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New offerings, fresh ideas: Algonquin College’s Hospitality and Tourism programs gear up amid industry labour shortages

Portrait of a man
Michael Tarnowski, academic chair of Algonquin College’s School of Hospitality and Tourism. Photo by Matt Stewart

Having worked with the hospitality & tourism industry for the last three decades, Michael Tarnowski says the labour challenges occurring across the sector are like nothing he’s ever seen before.

“They’re in dire straits…there are many local hotels, restaurants, attractions, and event centers that are not even opening at full capacity because they don’t have enough staff,” he says. “It’s a real challenge out there, but at the same time there’s so much opportunity.”

As the academic chair of Algonquin College’s School of Hospitality and Tourism, Tarnowski and his team are on the front lines of developing the next generation of hospitality leaders. Now, more than ever, ensuring students have the skills they need to meet the ever-evolving industry requirements is key to helping the sector rebuild and strengthen, he says.

While pre-pandemic the College was well suited to deliver timely and relevant programs for those looking to enter the hospitality and tourism sector, the onslaught of COVID-19 fundamentally changed the landscape.

“We saw so many changes happening in the industry from the adoption of new technologies, to how staff interact with guests, to how people travel and enjoy a destination,” he says. “By working together with our industry partners, we’re adapting our programming and, in some cases, completely overhauling our offerings.”

In fall 2023, for example, a new four-year Bachelor of Event, Sport, and Entertainment Management program will begin at the College – a first of its kind in Canada.

The program will prepare students to design, project manage and execute on a wide range of events including concerts, sporting events, political gatherings, corporate trade shows and more. Students will also learn how to tackle both in-person and virtual events on a local, national and international scale.

Also getting a refresh is the College’s Tourism-Travel Services program. Traditionally built to deliver the skills and knowledge needed to be a successful travel agent, the program will now expand its focus to include tourism and destination management as the shift to “do-it-yourself” travel booking continues.

All of these updates are in response to what the College is hearing directly from industry, says Tarnowski, underlining the importance of the program’s advisory committees – a group of industry leaders who volunteer their time to provide input on course programming to support the development of future industry professionals.

“The goal is to ensure that our students not only have great job prospects when they graduate, but also lasting career opportunities,” he says. “Our Program Advisory Committee members have a pulse on what’s going on now, as well as where things are heading, which makes our degrees, diplomas, and certificates that much more relevant.”

And, as the industry continues to rebuild and innovate its products and services post-COVID, there will be an onslaught of fresh talent, with new ideas ready to assist.

“The Hospitality & Tourism sector offers some of the most exciting career paths because no day is the same,” says Tarnowski, who is actively working with faculty and industry to recruit new students to his programs. “The pandemic painted a grim picture of the sector and the opportunities within it, but now is a great time to enter this field and to be part of the solution to the challenges businesses continue to face. We’re excited to see where our students land and the impact they will continue making on this great sector.”