Step 1: Change the school curricula
Making tourism and hospitality a high school subject for learners was, in hindsight, a disservice to the sector. One does not see a matric subject for mining or manufacturing, which raises serious questions about the relevance of having a matric subject for tourism.
Another telling factor is that the best private and public schools do not offer tourism as a subject. In other suburban, rural and township schools, however, tourism is offered as a matric elective subject.
Making the subject elective has relegated tourism to the status of being a ‘soft’ subject. It is chosen as the easy option, especially by those pupils who face the prospect of failing other tougher subjects or who are aiming for a matric pass but not university exemption. As an elective subject it does not contribute to university entrance APS scores, so those learners aiming to get into university are rarely interested in the subject and it adds to the perception that tourism is a second-class career.
Another challenge facing tourism education is that very few teachers have the expertise to deliver tourism or hospitality as a subject. Learners are not engaged with the industry when they have teachers with limited knowledge.
How does one make tourism understood at schools and viewed as a career? Tourism should be embedded into other curricula such as business studies, accounting and geography. Pupils can then be exposed to tourism or hospitality case studies the same way they would be exposed to other industries. This would also ensure that there are serious pupils learning about tourism as a part of a broader context in a strong matric. Those pupils who continue on the academic route then have the option of entering mainstream university courses with their focus being on tourism diplomas and degrees.
For all learners, tourism should be part of Life Orientation and should be presented as a quality-of-life activity for all to enjoy. It should be delivered as an activity that breaks down cultural barriers and fosters understanding between nationalities, races, cultures and religions. Let’s get tourism understood with ‘I am a Tourist’. When I travel to go to a concert or a soccer match ‘I am a tourist’. Tourists are not only rich, white, international leisure visitors.
Step 2: Revive Vocational Training
Matric should be seen as an academic qualification. There are many learners who are better off in non-academic high schools. This is a common practice worldwide where non-academic youngsters enter vocational colleges from around age 16. In South Africa we have the Technical Vocational Education and Training colleges (TVETS). This vocational system should work for tourism and hospitality, producing waiters, receptionists, guides and the like.
Through vocational training substantial numbers of employment seekers and future entrepreneurs can gain entry into the industry.
Step 3: Enhance Higher Learning
The higher-learning institutions are generally on point but are not without their challenges. The accreditation process needed to change curricula or to add new courses is drawn out and the challenge is to keep what is being taught as topical and relevant as possible to the evolving industry.
Finding the quality of lecturers is difficult as not many people in tourism have a Masters or PhD, which are needed to qualify as a professor. In addition, tertiary education tourism courses are often filled by the students who could not get into their preferred options – it’s a fall-back or last resort – and the best candidates opt for other degree courses.
We need to elevate tourism and hospitality as a university degree option to be up there among the sought-after, professional business degrees. The best global hotel and tourism degrees at schools like Cornell and Lausanne attract the cream of school leavers and produce global CEOs. The tourism industry with the universities, therefore, have to market vociferously [tourism] as a preferred career alternative in order to attract a share of the brightest young minds into our industry
Step 4: Bite size programmes and interventions
We have had national and provincial skills audits in the past and strategies developed but, in reality, not much has changed. The approach should rather be a stepped approach, working on bite-size chunks that can be digested. Yes, some of these may need a national policy change and others may simply need small task teams addressing issues on the ground in some provinces at some schools and in the TVETS.
The Golden Thread: Image
I am a great believer in image and perceptions – economies work based on confidence. Education for this industry will work when the industry’s image is positive and it is understood, and it has status and is attractive as a career. We need to start in the schools.