Students Alexis Higgins and Nathan Smith are in the first Hospitality/Travel & Tourism class at Hancock County Technical Center. Principal Amy Boles (standing left) and teacher Tara Mason said the skills learned are needed in all fields of work. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY ANNE BERLEANT

HCTC students learn the ropes of the hospitality industry

ELLSWORTH — The end of the school year carries with it a sigh of relief from students who are more than ready to switch gears for something different. Yet Hancock County Technical Center students finishing up the first year of a new certification program — Hospitality/Travel & Tourism — will dive deeper into their field of study this summer while filling vital positions in the local tourism and travel sector.

Senior Nathan Smith, graduating next week from the HCTC program and Ellsworth High School, has plans to pursue a business management degree.

“Even if I don’t go into [hospitality], it’s still good to know how to treat a guest and to communicate,” he said.

These skills will serve him well in his summer jobs at Hammond Lumber and as a server at Helen’s. With his required certification hours complete, he plans to start on a business degree at Eastern Maine Community College this fall and later transfer to Husson University.

HCTC helped Smith accelerate his course work so he could complete the two-year program in one year. Now, with the program’s first year winding up, HCTC will offer both first- and second-year classes next year and into the future. 

Ellsworth High School junior Alexis Higgins, completing her first year of the program, also interned at the Comfort Inn. Both students are members of the National Technical Honor Society.

The two-year Hospitality/Travel & Tourism program places students in the field and the classroom. In both places, they discover that the skills they are learning translate well beyond the hospitality and tourism industry — and the industry itself is wider and deeper than at first look.

“Obviously, the state of Maine is all about hospitality and tourism, and we have a labor shortage going on,” said Eve Young, the manager of the Comfort Inn. “These two students, I was very impressed with their maturity. They took it very seriously and understood the varying degrees of things, from stripping rooms to greeting guests.”

And over the busy Memorial Day weekend, the two interns were ready.

“They answered the phone, took reservations, made key cards and registration cards, helped out with breakfast. They were confident enough to just jump right in and help us through that time,” Young said. “It was great to see how they progressed.”

With her first year in the program behind her, Higgins is set with a front desk position with the Northeast Harbor Swim Club before she returns to finish her program at HCTC next year. Planning to go into the human resources field after college, Higgins received a little exposure as a Comfort Inn intern. 

The students also learned about guest recovery, which is what kicks in when a guest is angry or unhappy with services to “lessen the blow,” Smith explained. Higgins saw this stressful side of the industry as an intern. Some guests checking out of the hotel were angry over having to wear face masks.

“They said we were too strict and walked out,” she said. “That was their feedback.”

Under teacher Tara Mason, students complete 100 hours in an industry-related internship and receive certifications in Serve Safe, CPR and First Aid, Lodging and Guest Services. At completion, they will be certified as Hotel and Tourism Management Professionals.

“The first year we focus on business fundamentals,” Mason said. “You can’t do hospitality without being business-oriented.”

The program’s second year focuses on leadership. Both years expose students who think “hotel” when they hear “hospitality industry” to how wide the field really is.

“There’s lots of pathways,” HCTC Principal Amy Boles said. “The opportunities are endless. That’s what I love about this. There are so many sectors you can use the degree in.”

The program is still accepting applications for the next school year. Interested students should speak to their guidance counselor. More information is also available at

Anne Berleant

Anne Berleant

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, find her hiking local trails, reading or watching professional tennis. Email her at [email protected]

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