Mason prepares its tourism, events management and hospitality students for new challenges

Prior to the pandemic, Mason Tourism and Events Managment students were able to meet in person with industry professionals and do site visits. Photo provided

The tourism and hospitality industries have been confronting increasing challenges related to both the pandemic and climate change, according to experts from George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD).

The twin crises mean that graduates from Mason’s School of Sport, Recreation and Tourism Management must be able to pivot from traditional business models and adapt to changes in the industries. Mason’s job, professors say, is to ensure that its students are well-versed in new technology, able to understand market demands, and have an ability to quickly solve problems.

“There is tremendous need right now for our Mason graduates because they can hit the ground running,” said Maggie Daniels, a professor in Mason’s Tourism and Events Management program. “Our students know how to use what they’ve learned to adapt to the changing work environment.”

Kevin Dunayer, assistant professor of theater and event production with both CEHD and the College of Visual and Performing Arts, teaches Mason students the logistics of virtual event planning.

“There will be a lot of companies that want to keep their events in the virtual realm or some of their events in the virtual realm, so our students will be prepared for that,” said Dunayer.

Erinn Sanders, a senior majoring in Tourism and Events Management, said that her education is preparing her for planning both in-person and virtual events.

“We learn how to create virtual events that are as much like in-person as possible,” Sanders said.

Min Park, academic program coordinator for Mason’s Tourism and Events Management program, said that Mason students are prepared to face today’s workplace challenges.

“One of the most important learning outcomes we have is that they will have critical thinking skills to help them prepare for the flood of new information they will face in the working world,” Park said.

Helen Bircher, a senior majoring in Tourism and Events Management said that her professors encouraged independent problem-solving, which will be helpful when facing the inevitable issues that come while planning events.

Associate Professor Sue Slocum said that one of the biggest challenges Mason tourism graduates will face will be the devastating effects of climate change.

Slocum teaches a class on sustainable tourism in which students examine how they can help the tourism and hospitality industries better conserve resources and maintain local environments. In addition, students studied how tourist areas reinvent themselves when their environment is altered. For example, as Vermont faces less snow than before and a shorter ski season, Slocum said the state has become a mecca for mountain biking.

“Mason is on the leading edge of research on sustainable solutions to the current environmental and pandemic problems facing tourism and hospitality, and our students are very aware that they will have to reexamine and rethink how to sustain tourism in the years to come,” said Slocum, who has been researching the effect of the pandemic on California wineries.

In addition, said Slocum, employees in the hospitality industry have started demanding higher pay and better working conditions.

“Our graduates in the hospitality industry will have to look at employees with social sustainability in mind,” said Slocum.

Tina Jones, fieldwork experience coordinator for the Tourism and Events Management program, said that Mason graduates have learned through classes and internships risk management strategies that will serve them well in their employment.

Our students will be able to “think strategically about planning for safe operations, and they will be even more aware now than ever about the importance and the need to meet safety expectations for the consumers they serve,” said Jones.