Projected tourism staff shortage fuels regional hospitality education initiative

The revitalization of Cincinnati’s urban core and the city's successful hosting of national and international events like the 2015 MLB All-Star Game and World Choir Games have led to a steady increase in tourism. Although the revenue from new businesses, conventions and individual travelers is welcome, the growth also presents a challenge — finding qualified employees for tourism-related positions.

The Cincinnati USA Convention and Visitors Bureau is leading an effort to solve that issue by building a new workforce development initiative: the Cincinnati USA Institute for Hospitality Leadership.

“One of the barriers to filling these positions is the impression that tourism work is front line, low paid, service work. There is an array of opportunities and positions that people aren’t aware of in marketing, finance, event planning, human resources and multi-cultural sales,”Jason Dunn, vice president of multicultural and community development, CVB.

“One of the barriers to filling these positions is the impression that tourism work is front line, low paid, service work,” said Jason Dunn, vice president of multicultural and community development for the CVB. “There is an array of opportunities and positions that people aren’t aware of in marketing, finance, event planning, human resources and multi-cultural sales.”

Tourism as a core job creator

Tourism is a major economic driver. Nationally, the U.S. Travel Association reports that one in nine jobs depend on travel and tourism, and 84 percent of travel companies are considered small businesses. According to TourismOhio, visitor spending has increased 27 percent since 2011.
“Tourism at its core is a job creator and economic driver,” Dunn said. “The industry creates jobs, and once people make money, they spend it, then the tax base grows, and they can re-invest into this robust region.”
Those numbers represent opportunity for Hamilton County residents, where one in 14 jobs is tourism related, including 74,000 in Cincinnati alone.
Tourism in Hamilton County
  • 1 in 14 jobs is tourism-related
  • 74,000 jobs in Cincinnati are supported by tourism
  • over 24 million visitors came to Cincinnati in 2015
  • visitors bring $44 billion into Ohio's economy
 As future convention sales increase, the CVB is looking ahead at capacity needs in the tourism industry.
“In the last few years, the region has added 500 hotel rooms, with more coming online in the near future,” said Yancy Deering, director of communications with the CVB. “Tourism is a rapidly expanding industry. In order to continue to support this growth, there is a definite and urgent need to have workers ready to come in and have life-long careers that are lucrative financially, but also personally and professionally.”
Dunn and his colleagues are currently recruiting participants for the Cincinnati USA Institute for Hospitality Leadership task force. Members will include representatives from local attractions, businesses, commerce, educational institutions, hotels, restaurants and sports executives.
“We want to make sure stakeholders are involved in shaping the Institute,” Dunn said. “We will make a business case for support, as well as demonstrate that there is a need, that jobs are available, that the tourism field offers educational opportunities and long-term career opportunities. Our hospitality ecosystem has to first determine current and future needs, then educate the wider community as to how they can play a part.”
The task force will shape a curriculum program that begins in seventh grade and continues through the college level.

Exploring tourism professions in middle school

“First we have to educate students on the opportunities, from grades 7-12, and introduce them to the possibilities the tourism field offers,” Dunn said. “Then we need to look beyond that introduction to further training, which could be a two-year program, a certificate, a degree or a management program for upper executive levels.”

“This could develop into an academic major, or supplemental classes to a degree program,” Deering added. “Someone getting an MBA could include classes related to the hospitality industry.”
The task force will convene before the end of the year for an initial orientation and planning session, and will start the new year prepared to meet an aggressive timetable. In January, the task force will meet monthly with the intention to roll out the introductory curriculum during the 2017-18 academic year.
Although this type of academic integration in the tourism industry has not been attempted before in Ohio, there are other states with similar programs. The Florida Department of Education has a Hospitality & Tourism Career Cluster, which aims to provide “students hands-on educational opportunities, training services and related learning support” in lodging, food and beverage service, recreation and attractions and tourism. The program begins with middle school courses and evolves through degree and certificate programs.

Louisiana also has a Hospitality, Tourism, Culinary and Retail program for high school students. Middle school students in Louisiana are introduced to the field as part of a career exploration curriculum unit.
The Cincinnati USA Institute for Hospitality Leadership will begin with one school district and expand from there. The State of Ohio has expressed an interest in the program as well.
“We understand school systems have certain benchmarks and will need time to train teachers, prepare materials and set benchmarks,” Dunn said. “We want to maximize opportunity, particularly for large school systems with diverse students. We are definitely Cincinnati’s biggest advocates and we have to train our community to meet the need and ensure that tourism continues to grow.”

Read more articles by Julie Carpenter.

Julie Carpenter has a background in cultural heritage tourism, museums, and nonprofit organizations. She's the Executive Director of AIA Cincinnati.  
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