Written by: Raina DeBrouwer, Co-op Coordinator, Co-operative Education
If there are two things Professor Paulette Cormier-MacBurnie knows well, they’re the tourism industry and Mount Saint Vincent University’s role in it. Paulette first attended MSVU in 1990 to study Applied Human Nutrition. She had worked in the service industry, primarily in restaurants, and wanted to compliment her budding passion for food with post-secondary education. The Mount proved to be the right place, as Paulette was soon filling a contract position as a lab technician in Vincent’s, the Tourism and Hospitality Management Program’s on-campus teaching kitchen. It wasn’t long before this position flourished into a full-time lab instructor role, alongside which Paulette began teaching food safety and management courses. Paulette recently moved into the roles of Assistant Professor and Tourism Program Coordinator. Now, after teaching countless lessons, earning a master’s degrees, and starting the journey of working towards a DBA in Business Administration at Athabasca University, Paulette is primed to help students navigate the changes introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
You were recently recognized for providing 25 years of service to MSVU. What keeps you passionate about your roles as an Assistant Professor and the Tourism Coordinator to the Department of Business and Tourism?
The most exciting part of my job is working with our students. Helping students get a degree by teaching them in the classroom, advising them on what courses to take, providing insight into jobs and volunteer experiences, and helping them navigate through their education really is the best part of my job. We have a new group of students every year and that keeps the job exciting. We have a strong faculty, too. People are really engaged and dedicated to the students and program. It makes it a great place to work.
How have you witnessed the tourism landscape change over the last 25 years that you’ve been teaching in the field?
Like with any industry, lots is evolving due to technology. Prior to COVID-19, people were travelling a lot. The world was a smaller place, so demand in the tourism industry was high. The tourism roles themselves were varied too – you saw people managing social media and customer engagement online in addition to traditional tourism roles. We’ve stayed on top of these trends with the co-op program and staying connected with local industry experts.
In the last year, we’ve seen a lot of change. We’ve gone from having a labour shortage to being in a pandemic. That said, the tourism industry is strong and has faced challenges in the past, so I am confident it will come back from this.
COVID-19 aside, what do you believe the greatest benefits and challenges of working in the tourism industry today are?
COVID-19 aside, there’s a lot of opportunity for students. Under normal circumstances, we have more jobs than we have students and graduates, which opens up career opportunities for them. We used to have people asking us about our graduates for different jobs, which was great to see.
As for the challenges, it depends on the area of tourism you’re considering. There was a labour shortage in the industry, so that presented a challenge for those looking to hire. In tourism and beyond, sustainability is an area that many organizations continue to work on. In recent years, the introduction of Airbnb and similar business models has opened up challenges and opportunities in the field as well.
Have these benefits and challenges changed at all as a result of COVID-19?
COVID-19 is the challenge right now. International travel as we knew it has come to a halt. Some local and regional travel has happened, but health recommendations are determining what can happen next in terms of traveling and dining out. The tourism industry is all about being together and experiencing and moving – all things that have been impacted by this pandemic.
With that in mind, what is your advice to students looking to secure jobs in tourism and hospitality this summer?
Take advantage of the opportunities available to you. It is the time of year when jobs will be posted by the Co-op Office. Check websites like Tourism Talent regularly, and monitor the sites of organizations you’re hoping to work with for job opportunities. Learn about what it is they are looking for and what you can do to be prepared to fill those positions. Continue to be fully engaged in the job search.
What can students looking for careers in tourism post-graduation do now to set themselves up for success?
Now is a great time to be studying, getting more education, and taking every opportunity you have to learn more about the industry. Be sure to participate in the online extracurricular activities we are offering to students, including our new Fireside Chat series which features both local and Canada-wide speakers.
Students should learn as much as they can. Try to think about ways to be innovative and be open minded to opportunities out there. Take advantage of the time available to you to build your skillset during the pandemic. Whether you volunteer, take a course, or meet with industry experts to ask about the work that they do – there are lots of things you can be doing right now to improve your resume.
What do you think about the future of the tourism and hospitality industry? Are you optimistic?
Absolutely. This will pass like other challenges have passed in our history. People are waiting and wanting to be able to travel again and experience what tourism has to offer. It may take some time, but as soon as things start to level out and people become more comfortable, people are definitely going to want to get back into travelling.
What would you say to those considering applying to the Tourism and Hospitality Management program at the Mount?
It’s a good time to be studying. Tourism is not the only industry experiencing challenges associated with COVID-19. A lot of organizations are reflecting on their business models and reimagining what business looks like in the future. For students who are coming back to school – learning as much as they can and taking advantage of opportunities – jobs are going to be available.