The passion at the heart of tourism

By Victorian Tourism Awards Judge, Dr Olga Junek

27th September was UNWTO World Tourism Day and a celebration of 1 billion people having visited the world as tourists. However, UNWTO World Tourism Day is not just about tourists visiting destinations and having a good time but, more importantly, about the positive impacts tourism has on communities and individual lives within those communities. Raising awareness of these impacts and how they can transform communities and people’s lives is just as important as ensuring tourists are satisfied with their travel, accommodation and tourist activities.

As an academic in the field of tourism and a once-upon-a-time employee in tourism and hospitality, these days I teach my students about destinations, tourism attractions, sustainability and many other things connected to the wide world of tourism. Often, especially in their first year, all they see, if somewhat misguidedly, is a chance to travel. In their second and third year, once they have had some exposure to actually working in the industry, their initial views become somewhat tempered by the reality of hard work, long hours and challenging customers. Most stay to finish the course and end up with rewarding jobs and careers in this diverse and exciting industry. Those who leave were perhaps never suited to the industry anyway.

A lot of my teaching content comes from research (my own and that of others), connections with industry and lots of reflection and analysis when I travel. I try to look at the world I see on my travels through a double lens, that of the traveller – discovering new places, cultures and people, and that of the educator – how can I use this experience in my teaching? I learn a lot through these experiences, not just for my personal growth and development, but also in telling stories to my students that are rooted in the real world and supported by research.

So when I was selected to be a judge for the RACV Victorian Tourism Awards, of course I jumped at this opportunity. My expectations were of an interesting and educational sojourn into the real world of tourism and accommodation operators through reading submissions and site visits. And no, I didn’t quite realise how much work was involved on my part in the judging of these. Despite this, it has been a truly rewarding experience on a number of different levels.

Firstly, I have a better idea of the difficulties, challenges and competing interests of  tourism industry operators, especially those where the owners are also the managers, chefs and often, waiting and cleaning staff. The amount of hard work, organisational skills and being a Jack-of-all trades cannot be underestimated.

Secondly, what really stood out for me in talking to tourism and accommodation operators in a small, regional town was the degree of passion that was evident when they were telling me about their business. These people get up each day, despite aching bones and not much of a chance to have a day off, to do it all again with renewed energy and plans for the future. Why? Because they love what they do and are committed to making their business successful and sustainable for now and for the future. More than that – this love of what they do extends well beyond their own business. What I heard, and read in their submission, was unbridled passion, excitement and love of the destination and region. They told me, with genuine pride, how great their region, and all it had to offer, was. They were by far the best marketers for this region, and I am sure my fellow judges found the same in the regions they visited.

Finally, what also impressed me greatly was the high level of collaboration amongst all the business and organisation in the destination and region. This collaboration extended to sharing, consulting, recommending and working together very closely with each other. The result of this for the visitor is a strong sense of community and desire to provide the best stay and experience possible. In a bigger picture scenario, successful, passionate and committed tourism businesses in country regions are able to provide job opportunities, training and professional development to young people to address some of the youth unemployment that presently exists in a number of regions.

I was certainly impressed by all I saw and hope to be able to convey some of these real-world learnings to my students – namely, the importance of dedication, hard-work, passion, collaboration and love for the business and destination.  Hopefully, my students will be better equipped to go into the world of tourism employment with renewed energy and enthusiasm after 3 years of studying and assignment writing. As for the entrants that have not only worked hard in their business but have spent considerable time and effort in writing their submissions, even if they don’t win the top award, they can certainly be very proud of all that they have achieved.

Happy World Tourism Day!

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