By Joe Baker
You do not need another voice reminding you of the challenging times the hospitality and tourism industry is facing. There are enough of those voices out there. And I recognize as an educator I am writing from a place of privilege. I acknowledge that place of privilege and I am committed to using it for purposes of recovery. But not yet. We are not there yet. But we will be. Soon.
The hospitality and tourism education space across this country is in extremely difficult times as well. Our method of educating students for this great industry is as hands-on and applied as the industry itself – especially in my school. We are presently moving all of our programs on-line as our dedicated teams try to engage our learners from a distance. But those learners are not traditional by any sense. Most of our students are international students, and many of those we would classify as domestic are from new Canadian families, or from our local community in Scarborough who all face their own sets of challenges independent of the current pandemic. Many of our students are actively employed in this industry, because we encourage them to do so to gain experience and discover their future career paths. Those jobs have started to disappear too. And our students are struggling with the basic necessities – food, housing, health. And trying to stay focused on their studies. They are a source of inspiration to me. As are those of you who are fighting to get us through this crisis.
So what now? What do we do? Many industries will bounce back. But is bouncing back really enough? I believe we have the incredible opportunity ahead of us to in fact, leap forward. To use the extreme challenges we are facing to wrestle with some very significant issues that face our industry at the best of times. Conditions of employment in our workforce. Conditions of the business model of our operators and the razor thin margins that make us so vulnerable now. Make no mistake, this is a critical moment in the history of our industry. And it’s one we can make count.
In spite of the hardships around us all, I have never before seen the kinds of unity I am seeing now. The industry associations are working together to lobby government for support. The governments are working together to lift our industry as best they can. The messages are crystal clear – the tourism industry is vital to the Canadian economy. Vital to the 1.87 million people who rely on it for gainful employment. There was a time our industry was accused of being splintered. Of not sharing a collective voice with the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the few. We are, for the first time I can recall, speaking the same language.
We are standing together, fighting for the virtue of the tourism industry itself. Fighting to support the workers, the businesses, the communities. We are representing the tourism industry with pride and passion and togetherness. This is our moment. This is our opportunity. To transform from an industry focused on competition to an industry focused on collaboration. Some experts are warning of the risk that the service workers of our industry will be scared off and not return, putting even more pressure on operators who were facing an acute labour shortage. I don’t buy into this. I don’t believe it. I believe we are about to create Canadian Tourism 2.0. A better version of something that was already world-calibre.
So in the moments of quiet reflection. In the moments of deep clarity. In the moments of darkness, I encourage you to focus on the present moment. Before you move forward. Try as hard as you can to project your mind towards the future outcome you wish to create for yourself, for your business and for your industry. What is it you want to see in Tourism 2.0? And most importantly, who can you rely on for co-creation. If you’re looking for an ally, count me in. For the foreseeable future you can find me on Zoom. But when the fog lifts you can find me back where I started. In the hospitality and tourism industry. Shouting from the rooftops that this is a great place to pursue careers. We will emerge stronger, wiser and ever with our sense of adventure and service to others. We will persevere. And we will leap forward. Together. Tourism 2.0 is calling. Let’s answer that call together.
Joe Baker is dean, School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts, Centennial College, Toronto. He is also on the Board of Directors of Tourism HR Canada.