As Labor Day's unofficial end to summer marks the annual trek of students headed to campuses and classrooms all over the country, enrollment in myriad courses tied to the travel industry is seeing steady growth.
One reason for that is a parallel growth in the number of community colleges and four-year schools offering programs for a wide spectrum of travel-related jobs.
The good news for these students is that scholarship opportunities are on the rise, helping to offset college costs, thanks to funding from a variety of industry organizations, including ASTA, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the National Tour Association (NTA), Tourism Cares, AAA, IATA, Virgin Holidays and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (see related report, "In Caribbean, cultivating the industry's future")
as well as numerous banks, airlines and hotel companies.
More good news is that job opportunities continue to open up for these students once they complete their course work.
Travel employment nowadays reflects the diversity and breadth of the industry itself, spanning sectors from staff positions at hotels and cruise lines to airport management; travel agencies and tour companies; computer technology; franchise development; human resources; resort hiring and training; and finance and accounting.
"As the industry has grown and broadened, so has the need for qualified employees in fields that were not around even 10 years ago," said Paul Klein, associate professor, department of management in the School of Business at St. Thomas University in Miami.
Institutions of higher learning whose course offerings include programs in travel and tourism offer specialized training in fields ranging from sports entertainment to resource management and meetings planning. A pioneering college evolves
St. Thomas University, a small, private four-year college in Miami, has offered a bachelor of arts degree in tourism/hospitality management since 1983. In 1992, a bachelor of business administration (BBA) degree was added to the tourism curriculum.
"We were the first school to offer this as a BBA component," Klein said. "Other schools offer it, but as an option."
"Our enrollments go through cycles," Klein said. "But this year there was a big spike due to geopolitics in Latin America, agreements with schools in Asia and better awareness of high schools in the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism system."
The Academy of Hospitality and Tourism is one of three major programs sponsored by the National Academy Foundation. It provides students in grades six through 12 with the skills and knowledge necessary to begin a course of college study for a career in travel.
The academy program offers courses in geography, economics, hospitality and the business of tourism. What's more, students can get a head start by earning college credit while still in high school.
"The field of tourism/hospitality management has blown wide open, and St. Thomas is right up there," Klein said. "We push economics and computer courses alongside tourism. We believe in early engagement, and we have a career services center."
Best of all, in an era of extremely tight job markets for new college grads, Klein reports "nearly full placement upon graduation as well as a number of internships."
In part, he said, that is because he is seeing a lot of nontraditional job placements.
"That's exactly why we offer a BBA in the tourism field of study," he said. "Students are getting jobs in lodging, real estate, banking, financial asset management and franchise development in the food and beverage sectors. Our graduates go to work for cruise lines in accounting, finance and forecasting, and they fill positions with destination management companies and convention and visitors bureaus."
In fact, he said, the job outlook for travel and tourism students is excellent at the moment.
"Everyone comes here to recruit job applicants," Klein said, adding that the university's locale works to the benefit of St. Thomas graduates.
"Florida is the No. 1 comeback state," he said. "Employment is growing, even in the off-season. There are five jobs here for every student."
Many St. Thomas graduates are foreign students who return to their home countries armed with business degrees in tourism and hospitality.
"They're equipped to enter the industry in a variety of positions," Klein said.
Promising career opportunities lie in sports administration, a field of tourism study that St. Thomas has long recognized.
"There are partnerships and jobs available with teams, amateur and professional associations and leagues, venues and event management companies," he said. 925 colleges offer travel degrees
St. Thomas is one of more than 925 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada that offer degree and postgraduate programs in the travel, tourism and hospitality fields.
Another is the University of South Carolina, Beaufort (USCB), which has offered a bachelor's degree in hospitality management at its Hilton Head Island Gateway campus since 2004.
"Since we first offered this degree, the program has grown 691%, from 22 students in 2004 to 174 students in 2012," said Charlie Calvert, chair of the hospitality department.
Between 2005 and 2011, USCB's hospitality management program saw a 114% jump in enrollment, while travel-related study at all South Carolina universities grew 31%, according to Calvert.
USCB hospitality students work in lodging, food service and private club management while in school.
"Some of our graduates transition into a management position ... with the company they [worked for] while in college," Calvert said. "Others use our career services to assist with placement."
Students can also participate in a practicum course while in school to experience different facets of the travel and tourism industry as a way to determine which part of the industry they want to work in after graduation.
Studying hospitality in a destination that enables students to put theory into practice is a popular and increasing trend, he said.
"USCB's coastal location at the gateway to Hilton Head Island is the perfect location for students to live, learn and work in hospitality while in school," Calvert said.
Increased interest in private club management and event management is also on an upswing among USCB students. In addition to its own curriculum, the university also runs the Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute, which does much training work for the surrounding region.
And many hospitality management students help out on various research projects for the local chambers of commerce, Calvert said. Steady growth in enrollment
Missouri State University in Springfield took the lead in 1983 when it began offering a bachelor of science degree in hospitality and restaurant administration.
Stephanie Hein, the department's interim head, said that as the hospitality industry and higher education have changed, "so has our curriculum and course offerings. This fall, we're offering a bachelor of applied science in hospitality and restaurant administration in addition to our traditional bachelor of science degree."
Missouri State sees steady growth in all its hospitality courses, with enrollment up 5.6% this fall compared with last year. About 240 students currently are enrolled in the degree program.
"We anticipate the increase to continue, particularly as the economy and job market improve," Hein said. "Students recognize that the hospitality industry offers a wide array of professional opportunities when they graduate."
All hospitality students are required to complete an intensive internship.
