Tuesday, May 29, 2012 | 2 a.m.
When a boom in her homeland's tourism industry prompted Foo Nyuk Xin to begin studying hotel management, the Singaporean student looked to Las Vegas as a learning ground.
"It’s where they've been doing it for years, so there's no better place to learn how everything works," Foo said. "In Singapore, it's all new."
Foo is one of more than 200 students from the UNLV Singapore campus visiting the city this month as part of their studies. UNLV's Harrah Hotel College, which opened its Singapore campus in 2006 and graduated its first class in 2009, offers instruction in more than accommodations. The visiting students are coming here to learn about conventions and event planning.
UNLV's ongoing effort in Singapore is just one way Las Vegas is striving to remain the center of an industry in which the city is losing ground to some international markets in gaming tourism revenue. Researchers at the UNLV International Gaming Institute say even as visitors take their money elsehwere, Las Vegas can profit from its knowledge. Bo Bernhard, director of the gaming institute, has said a key to the future of Las Vegas is becoming the "intellectual capital" of the gaming world, in much the same way Houston has remained a major player in the oil business despite the rise of foreign producers.
Richard Linstrom, dean of UNLV Singapore, said helping mold future executives in the world's casinos and hotels was the next in helping Las Vegas keep pace in a global economy. He pointed to Las Vegas Sands' record-setting revenue in the first quarter of this year, based largely on its success in Asia, as a promising sign that expansion by gaming corporations will be an economic boon for Southern Nevada.
"As our biggest taxpayers move into Asia, there's something to be said for us going with them and helping them bring money back here," Linstrom said. "It's not a philanthropic activity. The purpose of it is to move money around the globe and to move part of that back to Vegas."
Linstrom said UNLV research and consulting aided the Sands' success in Singapore.
"It happens by applying gaming technology and know-how, service management — all those things that were perfected in Las Vegas and now are being used at Marina Bay Sands," Linstrom said. "Some of those things were perfected through the hotel college."
Marketing and gaming analytical models, designed through research at UNLV, helped Sands adapt its business to Singapore, Linstrom said. At home, companies are building departments around analyzing the Asian marketplace, creating new jobs and opportunities here.
By adapting to the kinds of games that appeal to gamblers who visit Singapore, and Sands' knowledge of the high-roller market developed in Vegas, the company was able to pass its competition. For now.
"It's like anything else — if you just sit still, the rest of the world is going to catch up," Linstrom said. "To say we're going to export what we learned on the Strip is not going to cut it. You have to go to the next level."
As businesses grow in Singapore and Macau in southern China, those will also create jobs for UNLV graduates.
"There are going to be two more gaming licenses, and we are hoping they will go to American operators," Linstrom said. "Then, we'll have our largest taxpayers in the state who will need middle- and upper-management positions, who have bachelor's degrees in hospitality."
What happens in Vegas is going global, in other words.
International students studying hotel management have increasingly begun coming to UNLV over the past decade, despite no overseas recruiting by the university. Of the 1,279 students from abroad who enrolled to attend classes in Las Vegas last fall, 668 came to the hotel college. Most were from South Korea, China and Japan.
UNLV's popularity in South Korea stems in part from a popular television drama, "Hotelier," about a struggling luxury hotel. In the series, one of the lead characters went to the UNLV hotel college to learn how to save the business.
University leaders have responded to the worldwide interest.
Next month, university president Neal Smatresk and Donald Snyder, dean of the hotel college, will travel to Singapore for graduation, then to Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul, where they'll meet with alumni and industry leaders.
School officials say Vegas has a name recognition that rings with students wanting to work in the casino and resort industry around the world. Students know they can come to Las Vegas and learn from decades of experience in gaming and tourism, while working internships on the Strip.
"What I've learned most is the way they provide service here is very different," said Hanna Lim, one of the Singapore students studying this month at UNLV. "Everything here is about providing the customer with the best service. That’s something I can take back."
Soon Le Ying and Prig Yan Ping both hope to work in the Singapore convention business, another opportunity offered by Las Vegas Sands at its integrated resort.
"We're learning site planning and design and what goes into it," Prig said.
UNLV has handed diplomas to 92 hotel undergraduates in Singapore since 2009. Another 62 will earn degrees June 8.
The Singapore campus, located on two floors of the National Library building, also provides students in Nevada a chance to learn in one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. Because Singapore offers identical curriculum, hospitality students can travel overseas without missing classes. Student visas in that country also qualify for employment, allowing for working internships.
"A hotel college student here can go for a semester, go for a year, go for a summer, and not lose a semester, like they do in some professional schools," Linstrom said.
Not to mention, UNLV is building a worldwide alumni association.
"We know one of the intense loyalties of life is where you got your college degree," Linstrom said. "Some of these alumni networks are very tight. So we are forming a cadre of Singaporeans and other Asians who will be lifelong Rebels."