Preparing Hospitality and Tourism Students for Careers in the 21st Century

Garrett Stone
Nov 4, 2017 · 4 min read
Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

As a result of globalization, advances in technology, and evolving consumer expectations the tourism industry has become more complex and dynamic than ever before.

In order for hospitality and tourism students to succeed in the 21st century tourism environment they need to acquire 21st century skills.

What are 21st century skills?

According to organizations like the Partnership for 21st century skills and the National Research Council, 21st century skills generally fall into the following categories:

§ Digital Literacy (e.g., computer savvy)

§ Communication & Relational Skills (e.g., collaboration, cross-cultural skills)

§ Thinking Skills (e.g., creativity, critical thinking)

§ Life Skills (e.g., self-direction, accountability, adaptability)

In one Hospitality and Tourism program, which boasts a 99% job-placement rate, they break this down into three competency areas: business savvy, people savvy, & self-savvy.

With these skills students can react and think on their feet. They can communicate across cultures and backgrounds. They can solve difficult industry problems in real time. And they can use data and evidence to make strategic decisions.

Thinking Skills

Employers can teach new hires how to use software. They can train them on how to have a positive customer service interaction. In contrast, teaching people to think critically takes time and can be difficult.

Fortunately, educators have the time and skill-set to make it happen.

Students who learn to think critically can:

§ Identify the heart of a problem

§ Analyze information to determine what is relevant and what is not

§ Generate alternatives to solve pressing issues

§ Produce evidence to justify decisions

§ Critique sources of information

Most importantly, critical thinking can help students succeed in their personal lives.

So how do we teach this skill?

The Case Study Method is a great way to teach hospitality and tourism students to think critically.

Cases put students in the role of a manager or key decision maker whose responsibility it is to make decisions to solve the problem at hand.

To give you an idea of what I mean, here are a few case “roles” that my students have adopted:

§ CEO of Swedish tour company Fritidsresor responding to a natural disaster

§ Canadian Chef and owner of Jamie Kennedy Kitchens considering how to expand sustainably

§ Manager in the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain determining how to maintain service quality in a growth environment

I typically use Harvard Business Review cases. These cases are free to educators, inexpensive for students, and come with solid supplementary and instruction materials.

There are thousands of cases. They are constantly being updated. They can help give your students the edge they need to get a job in a competitive industry.

How to use cases well

I have found that it is not enough to just hand a case to students and say “go for it.”

Cases require time, preparation, and intentionality. That goes for both students and teachers.

At Clemson University, for example, we spend days, if not weeks unpacking a case. Here is a snapshot of our approach:

§ In-class: Introduce content that contextualizes the case problem

§ Out-of-class: Students read the case and answer some basic questions to show they “get it”

§ In-class: Student -led discussion of the case. Identify the case problem, stakeholders, internal and external factors, etc.

§ Out-of-class: Students write a case report that focuses on five steps/skills: identification, analysis, generating alternatives, evaluating alternatives, and making a decision.

§ In-class: Debrief the case; students justify decision making using evidence.

What does the data say?

First, multiple studies support the use of case studies to teach critical thinking.

Second, students love this type of active learning. Between observations in class and feedback in student evals, using cases continues to be a valued experience in the classroom.

Lesson learned

Cases take time. At Clemson, we found that spending more time with fewer cases was the way to go.

This gives students a chance to learn content, prepare, and fully engage with the case. It also reduces the labor intensive process of prepping a case for educators.

Cases can oversimplify real world issues. While cases come closer to reality for students, they aren’t the real thing. Students don’t have customers yelling in their face, media outlets calling constantly for information, etc.

I found that partnering with real organizations for live cases can take case study learning to the next level.

You get out of it what you put into it. If either students or educators come ill-prepared, the case study method is bound to be ineffective.

Prepping students with short, non-academic readings and case questions can help get students engaged. Making them lead the case discussion and defend their decisions in front of their peers can take engagement a step further.

So what?

Research shows that, in some cases, recruiters are passing over hospitality programs. Instead they are recruiting from business, marketing, and computing schools where students are getting the 21st century skills employers are seeking.

Hospitality and tourism educators need to move beyond basic vocational training if their students are going to remain competitive in a constantly evolving industry.

Using active and evidence based methods that situate learning (i.e., case studies) is one way to give our students a leg up as they prepare for careers in the 21st century.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Special thanks to Dr. Lauren Duffy, Dr. Harrison Pinckney, and one of our students, Raine Templeton-Bradley for contributing to this article and to case study learning at Clemson University.

Garrett Stone

Written by

Husband. Father. Student. Teacher. Studying the science of travel and the art of teaching.

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