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“We know our young visitors better through the collaboration with Hotel Management School”

Students at Hotel Management School Leeuwarden work on real issues from the industry during their studies. This is part of Design Based Learning and it ensures that education and the hospitality industry are even better aligned. Nataša Keršič Razinger, director of Atlantis Water Park and Wellness Center in Slovenia explains what working together with students brings her.

In the middle of Ljubljana – the capital of Slovenia – Nataša Keršič Razinger runs the Atlantis Water Park and Wellness Center, which attracts a quarter of a million visitors a year. It consists of two parts, each with its own target group: the water park with slides and pools focuses on families with children, while the modern wellness center with saunas, swimming pools and whirlpools targets adults.

Source: Atlantis Vodno Mesto

A young generation of visitors
This is the third year that the Atlantis Water Park and Wellness Center has worked on design challenges with students from Hotel Management School (HMS) Leeuwarden, and the collaboration is becoming stronger each year. The students help the company further develop the concept of the Wellness Center, and through the design challenges, the company gets to know its visitors better and better. Nataša Keršič Razinger explains that Ljubljana is a real student city, so they attract many young visitors. The Wellness Center is visited by students living and studying in the city, as well as by tourists looking for relaxation and rest. “We didn’t have a clear picture of this target group, but by working with the students I am getting to know this young generation better and better. That makes it possible to come up with ideas that fit well with our visitors.”

Learning from each other
Through a friend who works at HMS, Nataša heard about the possibility to work with hospitality students exploring business issues through design challenges. He thought the developments of the Atlantis Wellness Center were a perfect fit with the principles of Design Based Education, and that impression turned out to be true. Nataša thinks what is special about this type of education is that everyone learns from each other. “We get to know Generation Z better through the students and the students learn from us about professional practice.”

Based on Design Thinking
Starting and developing a design challenge takes about 20 weeks. That period is divided into five different phases or steps (empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test). The underlying educational philosophy of Design Based Education at HMS is based on Design Thinking, in which students work to find innovative solutions to practical issues. The first step is understanding the challenge (empathize), followed by: articulating the problem to be solved (define), brainstorming possible solutions (ideate), designing a prototype to test the solution (prototype), and improving and continuing to test the solution (test). Students also follow several in-depth academic modules at the Hotel Management School Leeuwarden that fit the challenge they are working on.

Giving feedback and answering questions
The main task for participating companies is to formulate substantive design challenges and provide feedback to the students. All of this is done with the help of a contact person from HMS. The contact person from the company and from HMS together help the groups of students on their way in the research phase. For example, they receive feedback on the questionnaires they prepare and questions they have about the business are answered. At the end of the design challenge, the students present a prototype of their final product. Together with the supervisor from school, the participating company gives feedback again, and then the final fine-tuning and assessment follows. The distance between Ljubljana and Leeuwarden is easy to bridge, Nataša experiences. “There is online contact and consultation and the teachers at HMS organize everything well and steer where necessary.” At the beginning of a challenge, there is regular contact between all parties involved so that all questions are answered, and students can get to work independently.

The ultimate blueprint
In the first year the Atlantis Wellness Center participated, the challenge consisted of designing a wellness customer journey. In the following school year, the challenge deepened with two new challenges that built on the customer journey from the first year. One design challenge focused on implementing sustainable aspects into the Wellness Center’s current offerings. The other was about the positive impact of the Wellness Center on the community. In this third year, everything will be built upon to come up with the ultimate blueprint for a wellness customer journey that meets the needs of today’s consumers. This blueprint will be linked to the sustainability aspects implemented.

It’s all about the content
hopes the results from this year’s survey will help them make conscious choices about their marketing campaign, especially when it comes to sustainability. “I hope we discover where our focus can best be,” she said. What has surprised her so far is that young people today have a very clear need for wellness and are very eager to incorporate that into their daily lifestyle. “That already makes it clearer to us how best to approach this target group. The same goes for the research on sustainability. It is, of course, a buzzword that is used indiscriminately, but for this generation the word has a lot of meaning. They care about content and what you are actually doing. Therefore, it is an important aspect for us to consider in our daily work.”

Sustainable discounts
In previous years, good and useful ideas came out of the design challenges, according to Nataša, and she is curious to see what students will come up with this year. The Atlantis Water Park and Wellness Center has already taken to heart the insight to make some sustainability aspects visible, so for example visitors who bring their own towel receive a discount. Students also indicated that there will be much interest in events where you promote sustainability and wellness to a younger generation, with discounts during certain opening hours, for example. Nataša: “We are currently investigating this further and are going to highlight it on our website and through social media. On Tuesdays, for example, we want to offer discounts to visitors under the age of 30.”

Nataša recommends other organizations to submit design challenges to HMS students. She thinks it’s a good way to get to know the new generation better. “Our target audience is getting younger and younger, and it is important to get to know those visitors well. That makes this collaboration very interesting for us. As a company, you might have a certain marketing strategy that works, but if you keep repeating yourself, at some point it might not work anymore. You have to keep renewing yourself and you do that by connecting with a younger generation.”

Do you have an interesting research question for your company or are you looking for a practical solution to a difficult issue? Bring it in as a design challenge! For more information, contact Hotel Management School Leeuwarden.