"We believe this internship provides students with the necessary work experience to secure frontline management positions upon graduation," she said.
Hein's department hosts two hospitality recruiting fairs each year, maintains a job board and employs social media to broadcast job opportunities with industry partners.
Because the hospitality industry is continually changing, "We are seeing academic programs with greater emphasis on business skills and competencies," Hein said.
The ability to analyze financial statements and to understand revenue-management principles is increasingly important, as is the need to improve students' communication skills and their ability to work effectively in teams, Hein said.
"The key is to strike a balance between the needed business skills with the people skills that are imperative to the hospitality industry," she said. "It's also critical that students understand the local, regional, national and international intricacies of the hospitality industry, given the global scope of hospitality." 'Tourism Cares' for students
Missouri State, USCB, St. Thomas University and 93 other schools that offer programs in travel are part of a network of institutions supported by Tourism Cares, the nonprofit organization supported by the travel industry to preserve the travel experience for future generations.
Tourism Cares is best known for the grants it awards to preserve historical sites and volunteer give-back programs it hosts at sites in need of restoration. But in addition to its preservation work, Tourism Cares provides scholarships to students studying travel, tourism and hospitality at accredited colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada.
The money comes from $1.7 million in endowed scholarship funds that were established by individual and corporate donors as well as by industry associations including the NTA, ASTA and IATA. Tourism Cares manages the entire endowment.
The endowment took off in 2006, when Tourism Cares took over management of the National Tourism Foundation scholarships. In 2008, it did the same with the ASTA scholarship program, and in 2010, it assumed management of Iatan's program.
Amanda D'Aiuto, Tourism Cares' student programs manager, said that the organization "awarded $70,500 in academic scholarships to 55 travel, tourism and hospitality students in 2013, selected from a field of 180 applicants. The scholarship awards, based on merit and awarded through a competitive process, are funded by Tourism Cares and by donations from the National Tour Association, ASTA and IATA."
In total, Tourism Cares offers up to 63 academic scholarships each year with an aggregate value of $86,000 as well as 22 professional development scholarships totaling $25,850 to travel industry professionals and those looking to enter the industry to pursue travel certificate programs.
Individual scholarships range from $1,000 to $5,000. Certificate programs are added to the Tourism Cares network if a school providing the course work is accredited either nationally or by a state and the programs that it offers are travel- or tourism-related.
Academic scholarship schools need to have national accreditation and offer a degree (associate's, bachelor's, master's or doctorate) in travel, tourism or hospitality. The schools also have to be located in the U.S. or Canada.
Based on transcripts from scholarship applicants, some of the most popular tourism courses include international tourism marketing and sales, destination marketing, regional tourism field study and travel and tour management.
"At Tourism Cares, we believe that a key to preserving the travel experience for future generations begins with generating a strong, knowledgeable and committed workforce," said CEO Mike Rea. "We feel confident that our student programs are addressing the anticipated job growth within the tourism industry."
D'Aiuto noted that sustainable tourism and event planning are emerging as new trends in the travel and tourism field.
"These are areas that students seem to want to pursue," she said.
Tourism Cares does not directly place students into positions in the travel industry, D'Aiuto said, "but we provide them with the tools to smoothly enter the industry. These include scholarships to help them finish school, mentoring programs to help them build their professional networks and to learn about the careers available to them within these industries as well as an internship program that bridges the gap between companies and students." Internships and mentoring
The internship program was launched in 2011. The mentoring program, which was started by the National Tourism Foundation, has been offered by Tourism Cares since 2006.
"This year we had 35 students participate in the mentoring program," D'Aiuto said. "It is offered to all Tourism Cares scholarship recipients. It gives them the opportunity to shadow professional mentors, build their professional network and attend industry workshops."
The programs managed by Tourism Cares have the support of and draw strong kudos from the organizations that fund the scholarships.
NTA President Lisa Simon pointed out that "generating a strong workforce for the tourism industry begins with supporting students who are completing their educational goals in the travel and tourism fields.
She added: "We have a valued heritage of providing scholarships, internships and student mentoring."
ASTA CEO Zane Kerby described the scholarship recipients as "the next wave of leadership for our industry," a description seconded by Jean-Charles Odele Gruau, IATA's regional director for the Americas.
"It is very rewarding to support these students who represent the next generation of young professionals who are determined to excel and make a difference in this rewarding and ever-evolving industry," he said.
Another outlet for students seeking careers related to hospitality, travel and tourism is the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute.
It offers more than 30 management courses, using e-textbooks, online components and other training resources developed specifically for the hospitality industry.
Robert Steele III, president and COO of the Educational Institute, said, "There's a growing trend toward offering students the opportunities to earn professional certifications in addition to the academic credentials they receive from their college or university. The goal is to make students more marketable by arming them with industry-recognized professional certifications that employers value and which demonstrate the student's hospitality knowledge."
Integrating technology into the classroom, both as a way of teaching and as a part of the hospitality curriculum, is another significant trend, Steele said.
As is true across all aspects of higher education, professors in travel-related fields are using online learning, e-textbooks and social media to reach out to students.
"Blogs, podcasts and interactive components add a new dimension to the way content is delivered," Steele said. "And students are learning how the Internet and social media affect the way the travel and tourism industry operate."
Another topic that has become an essential part of the curriculum is sustainability, Steele said.
"Green buildings and design, use of organic and locally grown produce when designing menus, reducing a property's carbon footprint, the rise of ecotourism and sustainable travel are all important subjects for today's students," he said. Follow Gay Nagle Myers on Twitter @gnmtravelweekly.