Newswise — Though tourists from around the world flock to California especially during the summer months, the state is a vacation haven throughout the year, creating a booming hospitality and tourism industry. With 84 percent of CSU alumni remaining in California and one in 10 employees in the state holding a CSU degree, the university ensures its graduates are prepared to enter and strengthen the industry.

Meet a few alumni helping welcome travelers to the Golden State.

Kent Seiders San Diego State (2010), CSU San Marcos (2020)

Since graduating from San Diego State with a bachelor’s degree in business marketing, Kent Seiders’s career in hospitality & tourism at Merlin Entertainments Group has taken him to Orlando, Las Vegas, New York City, London and Carlsbad to work for brands ranging from Madame Tussauds to the UK theme park THORPE PARK Resort.

Now, Seiders is the head of marketing for LEGOLAND California Resort, which includes the theme park, SEA LIFE aquarium, LEGOLAND Water Parks and two LEGO-themed hotels. His most recent project involved a partnership with Ferrari to open a LEGO Ferrari Build & Race experience at LEGOLAND California featuring a life-sized LEGO F40.

“Hospitality and tourism is the most fun industry to work in, and selling a product that creates memorable experiences for young families every day is an absolute joy,” he says. “These industries are also some of the most diverse and inclusive for employees in general, so I feel that I can be myself authentically as well as interact with some of the most talented co-workers who all come from different backgrounds and skill sets. It also helps that my office is only a few steps away from rollercoasters!”

While in his current role full-time, Seiders returned to the CSU to earn his MBA at CSU San Marcos, which helped him hone skills outside his marketing specialty including finance, human resources and operations.

Melody Rico CSU Monterey Bay (2006), Cal State East Bay (2010)

While Melody Rico earned her bachelor’s in earth systems, science, and policy at CSU Monterey Bay, she discovered her passion for hospitality during her time working in CSUMB Student Housing and Residential Life and volunteering for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

“Working as a student RA, and later becoming staff for the Student Housing and Residential Life team at CSUMB, helped me learn how to interact with and support students and their families,” Rico says. “Housing in college requires many similar skills as hotels: assigning rooms, billing, troubleshooting problems and overseeing the process of assisting students/guests.”

After college, Rico began working for the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce supporting local businesses and interacting with tourists before attending Cal State East Bay to earn her master’s in recreation and tourism.

Today, she serves as a sales manager for Embassy Suites by Hilton Monterey Bay. “Embassy Suites gave me the opportunity to be part of an exceptional team that allowed me to learn and grow in my career path in hospitality,” Rico says. “I was blessed to be brought back to the hotel during the pandemic where I acquired new skills and learned two new departments’ roles.”

Jason Abdullah CSUN (2006)

Jason Abdullah grew up going on road trips with his parents to Las Vegas, where the neon lights and vibrant hotels inspired his first love for travel. “It felt like being transported to another world, and it was always evolving,” he says.

But it wasn’t until after receiving his bachelor’s in business administration with a focus in marketing and a minor in political science from CSUN that he fell into the hospitality industry, starting with a marketing position at Starwood Hotels & Resorts. While his career has since taken a series of turns, he is now the corporate director of digital marketing at Pacific Hospitality Group, driving the digital marketing strategy for their collection of properties and resorts.

“When you work in hospitality and live in the cities where your hotels are located, you become ingrained and intertwined in the neighborhoods, restaurants, amusement parks, tourist traps and all of the other aspects of a city that make it great,” Abdullah says. “These experiences give you an appreciation for your role and the city you live in, which then allows you to do your job even better. For someone like me, who loves to eat and travel, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Paul Ratner SF State (2005)

Working for the Golden State Warriors is the realization of a dream for Paul Ratner.

“I love sports and was looking for a career that allowed me to be around sports, and more specifically, basketball,” he says. “My brothers are 10 and 12 years older than me and both played basketball, so I fell in love with the sport. I initially wanted to be a sports announcer but found my passion in corporate events and how sports create unique opportunities for companies.”

As the senior director of premium suite sales, Ratner oversees these ticket sales for all events at the Chase Center in San Francisco. He is also a co-founder of their online suite sales platform, SuiteXchange.

His journey started at San Francisco State where he majored in radio and television with an emphasis on sports media. It was there, under his faculty advisor Melissa Camacho, Ph.D., associate professor of Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts, Ratner developed the right mentality for his profession.

“She taught me over time how to have the attitude to ‘just get it done,’” Ratner says. “It's easy to blame circumstances, but she taught me how to control and own my destiny.”

Veronica Rivera San Diego State (2011)

Before launching her career, Veronica Rivera began as a business administration major at San Diego State. But on a counselor’s recommendation, Rivera took an introduction to hospitality course, motivating her to change her major to hospitality and tourism management and setting her on a new path forward.

Following graduation, as a junior seller at the Hilton San Diego/Del Mar, Rivera had the opportunity to engage with the San Diego Tourism Authority (SDTA) team—again shaping her course. Rivera now serves as one of SDTA’s national sales directors. “This experience taught me that although your days may be long, it’s the relationships that matter and showing up as authentically as you can changes everything,” she says. “You never know where your next opportunity lies and stepping out of your comfort zone is the only way to grow.”

In her role, Rivera helps organizations in the corporate and association markets host meetings and conferences in San Diego County by sourcing hotels, arranging airfare and creating engaging experiences for attendees.

While COVID-19 deeply impacted the hospitality sector, it didn’t stop Rivera from making her mark on the industry. In 2021, she co-founded the West Coast DMO (Destination Marketing Organizations) Alliance to help large and small DMOs come together to share best practices, and was named one of San Diego Business Journal’s 2022 Top 50 LGBTQ+ Leaders of Influence.

“COVID-19 was a milestone in my career,” Rivera says. “Like many, my life was forever changed. … Although at times it was a rollercoaster, I have grown into the leader I am.”

Explore degrees in hospitality and tourism.