met with had a specific subject to cover, so we had the opportunity to be exposed to a wide variety of topics that are important in the hospitality industry.”

Indeed, when the students arrived on Saturday, March 4, they were squired to their rooms at the Courtyard Isla Verde Beach Resort and enjoyed the rest of that day as well as Sunday exploring the property and enjoying a break from winter in East Lansing.

Monday through Thursday involved formal tours and meetings with executives of several other IHE properties.  They met with Yodil Cabán, general manager of the Doubletree San Juan, who discussed managing a mixed-use property.  They also met with José Padín, general manager of the Courtyard Isla Verde Beach Resort, who gave them insights on property renovation from the owner’s perspective.

Tuesday brought a tour of Mr. Andrews’  “signature” property, the revitalized Condado Vanderbilt Hotel, and a meeting with General Manager Ben Tutt.  They discussed the Vanderbilt management experience and “Thinking like the Owner,” a phrase coined by Mr. Andrews in the 1990s when serving as a visiting professor in the School.  The phrase stuck, and the concept has become a cornerstone in courses such as HB 489 – Hospitality Business Strategy.

In the afternoon, the group toured La Concha Resort and met with Hotel Manager Mike Rivera, who gave his insights on the challenges of existing buildings when meeting market and brand standards.

Wednesday, the students toured the Condado Palm Inn and Suites with General Manager Henry Neumann, who shared his wisdom about boosting the performance of an asset.  They also had the opportunity to meet with IHE Vice President of Sales & Marketing Peter Hopgood.

You can’t visit Puerto Rico without going to El Yunque Rainforest, so the students spent Wednesday afternoon doing just that.  “It was an unforgettable experience,” says Audrey.  “After learning about the history of the forest and its plant and animals, we were able to go for a dip – with a Tarzan swing and all!”

Thursday it was back to work, learning about the unique El Convento Hotel from General Manager Alfredo Arroyo.  He told the students the storied history of the former nunnery, now boutique hotel in the heart of Old San Juan.  Then they received essential information from Financial Advisor John Richardson.

Along the way, each day brought gracious hospitality and delicious meals with the staff of IHE and the hotels the students toured.  “It was very interesting to see the different management styles of each of the general managers at the properties,” says Rachel Rosal (BA Hospitality Business ’18).  “I especially liked how personable each manager was with his employees, stopping to shake each one of their hands, and asking how they were doing.  It revealed a lot about the company’s culture.”

And for many of the students, the highlight of the week was the dinner with Mr. Andrews himself.  “Mr. Andrews spoke about how to become a successful leader,” says Alex Salens (BA Hospitality Business ’17).  “It was fascinating to hear what motivates him, and who he considers his own heroes and who he looks up to today.”

But Mr. Andrews was also interested in the students’ perspectives.  “He truly wanted to hear about us and our aspirations,” says Audrey.  “He gave incredible advice and wisdom.  It was an experience we will never forget.”  The students say they noted the high regard with which Mr. Andrews is held by everyone they met.  “Every single one of them mentioned how they try to make daily decisions as if they were in Mr. Andrews’ shoes,” says Audrey.  “They constantly try to ‘Think like the Owner,’ which is an essential skill we are taught in The School.”

“Being chosen to participate in the Real Estate Investment Club’s educational experience in Puerto Rico was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Meredith Rights (BA Hospitality Business ’18).  She wrote to Mr. Andrews afterward, “Words cannot express how thankful I am for the opportunity you have given me to visit Puerto Rico.  This experience has given me a new understanding and passion for real estate investment. Not only did you provide us with an educational trip, you also provided us with the full Puerto Rico experience.”

When the students returned to campus, they were responsible for a detailed report outlining the economy, tourism, and hotel industry outlook for Puerto Rico.  They also reported on the ownership and operating structure of IHE, as well as the various topics covered on the trip:  mixed-use properties, hotel renovation, hotel developing and financing, managing luxury properties, meeting market and brand standards, and of course “Thinking like the Owner.”

Jeff Yingling, who also traveled with students to Puerto Rico in 2015, says, “It was amazing how much IHE had accomplished since our last visit and fascinating to hear their vision for the future.  Everybody was so generous, kind, and welcoming that we all felt like part of the IHE family by the time we left.”

Thank you to Hugh Andrews, Rubén Estrada, and all the gracious people at IHE.

For more information about the School of Hospitality Business, please visit: www.hospitalitybusiness.broad.msu.edu