By Katherine Blunt
Photo: Elizabeth Conley, Staff
University of Houston students participate in a team-building challenge as part of a hospitality training session Friday in preparation for the Super Bowl coming to NRG Stadium in February.
The question required careful thought: Can a concierge say "Howdy" to a Super Bowl big shot?

Evan Dunbar, a first-year graduate student at the University of Houston, waffled before deciding that the old Texas greeting has a place in the luxury lexicon.

"I think it would be a little infectious," he said. "But y'all is not acceptable."

The question was one of several posed to nearly 25 students preparing to escort VIPs during their time in Houston for Super Bowl LI. They contemplated matters of etiquette and judgment at the Houstonian Hotel last week as Jeff Wielgopolan, a hospitality industry executive, described the fundamentals of standout service.

A former hotel inspector, he recalled a time when he had to change rooms and found his belongings, from the shirts in his closets to the book on his night stand, placed exactly as he had left them.

"The underlying theme is, someone is just paying attention to you," said Wielgopolan, vice president of learning and development for the Forbes Travel Guide.

The students, enrolled in a two-year course jointly offered by UH's sports administration and hotel and hospitality management departments, are in the final weeks of high-end service training in preparation to guide esteemed guests through the city during the 10-day lead-up to the game, which will be played at NRG Stadium on Feb. 5. For weeks, they have been studying the behind-the-scenes efforts needed to execute one of the most highly anticipated events in the world.
"We sell an experience, an intangible good," said David Walsh, an assistant professor in UH's department of health and human performance. "You walk away with memories."
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