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Business & Entrepreneurship

Hospitality Students Help Bring New Hotel to University City

May 14, 2015

Kiki Liu (left) and Zachary Perera (right) inside their AKA Hotel in Rittenhouse Square.
Kiki Liu (left) and Zachary Perera (right) inside their AKA Hotel in Rittenhouse Square.

If you’re interested in helping launch a business’s new location, Drexel isn’t a bad place to be right now.

Last month, Saxbys Coffee opened a brand-new location on Drexel’s campus that is run completely by students.

And next year, the University City location of the AKA Hotel chain will be opening thanks to the help of a pair of students from Drexel’s Center for Hospitality and Sport Management.

“I feel extremely honored and proud to be a part of this legendary establishment,” said Kiki Liu, a junior. “Being involved in this excellent opportunity can exercise my customer service skills and breed my deep passion for hospitality as well as broaden my perspectives in the hotel industry.”

AKA Hotels will open AKA Cira Square in the FMC Tower at 30th and Walnut streets in late 2016. With the opening so close, Liu and fellow junior Zachary Perera have found themselves in the midst of preparation for it.

Since October, they’ve been working together at the AKA Rittenhouse Square as resident services associate interns as a part of a co-op partnership between Drexel and Korman Communities. Perera and Liu were chosen by Professor Jonathan Deutsch, PhD, for the opportunity with the extended-stay luxury hotel.

“Different than most regular hotels, we focus on individuals who are interested in long-term stays of a week or more,” Perera explained.

Liu and Perera are being taught the “fundamentals of hospitality.” Responsibilities at the AKA Rittenhouse Square include checking guests in and out, providing customer service and assigning tasks for maintenance and housekeeping, as well as doing some housecleaning inspections themselves.

“We are the heart of the hotel, communicating, adhering to and solving the needs and wants of our guests,” Perera said. “We are the face that the guest first encounters and the last one they see when they leave, thus we play a very important role in making sure our guests are satisfied with their stay.”

The experiences as resident services associate interns have proven valuable. Liu recalled one day when the elevator went out of service and she had to scramble to notify guests and schedule maintenance.

“Experiencing technical difficulties in the building is always a challenge,” she said.

Other than learning the fundamentals, the co-op students have been able to participate in high-level aspects of the industry, such as interacting with AKA’s CEO, Larry Korman, as he works to prepare the new hotel.

“He has had a substantial influence on me when it comes to real estate and the hospitality business,” Liu said of Korman, who is the great-grandson of the namesake of the Hyman Korman Family Foundation, the organization that just made a substantial gift to Drexel.

Both Liu and Perera went to New York City earlier this spring to spend the day with Korman and visit AKA properties there. Perera described the experience as “witness[ing] a visionary in action.”

“He would be adjusting tables and chairs at the rooftop patio, making sure every single detail in all the hotels was perfect and top-notch,” Perera said. “He has a vision that has been clearly painted in his mind and he emits it through his actions. He doesn’t only talk the talk, but he walks the walk.”

Liu and Perera hope to take some of that mentality into the opening of the new AKA property. They’ve already helped with the preparations.

“Starting late this year/early next year, we will be involved more in this project, attending meetings with the general manager in regard to the completion of the new AKA property, allowing us to witness the creation of the hotel from the ground up, which not many students are able to witness,” Perera said.

“I think these are great lessons that one cannot learn from the textbooks,” Liu said. “I believe these learning experiences will prepare me to do a greater job in my new career.”