HOSPITALITY AND TOURISM EDUCATION OVER THE NEXT DECADE
SOME POLICY TRENDS OBSERVED IN AUSTRALIA
Stephen J Craig-Smith and Ding Peiyi
School of Tourism
University of Queensland
There would be few industries, other than the hotel industry, which is so heavily dependent on their staff for good customer relations and repeat business. This recognition of the importance of good reliable, honest, well skilled and friendly staff is long standing and Swiss hotels were some of the earliest to place considerable importance on staff education and training. Degree programs focusing on the hotel and tourism industry have been around for many years but the vast majority have only been in existence since the early 1980s when world tourism developed rapidly. Economic development, the emergence of newly industrialising economies especially in Asia and the widespread use of wide bodied long haul jets has led to a global tourism industry of which hotels are an important part. Education plays a very important part in the success of all tourism regions and economies and this international hotel forum has a vital role to play in addressing some of these education issues. Dr Ding and I are honoured and delighted to be asked to attend this very important gathering and discuss a few trends and issues concerning tourism education. Much of what we have to say is based on our own experience and research in Australian hospitality and tourism education but much of what we have to say is of direct relevance to tourism operators in China.
Before we touch on ‘localisation’ the central focus of this forum we would like to say a few words on the very opposite concept of ‘globalisation’. There is no doubt we live in an age of globalisation; never before has capital, expertise and knowledge roamed the world to the extent it does today. One of the first things an educational provider will do before mounting its own program is scan the net and see what other providers offer in the way of curriculum content and skills coverage. There is no possibility of offering worlds best practice if what is done in the rest of the world is not known and one of the first things we did in Australia was see what Europe and North America were doing as they started offering tourism and hotel degree programs long before Australia did.
The one major problem in doing this is the tendency to follow what other providers are doing and, what may work and be best practice in one part of the world is no guarantee of success in another. There are many advantages of globalisation but the down side is that ‘one size does not always fit all.’
What we want to share with you here are some of the problems we encountered in the early days of offering degree programs for the tourism and hospitality industry and to emphasise the importance of thinking globally but always acting locally. For good industry practice and well trained staff it is essential to always have that local emphasis or characteristic which very often not only works to your own best advantage but also gives you an edge over your competitors.
Until recently localisation has not shared in the spot light globalisation has enjoyed but as some of the more glaring problems of globalisation have come to light the concept of localisation is rapidly becoming more important. To the hotel and tourism operator localisation brings the following advantages
• Localisation means what is best for your own clients
• Localisation gives you a distinctive edge separating you from your competitors,
• Localisation allows you to enter niche markets in which to expand
• Localisation allows you to survive in a crowded market place, and
• Localisation allows you to make the best use of your staff, resources and facilities.
Localisation is growing everywhere in importance and we in the education sector are increasingly realising this.
Some recent education trends in Australia
Australia was relatively late in embracing hotel and tourism degree education (the first program did not appear until the mid 1970s whereas hotel degree programs had been in existence in Europe since the 1950s and in North America since the 1940s) Naturally the first thing Australia did was look at curriculum in Europe and to a lesser extent in North America. What followed was the introduction of a number of degree programs following the European, and in particular, the UK model almost exactly. There was some sense to this as the English had conducted much research into what constituted a good hotel or tourism body of knowledge and had much more experience in mounting hotel and tourism focused programs. The problem was however, that in the early days Australia blindly followed what Britain had started but the local conditions in Australia were very different from the local conditions in the UK.
In Europe Silver Service (the nearest equivalent in China would be Banquet Service) is very important and many Swiss hotels pride themselves on this form of food delivery, but in a new and informal country such as Australia there was very limited demand for Silver Service and then it was confined to a small handful of providers back in the 1970s. Over time, by thinking local, the emphasis on Silver Service has been drastically reduced and left out entirely from some programs.
In Europe, and particularly in the UK, warm weather conducive to easting outdoors (Alfresco Dining), is limited to a few months in the year and as such did not receive much attention in the curriculum. In a sub-tropical country such as Australia Alfresco Dining is very important and in Northern Australia is the dominant mode of dining for much of the year. By thinking local Australian curriculum has changed considerably and much greater emphasis is now placed on this form of food service.
The early imported curriculum was very Eurocentric and in the UK very Anglo-Saxon in its tastes and attitudes. Although this was not a problem in the 1970s when Australian tastes and attitudes differed little from those in Britain, over time Australia has become much more cosmopolitan and Asian orientated in particular. By thinking local the whole process of food selection, processing and delivery have been changed to better serve the potential market. Brisbane was one of the first Australian cities to take Asian cooking seriously in the curriculum.
As with Europe, hotel focused degree programs predated the introduction of tourism focused degree programs. Australia introduced tourism, as against hotel degree programs in the late 1980s and as with the earlier hotel programs much was copied from Europe. This was exacerbated by the importation of many faculty teaching staff from Europe. Programs were expanding so rapidly in Australia in the late 1980s there were not enough suitably qualified local staff and a large immigration campaign was launched to attract suitably qualified personnel. We were some of those recruits.
As with the early hotel focused programs the early tourism programs had content and emphasis not always most suited to local conditions. Just as the hotel programs needed localising so also did the tourism programs.
The early tourism programs on tourism management had a strong focus on urban tourism and in particular historical urban centre tourism. Whilst this is essential in Europe with historic cities going back 2000 years it is less important in a country with few historic cities and with a strong tourism focus on the natural environment. This is not to suggest that heritage urban tourism is not important in Australia but the focus and emphasis is different. Over time the focus has been localised in many tourism programs.
Problems of marked tourism seasonality are significant in a cool temperate climate but less important in sub-tropical, tropical and sub-equatorial environments and over time content concerning some of these issues have been localised to better suit Australian conditions.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of Australia’s prime tourist attractions but coral environments are rarely, if ever, covered in the imported curriculum. Unique physical environments required considerable localisation as did issues with ethnic and indigenous minorities and tourism.
Future trends and issues
Clearly every hotel and tourism school must consider the collective world body of knowledge in any particular area and there are clearly many advantages in doing this. Much of this world knowledge should be applied in almost every instance but localisation can and does enrich that knowledge. Australia has found it necessary to do this over the last 15 years and will continue to do so in the future. Far from being a narrow and parochial exercise, localisation has many of the advantages highlighted in this paper.
One possible way of improving localisation is by joint offerings of programs and student exchanges. Just as tourism and hotel academics in Australia have considerable knowledge and experience in ecotourism and wilderness tourism management other countries have the leading edge on Asian tourism characteristics, cultural relic tourism and the like. In a global environment hotel and other tourism staff are expected to roam the world in search of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. As such they have to be fully aware of many diverse economies, cultures, religions and physical environments. What better way is there for students to learn than from local experts? With the offering of jointly delivered programs students can learn from the local experts rather than from people only marginally familiar with what they are teaching. We would venture to suggest that Chinese hotel and tourism programs are the best for my students to learn about Chinese tourism, and hotel operation, Asian culture and cuisine whilst Australian hotel and tourism schools are the best for your students to learn about Western culture and cuisine, etc.
Staff and student exchange, and joint offerings of programs are one way to go to ensure the very best of localisation for students, staff and the industry. This forum should be commended for exploring every possibility for localisation and here are just a few suggestions on how this could be taken further in the future. Much has already begun and there are already many staff and student exchanges and joint offering of programs. Long may this continue.