SAN ISIDRO DE EL GENERAL – It was a hot Monday afternoon when two trainees stood behind the bar wiping glasses, maybe a bit too vigorously. Eugenio Baldí, restaurant manager at the Hotel del Sur in this Southern Zone town, sliced out a sliver of pineapple, slipped it onto the rim of a glass, and pinned it with a maraschino cherry and a tiny umbrella.
He handed a pitcher of mixed drink to José Mora, 18, who carefully tipped it into the glass. Baldí watched.
“With class,” he instructed. “Back straight.With total confidence.”
Welcome to hotel school – Bartending 101. Of course, the school just had its official inauguration Monday, so this scene was only a dry run. But the 20 students preparing to start classes at the school represent something new: The first group of students in Costa Rica to be trained to work in a hotel by living in one for a year.
“They’re not just going to be thinking about hotels,” explained Jorge Garro, the hotel manager and head of the school’s gastronomy program. “They’re going to be breathing them.”
The school is a joint effort of the National Training Institute (INA), the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) and the Center for Cooperative Studies and Training (CENECOOP), a nonprofit co-op that focuses on professional training.
The hotel school in the Hotel del Sur is a pilot program, said Andrés Alvarez, the director of the project for CENECOOP.
Following the model found in countries such as Brazil and Spain, the eventual goal for this program is to establish six or seven of the hotel schools, each in a different area of the country, said INA Executive President Carlos Sequeira.
“We’re looking at an initiative that starts with 20 young people, but ends up helping many, many more,” said Rodolfo Navas, the president of CENECOOP. “The (tourism) industry in Costa Rica depends on the quality of service, not just nature.”
The 30-year-old Hotel del Sur invested close to $100,000 to build a modern classroom, computer lab and dormitory for the students on the hotel grounds. During their year at the hotel, the students will live on the hotel “campus” and take a full day of classes five days a week.
Classes are divided into four categories: English, information technology, hotel operation and business administration. Since the hotel school is an INA program, students attend free of charge.
After an initial bout of training, the students will go to work in the hotel, waiting tables, mopping floors, cleaning rooms and learning management. Altogether, they will spend about half of their time studying and half in practical application.
Most of the students at Hotel del Sur come from the Southern Zone where the hotel is located and where tourism has started to boom and is expected to continue that way in the coming years.
One sign of future growth is a plan for an airport in the Southern Zone, which would bring thousands more visitors to the region (TT, Aug. 3).
Some students are already part of the boom.
Andrés Fajardo, 18, said his entire family is involved in tourism. They own a small canopy tour in DrakeBay, on the OsaPeninsula, and he plans to do more than just work in a hotel someday.
“The fact that we can be professionals is motivating to us,” he said.
At the hotel school launch event, government and private sector representatives compared the Southern Zone to the northwestern province of Guanacaste before the boom that’s been consuming that region during the past decade.
Gerardo Jiménez, Southern Zone director of INA, noted that according to data from a recent tourism job fair that took place in Guanacaste, many of the industry hires are still coming from outside the province.
The same, he said, should not happen in the Southern Zone.
“We have to prepare ourselves for this demand that’s coming,” he said.