Niagara University Convocation Honors Leaders in Tourism Industry

October 28, 2011 by Michele DeLuca, Niagara Gazette

Gary Praetzel, dean of NU's College of Hospitality and Tourism Management; Michael D. Gehrisch, president and C.E.O. of Destination Marketing Association International; the Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M., NU president; and Kevin Kelly, president of Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts.

Kevin Kelly flashed his Stanley Cup championship ring at the students of Niagara University to prove to them that the hospitality and tourism business can be very exciting.

Kelly, president of Delaware North Company's Parks and Resorts Division, was given the ring because his company provides hospitality services to the Boston Bruins arena, TD Garden ”” and his boss, Jeremy Jacobs, owns the team.

That the hospitality business can be very rewarding and have payoffs beyond expectations, was the message behind the gathering with students in the college's hospitality program prior to Thursday's department convocation honoring leaders in the tourism industry. The 11th annual convocation, which included a robed ceremony where the awards were presented, honored the Jacobs family for their company's leadership in the industry; and Michael Gehrisch, president of Destination Marketing Association International, who received a lifetime achievement award.

Gehrisch has spent 29 years in the hospitality industry, including the past decade as president and CEO of DMAI. He previously held management positions with Marriott and Hilton hotels, and spent 13 years as executive vice president of the American Hotel & Lodging Association in Washington, D.C. In his current position, he leads a global organization comprised of 3,000 destination marketing groups around the globe.

A graduate of Ohio State University, Gehrisch has been named one of Meeting News magazine's “Top 25 Most Influential People,” one of the “100 Most Influential People in the Tradeshow Business” by Tradeshow Week and among Business Travel News' “25 Most Influential Travel Executives.”

Delaware North Companies Inc. started in 1915 as a modest popcorn and peanuts vending business. Today, it is one of the world's premier   hospitality management companies with more than $2 billion in annual revenue. Just as it was nearly a century ago, the company is still owned and operated by the Jacobs family. In addition to Boston's TD Garden, its operations are found at landmarks like Yosemite National Park, Kennedy Space Center and Wembley Stadium.

NU's College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, which began in 1968 and offered the world's first bachelor's degree in tourism, has about 450 students in the program this year, according to dean Gary Praetzel, who noted that the convocation helps to make the university a leading national and international program in hospitality and tourism

“The convocation helps the students network with industry professionals,” he said. “This helps them to be more prepared for their careers beyond graduation.”

Thursday's convocation ceremony at the university's Alumni Chapel was followed by a panel discussion featuring Gehrisch, NU expert-in-residence Eddie Friel and Michael Gentile, J.D., an associate professor in the College of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

Before the convocation ceremony, Kelly and Gehrisch met with a group of NU students, telling them about the importance of working a wide variety of jobs in the profession. They cautioned the students about shoddy preparation and bad resumes.

Gehrisch noted that follow through after a job interview is also important. “A thank you note on my desk or in my email means that somebody took the time to write a letter,” he said. “That could be the one thing that tilts the scale.”

Both Gehrisch and Kelly encouraged students to make themselves interesting job applicants through volunteer work and said international job experience is a critical component to the tourism and trade industry.

“Our convocation is an excellent opportunity for our students and those in the Western New York community to hear from some of the brightest minds in the tourism and hospitality industries,” said Praetzel, who is also chairman of Visit Buffalo Niagara.

The Jacobs family also has a long history of professional sports team ownership. Jeremy Jacobs, Delaware North's chairman and C.E.O., is the owner of the Boston Bruins, the National Hockey League's current champions. His father, Louis, is well known for purchasing the American Hockey League's Syracuse franchise and moving it to Buffalo in 1940. Later that year, Jacobs' Buffalo Bisons played the first professional hockey game in Memorial Auditorium, establishing a foundation for long-term hockey success in Buffalo. The family has also owned the Buffalo Bisons baseball franchise and basketball's Cincinnati Royals, one of the NBA's original teams.