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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

Slim Pickings Locally for Hospitality, Tourism Studies

Places to study hospitality and tourism are few and far between in the Valley. Among the community colleges in the area, College of the Canyons is the only one that offers a program in the field. Among the four-year universities here, California State University, Northridge, is the only one that offers hospitality as a course of study. The dearth of such programs at educational institutions here is particularly surprising considering that Southern California is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. “You would think any community college or CSU would offer that area,” said Jay Aldrich, a tourism and hospitality professor at CSUN. While surprised that there aren’t more educational offerings with a hospitality focus in the Valley, Aldrich said that the dearth of such programs is good news for CSUN because more students can register for the classes there. CSUN’s Recreation and Tourism Management (RTM) program specializes in fields such as travel/tourism management, travel/tourism entrepreneurship, event planning, outdoor recreation and hospitality management. “We offer a very wide range of things and specialize in a couple of areas,” explained RTM professor Mechelle Best. Students just starting out in the program are provided with an overview of the hospitality and tourism industry, including various aspects of management. There are also courses on tourism principles, practices and philosophies; tourism sustainability; and cultural tourism. The last program entails identifying which cultural aspects are in a city and building a tourism program around the cultural icons there. “It’s a great course,” said Aldrich who is also working on a new class for fall that will concentrate on special events planning. With courses offered on both the undergraduate and graduate levels, the RTM department is now in the process of developing a master’s degree in travel and tourism management for the international market. “We hope to launch it in the fall,” Aldrich said. The idea for such a program came about because CSUN gets a number of requests from Asia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries in search of qualified professionals in tourism management, according to Aldrich. “Looking at tourism not just from a domestic but an international perspective as well,it’s important to try to incorporate those kinds of things into the program, so our students are better equipped to deal with those things on a wider scale,” Best said. There are nearly 150 students in RTM’s undergraduate and graduate programs collectively. Aldrich oversees 32 graduate interns who work part-time in hospitality and tourism. “I have them working at Universal Studios, a number of hotels in the Valley, a couple of countries. One is doing an internship in Bangkok, and one is in South Africa,” Aldrich said. “They have to complete 600 hours during their internships. These are all the future leaders in tourism and hospitality.” Despite the downturn in the economy, Aldrich said that CSUN has been very fortunate in that the majority of interns in the RTM program have landed paid internships. Aldrich believes that one of the positives of the hospitality industry is that many hotel chains place young people in entry level positions and give them ample opportunity to work their way up. “Marriott is a great example of hiring fresh out of college students,” he said. “Marriott is great for hiring from within.” At College of the Canyons in the Santa Clarita Valley, the hospitality focus is specifically on hotel and restaurant management. The Associate of Science degree offered in the field trains students in the managerial functions in both the hotel and restaurant industries. The program is now in the process of being rewritten, a task that Audrey Green, COC’s associate vice president of academic affairs, is undertaking. “We’re going to be examining it to make sure that it continues to be relevant and up to date with current industry standards. It will be important that we talk to industry partners to get input,” Green explained. A new feature of the program is the hospitality wine service certificate of specialization, she continued. “It’s just a matter of re-imagining what we currently offer in terms of hospitality,” Green said of the imminent adjustments to the program. “You have to make sure you’re current.” Green was surprised that COC was the sole community college in the area to have a Hotel Restaurant Management program. She did note, however that some of the local community colleges,Los Angeles Mission,for example, have culinary programs that could translate into the food service sector of the hospitality industry. In the vein of making sure that COC’s program remains relevant to the times, Green said that there will be a renewed focus on customer service in the program considering that treatment of patrons is crucial during a recession. “It’s always important,” she said of customer service, “especially in hard economic times.” Aldrich, for one, doesn’t expect the recession to give tourism much of a beating. “People are always going to travel. They may not travel as far … but (tourism) is a good solid industry. It will weather this crisis.”

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