EMBA Students Study Hospitality Industry in Cuba

Twenty-three EMBA students – along with EMBA Director Richard Stafford, Management Professor Jeff Gale, EMBA Coordinator Shelley Wells and EMBA alumnus Marty Lopez – traveled to Cuba and Costa Rica in March as part of the program’s international immersion experience. The focus of this year’s trip was to compare and contrast the hotel and hospitality industries in these rising tourist destinations.

“Our EMBA students were fortunate to visit Cuba at this propitious moment in time, before the long-standing U.S. trade embargo is lifted and the country is fully open to American tourists and business,” said Stafford. “We were able to research and see firsthand why American hospitality companies are attracted to Cuba’s market potential; but we also gained a better understanding of the complicated political and economic landscape that must be navigated by a firm seeking to exploit this emerging market.”

The purpose of the trip was to conduct on-the-ground research and develop a comprehensive business plan for a U.S. company seeking to enter the hospitality industry in Cuba. Students also spent a few days in Costa Rica to experience a more mature and developed hospitality market. After returning home, students fleshed out their reports based on their conversations and findings and prepared for their final presentations.

The two-week international trip was a mix of business and pleasure. Multiple meetings were scheduled with local hotel executives to gain insights on a range of topics including the current state of the Cuban economy, challenges of doing business in Cuba and sustainable tourism in Costa Rica. Students also had the opportunity to visit popular Cuban attractions such as Old Havana, Museum of the Revolution and a cigar factory. Sightseeing excursions in Costa Rica included La Fortuna Waterfall and Vida Campesina (green farm).

“Dr. Stafford and the EMBA faculty at LMU organized a trip that was one of a kind,” said EMBA student Alena Andrews. “We saw firsthand how emerging markets compare and contrast – how Costa Rica has developed over the past 20 years versus Cuba on the brink of change. As we stepped back in time onto the historic streets of Old Havana and walked down the pathways of Costa Rica’s ecological tourism in the rain forest, we truly developed a sense of cultural differences and how they affect international business operations.”

“Both Cuba and Costa Rica are fueled by an enlightening and memorable positive energy which will be a lifetime cherished experience for the soul,” added EMBA student Robert Tisdale. “I will be returning to both destinations sometime soon.”

EMBA students regularly cite the international experience as a highlight of the program. Each spring, the graduating cohort travels to one or more major, non-U.S. business centers to broaden their understanding of what it takes to manage in today’s global business environment. In recent years, EMBA students have visited exciting destinations such as India, South America, Southeast Asia and Europe.