True Blue Tourism

True Blue Tourism - Nashville Skyline

Middle Tennessee has seen rapid growth in recent years as a tourism hotspot, famous for everything from Southern cuisine and country music to hockey and bachelorette parties. In response to the area’s increasing demand for entertainment and recreation opportunities, MTSU is excited to announce the launch of a brand-new major: Tourism and Hospitality Management. The program begins in fall 2019 and will feature three different emphasis areas: travel and tourism management, hospitality and hotel management, and event planning. Associate professor Joey Gray, who co-founded the program with assistant professor Nicky Wu, says they’re eager to draw students into an industry built around exploration and fun.

MTSU’s tourism major is very new and already garnering a lot of student interest. What attracts students to the tourism and hospitality industry?

Our program’s tagline is “do what you love,” and if you love to travel, meet people, or organize events, it’s the perfect job. A lot of people don’t know that they can do something that they really love and enjoy as a career, but this program gives them an avenue to explore their passion.

What is the job market like for tourism and hospitality jobs, both locally and overall?

It’s one of the fastest-growing industries in the world and the second-largest industry in Tennessee, just behind agriculture. There are over 300 million jobs worldwide in the tourism or hospitality industry, and it grows by about 5 percent every year. Our majors are definitely going to get jobs when they graduate!

Did the expanding job market influence your design of the program?

Absolutely. Tourism was originally a small part of our Leisure, Sport, and Tourism Studies degree, but we’ve recently had industry leaders come to us and say “Hey, we don’t have enough qualified people in tourism and hospitality, and we’d really like it if you could help produce some.” So we redesigned the tourism and hospitality curriculum in order to make it a separate major. It’s a very practical degree; we’re working closely with industry leaders to make sure that students graduate with the skills they need so they won’t have to be extensively trained for their new positions.

What kind of hands-on training do students get as part of the program?

We have quite a few paid internships, which often turn into post-graduation jobs. The hospitality management focus has hotel manager-in-training programs already set up. For the event planning focus, we’ve had internships with Events by Raina, who does a lot of weddings and other large events. And with being so close to Nashville, the entertainment and sports industries offer our students lots of opportunities. Some of our graduates will go into managerial positions, some will travel around the world and others will plan once-in-a-lifetime moments for folks, and that’s really what our program is all about.

Do the skills taught in this program apply on a global scale?

Yes, that’s the thing about the tourism and leisure industry: It’s everywhere and it touches everybody’s lives. Our program truly reaches globally. We have our own study-abroad program called “Cross-Cultural Perspectives,” and it should soon be repeatable for up to a total of 6 credit hours. This past year we went to Argentina for the wine festival, and we’ve got a group going to New Zealand this summer. Our students get the chance to travel all over the world and see things that some people will never see in a lifetime.

What kind of innovations is MTSU contributing to the tourism field? 

Dr. Wu’s doing some pretty innovative research in the field by using virtual reality to help promote study abroad programs. She just finished up a study with one of our master’s students on virtual reality and how we can use VR to get people more comfortable with the idea of traveling abroad. As part of the study, they’d go to MTSU’s Study-Abroad Fair and have prospective students “tour” a country with VR goggles. They’ve found that it does have more of an impact on students than just reading about a country or watching a video.

How do students respond to exploring hospitality and tourism as a career?

A lot of students here at MTSU are first-generation college students and might not understand initially how many opportunities are truly out there. But it’s amazing to see some of them light up when you talk about the tourism industry and all of its possibilities. It’s eye-opening for them!

What’s a good way for students to get introduced to the industry?

We highly recommend 3100, our introduction course, which shows students all the career opportunities in the industry: everything from working at resorts, casinos, hotels, special event planning, to having your own company and traveling around the world. It gives them an overview of all the things that they can do with their degree if this is a path they’re interested in pursuing.

And finally, what’s your favorite thing about working with leisure and tourism?

I love the leisure and tourism industry because it’s fun! I think people underestimate the importance of recreation and leisure. Imagine how unhappy you’d be if you took all the fun things out of your life. If we didn’t do our job, the world would be a pretty boring place. Mentally, physically and emotionally, we all need to have fun!

by Freya Cartwright