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Tourism professionals are in high demand, according to a March 2012 report from the Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council (CTHRC).

“Tourism activities make a significant contribution to Canada’s economy,” says Jennifer Hendry, director of research with the CTHRC. “Demand for tourism goods and services is expected to grow at an average annual compound rate of 2.2 per cent, climbing to over $293 billion by 2030. This robust growth in spending will fuel strong demand for labour.”

This is good news for tourism grads, who will have a range of employment options, including “touring corporations, travel agents, [and] transportation, including airlines and bussing,” according to Frank Creasey, CEO of Fort McMurray Tourism Ltd.. He also lists opportunities for local employment, such as hotels, recreational facilities, and “destination management.” 

Post-secondary education in tourism can come in various forms, including bachelor’s, diploma and masters programs, covering topics like tourism management, hotel management, or sustainable tourism. “Most diploma and degree programs in Canada focus on supervisory and management-level education and training,” says Dr. Brian White, director of the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management at Royal Roads University (RRU) in Victoria, BC.

When hiring, Creasy looks for a range of skills in addition to a degree or diploma at the higher levels. “We’re in the people business. You have to be a people person and be sociable. You also need to have marketing skills, economic development skills, research skills, and office and budgeting skills.”

David Humphrey, who earned a bachelor of commerce in hotel and food administration from the University of Guelph’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, said it gave him “the technical skills to advance in the industry, including skills in sales, marketing, finance, and hotel real estate.”

And although a bachelor’s is great, Dr. White recommends getting a masters degree if you really want to spread your wings. “As you move up, there’s an increase in expectations that you’ve got a masters. It’s about maintaining a competitive advantage for an organization. That’s one of the critical issues in making a destination successful.”

That’s why RRU offers a Master of Arts program in tourism management, and uses a blended learning model which allows those working full-time to augment their education. Due to increasing demand, the school is adding a full-time component to the program in May 2013, for those coming directly out of a bachelor program.

While the industry is growing, Arlene Keis, CEO of go2, a tourism human resources association in Vancouver, says there are challenges. “It’s competitive out there for global tourism. The economy can also be a factor. Due to oil and gas prices, people aren’t travelling as much.”

There’s also a high turnover rate, says Dr. White. “There are a lot of younger workers joining the field and then leaving it; jobs are underpaid, there are long hours. There’s a labour shortage.” As Hendry says: “Like many industries, entry-level positions in tourism may pay minimum wages. However, there are opportunities to supplement one's income with commissions, gratuities, or other benefits, such as free or discounted accommodations.”

For some folks in tourism, the work is also seasonal. “It can be hard if you work at a winter or summer resort,” Keis says. “They’re not operating all year round.” 

But this can also be one of the perks of the job. “Flexible schedules [are] beneficial for people who attend school, are living with disabilities, or are family caregivers,” Hendry says.

There’s also the obvious bonus: travel. Humphrey, who now works as an analyst of operations and asset management at Westmont Hospitality Group, which oversees 14 hotels across Canada, says, “Every month, I see the different hotels. I get the opportunity to travel all over Canada.”

Photo: Thinkstock Images/Thinkstock