Hospitality-training center opens in Sea Pines, will aid USCB students

tbarton@islandpacket.comFebruary 1, 2012 

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University of South Carolina Beaufort hospitality students will get hands-on experience through a new center for event-management and hospitality training on Hilton Head Island.

Last weekend, USCB students logged 167 volunteer hours at the Island Recreation Association's Snow Day event and a wine judging by the Hilton Head Island Wine & Festival.

The center also has worked with Island Recreation to plan a new Burgers and Brew event in October at Shelter Cove Community Park.

USCB students will find sponsors and market and produce the festival, center director Keri Olivetti said.

"This provides not only a great opportunity as a resource for student volunteers, but ... also allows us to get fresh approaches to our existing events and help us improve the marketing or operations," Frank Soule, executive director of the recreation association, said.

USCB and island officials gathered Wednesday to celebrate the center's opening inside Sea Pines Visitor Center.

Town Council last year approved an agreement with the university to create the new center. Council said the center would provide better hands-on training and internships for students, re-establish a USCB presence on the island and promote Hilton Head as a destination for events.

The center, operated by USCB in space rented from Sea Pines, is focused on helping the town attract new tourists. USCB officials say students and staff will help create new festivals to draw more visitors, support current events and help businesses improve customer service through training.The town will contribute more than $100,000 annually from its festival-and-event fund -- part of its 1-percent accommodations tax on overnight lodging -- to run the center. The money had gone to the island's hospitality association to assist with festivals and training, but the association no longer has a full-time director or meets criteria for funding, town manager Steve Riley said.

The university will contribute about $35,000 each year, Riley said.

USCB Chancellor Jane Upshaw said she hopes the center helps fill the void left by the hospitality association and make Hilton Head a training destination for industry professionals worldwide.

The center offers credit and noncredit courses, as well as certificates and training for industry professionals, residents, and high school and college students.

About 60 USCB students are enrolled this semester, and the center has already trained more than 180 hospitality workers as "island ambassadors," free of charge, training director Maria Kramer said.

The seminars, underwritten by the town, are intended to certify industry workers as knowledgeable experts on Hilton Head. More are scheduled later this year, Kramer said.

"The potential to grow this partnership into something bigger that brings more education and cultural opportunities to the island is perhaps the greatest benefit of this collaboration," Riley said.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/EyeOnHiltonHead

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