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Dear Tourism Educators: Eight Ways to Inspire and Empower Your Students

Tourism students as future leaders of the industry are seldom talked about in mainstream travel, but their success in dictating tourism’s progression (or regression) hinges on innovative education and foundational support from their professors.

With that being said, tourism education providers need to curate learning environments that are thought-provoking, inclusive and progressive. Tourism and Hospitality professors now have an added layer to their duties in the form of motivating and encouraging their students, more so than ever before. The effects of the pandemic can make career prospects seem daunting and uncertain, so there is no better time than now to infuse education with creative and comprehensive strategies.

It is one thing to assure students that there will be many career opportunities available to them upon graduation, but it is another to provide them with the tools, environment and stimulating conversations that will set them up to want to pursue meaningful work. The dynamic of the travel industry is changing and so are the career options that are becoming available. If you are a tourism educator, here are eight ways for you to inspire and empower your students.

Tourism professor asking students questions.

1. Teach students how to leverage their travel experiences in their chosen careers.

Why: So much of tourism education speaks to the logistics of the industry and, while this is important, it neglects the balance students need to tap into their creative thinking skills and draw upon what they already know. Travel teaches us a lot - independence, problem solving, patience, risk taking, spontaneity, humility, connecting with others across differences, adaptability, and open mindedness. It is important that students understand that their experiences can work in conjunction with formal education, thus helping them gain clarity on the type of work they might want to pursue.

How: Consider an exercise that allows students to reflect on some of their most memorable travel experiences, good, bad or otherwise, and encourage them to create a list of what they learned from said experiences and how what they learned could be applied to their dream job in the industry.

2. Avoid practices that perpetuate travel elitism.

Why: Travel elitism which includes travel privilege, is something we don’t often acknowledge as an industry. This refers to putting travel up on a pedestal as a universal good or even necessity without taking into account the context that makes it easier for some to travel and denies the opportunity to others. It is important to remember that your students come to study tourism with a curiosity for the industry, but that doesn’t mean that all of those students are seasoned travellers.

How: So what’s the solution? Simply start with talking about travel elitism. Remind your class that you’re all learning together and come with varying levels of travel experience. Avoid any activities that focus on the quantity of countries visited because this creates a divide between the haves and have nots. Instead, if you’re looking for an icebreaker exercise, try having your students talk about a time they used travel as a force for good. Reinforce that travel doesn’t have to be extravagant international adventures, but it can be something they’ve done in their own city or country. This is especially pertinent as domestic travel stays relevant and popular post COVID. Travel as a force for good might be something as simple as signing a petition or volunteering at a local soup kitchen.

A diverse group of travel and tourism students.

3. Create a safe space for uncomfortable conversations.

Why: As suggested in the previous point, travel can highlight a lot of different emotions around topics like privilege but also identity, stereotypes and the ethics of industry. It’s important to be honest about the challenges and shortcomings of the travel industry so students can make informed decisions as they move into the workforce. Talking about the things that have been swept under the rug for a long time can also build more confident and resilient travellers.

How: It’s likely that your class is relatively diverse with students coming from different cultures and nationalities. Students don’t have to have traveled far and wide to have experienced the effects of noticing how they may be different. They’ve likely experienced how they differ from others if they’ve been to areas of their city more or less privileged than their own, or areas where they’re part of the minority or majority of their community like Chinatown. Seek out resources that highlight, challenge and suggest ways to combat tourism’s history of colonialism and the ethics of mass travel. Encourage conversations in small groups, or present an exercise around identity and travel and allow students to submit anonymous reflections on their thoughts, concerns or experiences. Discuss the reflections as a class.

4. Advocate for and prioritize courses that will remain relevant.

Why: Tourism education has been accused for a long time of over educating students, in other words, presenting them with more education than is practical or useful. It is clear that as an industry we will continue to face turbulence through future global events so in the interest of providing value, tourism curricula should consist of staple courses that will stand the test of time.

How: Evaluate your program’s current list of courses. If it is a combined Hospitality and Tourism program, consider which elements of each sector are most important to include. Is it necessary to dedicate an entire course that focuses on Geography or specific destinations? Is it necessary to have a course exclusively about food and wine? Could those be amalgamated into bigger overarching courses? Or are these things that could perhaps be learned on the students’ own time or on the job? Advocate for quality educational content if you feel as though your program could be improved. Get input from your students as well, asking them what they want to learn or what they envision getting out of the program. Consider infusing approaches and concepts from other industries such as psychology and philosophy that might inspire high quality educational content.

5. Lead with responsible tourism principles.

Why: Leading with responsible tourism principles normalizes sustainability and creates it as a default mode of operation so students can enter the industries as conscientious professionals. As tourism educators, you are setting the foundation for the future leaders of the travel industry so any material taught should be thoughtfully and responsibly curated.

How: Dissect and discuss irresponsible or questionable marketing and communication practices in Tourism by providing examples, discussing the power of language and suggesting alternatives that keep the best interests of the planet and host communities in mind. Demonstrate the consequences or outcomes of the way destinations are advertised.

Encouraging and normalizing responsible tourism.

6. Foster forward thinking and innovative mindsets.

Why: Much of tourism education is analytical and very industrial, so students aren’t always given the opportunity to tap into their critical thinking skills and learn how to make predictions. The latter is especially important given the uncertain nature of the last two years. Such skills (critical thinking and prediction making) are important to put into practice especially for those interested in entrepreneurial endeavours. Not encouraging creativity and innovation in tourism education perpetuates stagnancy and dismisses the chance for potential change-makers to get their wheels turning.

How: When covering material related to concepts or processes in the industry, ask your students for their input. What could be done differently? How could this system be improved? What do you agree or disagree with? How, if at all, does this benefit the best interests of the traveler, communities and the planet? Encourage your students to do their own research and define for themselves how they might fit into the future of tourism.

7. Continuously evaluate and improve standards around work integrated learning opportunities (WiL).

Why: When implemented effectively, work integrated learning opportunities such as internships can be a great way for students to engage in practical work environments. However, internships may be inconsistent and even one sided as far as the mutual value they provide both “employer” and student. It is important that students aren’t exclusively subjected to tasks that the company needs to offload such as administrative duties because said companies may take advantage of the cheap or even unpaid labour.

How: Consider the relevant official standards for student internships that exist in your city or region. Based on feedback from recent students and “employers”, are those standards being met? If there are opportunities to improve the quality of the learning experience for students, outline those opportunities and communicate them to your learning institution’s partner “employers” and other “employers” that take your students on as interns.

8. Implement resources and tips for ongoing learning and professional development post-graduation.

Why: As previously mentioned, the tourism industry is constantly evolving as updates to technology and consumer demands change. Tourism graduates should be privy to resources as well as research skills to stay on top of these changes so they can maintain relevant industry knowledge.

How: In addition to getting students set up on LinkedIn with professional, tailored profiles, consider other ways for your students to create networking and knowledge-building opportunities. Encourage them to subscribe to relevant industry outlets and find mentors in their specific niches.

Travel and tourism professionals networking.

In conclusion, tourism educators are in a really powerful position as the qualities and strategies of their teachings can influence future generations of industry decision makers. It is important that we band together as travel and tourism professionals to support these educators and students so that we can collectively embrace the evolution of our industry.

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