MYRTLE BEACH — Horry-Georgetown Technical College is bringing back a degree program to shape the Grand Strand’s future tourism leaders.

The state’s fourth-largest technical college is launching a Hospitality & Tourism Management – Hotel, Restaurant & Events Management – Associate in Applied Science degree that will start this fall on the Grand Strand campus at the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach.

Students in the two-year program can select three different areas of the hospitality industry: event planning management, food service management and hotel management.

HGTC previously offered an associate degree in hospitality/tourism management, but the program ended in 2012.

Joe Bonaparte, HGTC executive director for the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach, said he started developing a similar program five years ago after seeing the need for a full hospitality degree for students.

“Since 2017, HGTC has been conducting focus group studies to understand how hospitality industry managers and owners along the Grand Strand would feel about launching a full hospitality degree program focused on hotel, restaurant and event management,” Bonaparte said in a statement. “Because hospitality and tourism is the number one industry in the Myrtle Beach area, everyone expressed support and agreed it was needed.”

Employment of food service managers nationally is projected to grow 10 percent from 2021 to 2023, while the employment of lodging managers is projected to grow 18 percent during the same period, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Officials said the demand for graduates in hospitality management roles, such as lodging managers, event planners and other similar career options, is due to the transferrable skills acquired in the industry.

Since 1966 when the first class of 123 students walked through the doors of Building 200 on the Conway campus along U.S. 501, HGTC has continued to grow. Today more than 7,000 students annually attend the technical college, which has added two additional campuses since its founding — one in Georgetown and the other in Myrtle Beach on the former Air Force base where the hospitality program is based.

“We are very excited about advancing the future of the hospitality industry with this new program,” HGTC President Dr. Marilyn Murphy Fore said. “Students can find their love or their passion within the hospitality industry and then really focus on getting the job skills needed to enter the workforce in an entry-level management position prepared to progress quickly.”

College officials said the new hospitality degree option will also benefit the Grand Strand tourism industry by giving students a hands-on experience and exposure, especially at a time when area businesses continue to return to a sense of normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many local hospitality businesses support the program,” Bonaparte said. “It opens a pipeline for them because they can hire the students that participate in labs and internships.”

Suzanne Hinde, the general manager of the Sheraton Myrtle Beach Convention Center Hotel, who was part of an advisory committee for the new degree program, hopes it will encourage more people to not only start a hospitality career but advance in the industry.

“It has been hard to get staffing period, whether it be line-level, supervisory or managers,” she said. “So, anything that helps our industry and encourages people to come into the industry and advance is just a benefit for us as a whole, especially at the beach.”

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