Hospitality Student has "Peach" on an Internship with IHG

Wild and wonderful. There could not be a more accurate way to describe the beautiful state of West Virginia, which is ripe with opportunities within the hospitality and tourism industry.

To keep up with the needs of the state, the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics created a new undergraduate major—Hospitality and Tourism Management. And students are receiving quality education in the subject, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Meet Katie Warne, a senior management student from Clarksburg, West Virginia. Katie traveled south last summer for an opportunity she described as “the most amazing internship.”

Warne, founder and president of the Hospitality and Tourism Club, was one of 30 students from around the globe chosen to participate in Intercontinental Hotels Group’s (IHG) 10-week corporate internship program in Atlanta, Georgia. IHG is a leading hotel company with more than 4,600 hotels. Familiar brands like Holiday Inn Express, Crown Plaza Hotels and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts make up just a portion of the company’s global reach.

Warne and DeMarco
Warne with her advisor Frank DeMarco, Hospitality and Tourism Program Coordinator

Warne credits this opportunity to a mixture of her drive, the support of her advisor Frank DeMarco, her club involvement and her education.

Landing the internship was months in the making. It began in March 2012 when IHG’s Vice President of Distribution and Relationship Marketing (DRM), Americas, Lara Hernandez, a WVU alumna, visited campus to speak as part of the B&E Distinguished Speaker Series.

“She truly inspired me,” Warne said of Hernandez. “She’s a real success story. It was great to network with her, and I asked her to let me know if she ever had any internship opportunities.”

The results weren’t immediate, but in true Mountaineer fashion, Warne kept at it. Her networking efforts paid off big in February 2013 when she had a phone interview with Hernandez for the IHG Corporate Internship. From her visits to campus to speak and as part of B&E’s Hospitality and Tourism Advisory Board, Hernandez remembered Warne as eager, enthusiastic and interested.

“Katie has always been a go-getter,” DeMarco said of Warne. “When the IHG opportunity came along, I told Katie it was a fabulous opportunity she didn’t want to pass up. Lara was impressed that Katie adapted to the corporate culture so quickly.”

Warne, who had previously held an operations internship at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, said it was a big adjustment from operations to the corporate side.

“The first three weeks were all about acclimating to the corporate culture,” she said. “I was in an empowering environment. I was pleased to find that the guest experience is still at the heart of everything, even on the corporate side.”

Warne and Hernandez
Warne with Lara Hernandez, Vice President of Distribution and Relationship Marketing for IHG

Warne was able to job-shadow and network as she rotated through several departments at IHG Corporate over the course of the summer. The internship featured a weekly speaker series where executives from various departments of the company gave advice to the interns.

“I would always ask (the speaker) if there was anyone from their department I could shadow. People were very responsive and open,” Warne said.

She particularly enjoyed her stints in DRM, social media, sales and branding.

“I was familiar with many of the social marketing topics at IHG because of what I learned in Dr. Ajay Aluri’s social media course. I was excited to have talking points in some of the social marketing meetings, and I even shared some useful LinkedIn knowledge that benefited the team,” Warne said.

Aside from her daily duties, Warne was assigned a final project that would have a real impact on the company.

“My project, which I presented to IHG leadership, was about how to better market and better sell the IHG Revenue Tool Kit,” Warne said. IHG’s Revenue Tool Kit is a group of five products that maximizes a hotel’s ability to optimize and convert demand, leading to more profitable revenue. Hernandez said that Katie did very well with the project, which was also presented to B&E Hospitality and Tourism faculty as well as individuals from the College’s Center for Career Development.

“Not only do students have to complete the internship itself, but they have to do some deliverables to receive their college credit,” DeMarco said. “Her presentation was well prepared. She acted like a seasoned executive.”

Katie was only back in the Mountain State for a period of a few days before she boarded a plane for Hong Kong, where she will study abroad for her final undergraduate semester. Thanks to some connections she made during her summer internship at IHG, she will have the opportunity to meet and network with executives from IHG’s Greater China market.

WVU is now a member of the IHG Academy, a collaboration between IHG and educational institutions that provides students the opportunity to develop skills and improve their employment prospects. All parties involved hope to replicate Warne’s experience at IHG Corporate, a prospect that may be increasingly likely now that Hospitality and Tourism is its own academic major.

“This is one of the better internships that our students have been able to experience so far,” said DeMarco. “It’s not a requirement to have an internship, but with my background in the industry, I know that for you to come out and be competitive, you’re going to need work experience. Lara is a great mentor. Building relationships and finding alumni to mentor our students are critical, and that’s what we’re doing here.”