Harsha Chanrai of Saira Hospitality believes that to provide a five-star experience, you must have had a five-star experience.

And at the eight-week “pop-up school” she is hosting in September in the Virgin Islands, students will get a chance to dine at the territory’s ritziest restaurants and tour its luxury resorts.

After paying their $150 tuition and completing the part-time course offered by Ms. Chanrai’s non-profit organisation Saira Hospitality, they will get a certificate from Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.

Along the way, she said, they’ll learn “everything that we feel you need to embark on a successful career in hospitality — not just technical skills, like food and beverage or housekeeping, but also … soft skills that help students distinguish themselves.”


Ms. Chanrai said she is a 10-year veteran of the hospitality industry who received graduate training at Cornell’s hospitality school.

“I was working in luxury resorts in southeast Asia, in Bangkok and Singapore,” she said. “Then I realised that I wanted to be in philanthropy and hospitality.”

She set up the school, which is a nonprofit organisation based in New York, to help match underprivileged local residents in popular destinations with hospitality businesses that can’t find enough skilled workers.

She explained that the sessions can help reduce turnover and training time and save on importing workers from abroad.

Her business plan for Saira won first prize in Cornell’s Business Plan Competition in 2014, which gave her confidence and startup funding to launch the school.

Saira officially launched a pilot in downtown Los Angeles in 2015, and later opened other pop-up schools in Los Cabos, Mexico. After a partnership with hotel chain Bunkhouse at the Los Cabos school, 86 percent of graduates went on to find jobs with the company, according to Ms. Chanrai.

To date, 100 students have finished the programme, and in fall of this year the first permanent school will open in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Ms. Chanrai reported that the total turnover — meaning the number of employees who have quit or been let go from their positions a year after being hired — was zero percent for the first year of the programme.

“The latest turnover rates look like closer to five percent for our placed graduates,” she said, which is still far better than the United States hospitality-industry average of over 70 percent total turnover, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics.

Funding the programme in the VI will be several “brand partners,” including Rosewood Little Dix Bay, Scrub Island Resort, Necker and Moskito islands, and Bitter End Yacht Club.

Though some of these resorts have not yet reopened after Hurricane Irma, Saira graduates will have the opportunity to interview with their representatives for possible jobs.

The VI is the first Caribbean destination to host a pop-up school.

“There’s an interesting opportunity right now because of the hurricanes. I think that in all honesty there’s a silver lining,” Ms. Chanrai said. “With the beautiful landscapes that the hotels sit in, there’s disparity between the level of service and the actual product. This is a unique opportunity to sign up those individuals that possess the ‘hospitality gene.’”

She hopes that graduates will come to see hospitality as a long-term career instead of a side gig, and eventually move from entry-level positions to management to corporate jobs.

Her focus, Ms. Chenrai said, is on luxury properties, because “if you understand from the luxury side of things, even if you’re working at a two-, three- or four-star property, it’s better to teach the needs of the luxury guest. That way you’ll be exceeding expectations.”

She doesn’t yet know which restaurants and hotels the students will be experiencing firsthand, but she will choose them when she arrives in the territory next week.

In any case, her goal is to increase the VI’s pool of well-trained, enthusiastic hospitality professionals.

“We have small classes, and the relationships they build with other members of the community [are strong],” she said. “When we interview the students, that’s one of the main takeaways. Yes, they get hired; yes, they are working in hotels — but now they have the mission to dream bigger.”

How to Enroll

The Saira Hospitality pop-up course will be held from Sept. 10 to Nov. 2 at a location to be determined. The part-time course will require 16 hours a week.

Graduates will earn a “Service Excellence Certificate” from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, and gain access to Cornell e-courses. Applicants must be 16 or older. Tuition is $150, which is due the first week of class.

Applications are due by Monday and can be submitted online.