Time to redefine boundaries of tourism careers: PATA

Soon-Hwa Wong, chairman of PATA Singapore Chapter; Daniel Yeow, director of TP School of Business; Darren Ng, managing director of TTG Asia Media; and TP event helpers

EXCITING prospects await Singapore’s future tourism workforce, but more needs to be done to push past lingering misconceptions that are dulling the industry’s shine for millennials, leading industry stakeholders expressed.

“The tourism sector is competing for talents, in some ways unfairly, with other attractive industries such as banking,” Soon-Hwa Wong, chairman of PATA Singapore Chapter told TTG Asia, alluding to the longheld public misconception that customer-facing roles are the be-all and end-all of hospitality and tourism careers.

Young Singaporeans may also shy away from tourism pathways because of assumptions held by parents and peers that “low pay, long hours and limited prospects” typify tourism careers, Wong said.

Agreeing, Joan Henderson, associate professor at Nanyang Technological University’s Nanyang Business School, said “salary considerations” have quelled interest.

Perhaps more striking is the low retention rate of hospitality professionals, with “large numbers” of students deciding to pursue other pathways after their tourism industry internships, according to a spokesperson from Temasek Polytechnic’s (TP) hospitality faculty.

In practice, however, tourism holds coveted prospects, be it up the hotel rungs or in destination planning roles, assured Wong. The emergence of non-traditional business models in recent years has also emphatically broadened this scope.

“The industry now includes mobility players, tech platforms, analytics and big data systems. Even major tech players such as Google and Facebook have now got tourism components,” he said. “Now is a good time to redefine the boundaries of travel and tourism careers.”

Change is already underway to assist young Singaporeans in discovering the multifaceted nature of tourism and how diverse skillsets are valued within the trade.

Earlier this month, the Tourism Innovation Competition (TIC) 2016 concluded after students took a week to develop ideas for the Singapore Zoological Gardens with the guidance of mentors from TP’s Hospitality and Tourism Management course.

Benjamin Cassim from the organising team at TP told TTG Asia: “The organisers had over the years worked with various industry partners including Banyan Tree Global Foundation, where (students proposed ideas) on how hotels can be more sustainable in their operations.”

“We view the competition as a very relevant platform because it offers students the opportunity to learn, be exposed to, and participate in a tourism-building effort in an enjoyable way,” Cassim shared.

While lauding the TIC for generating awareness of the trade in young talents, Wong stressed that sustaining their interest is the larger challenge.

One way to go about this, he suggested, is to highlight industry role models so as to raise the profile of the industry.

“Also, we could identify cross-sectoral ambassadors who would then talk up the industry – this is a role that associations (such as PATA and hotel associations) can fill.”

He further added that invigorating industry news could be disseminated online to better engage a larger audience. “Everyone loves feel-good news, which can lead them to thinking it’s an exciting and dynamic industry and not a tired one (as some might think),” he said.

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