|May 1999 / Although distance learning programs have been available
in many areas of education for more than a century, the rapid proliferation
and popularity of the Internet has given great impetus to reshaping the
way in which much educational material is distributed. Distance learning
now depends heavily upon personal computers, sophisticated software, and
effective telecommunication networks to permit interaction of student and
teacher while separated by both time and distance. This paper examines
some of the issues facing educators when considering the development of
distance learning programs in the tourism and hospitality fields.
The 1990's have witnessed dramatic changes in how we live, how we work and how we learn. Although many forces have been at work, one prevailing common denominator of these changes has been global information and communications technology.
Within the tourism and hospitality industry, technology appears to be driving the whole industry toward globalization from both supply as well as demand side perspectives. The information intensive tourism sector has been one of the largest beneficiaries of improved telecommunication Systems, which allow its vast growing number of clients and potential travelers easy access to every type of information needed to facilitate travel. It is now standard practice for many travelers to inspect their hotel rooms electronically before making a reservation, or virtually visit a vacation spot via a web site before selecting their next holiday. Travelers can shop for and seek best prices for airfares and hotel rooms using the Internet. Technology has helped open thousands of new destinations through not only massive communication systems, but improvements in transportation systems which greatly reduce the time and stress involved with travel, while at the same increasing travelers' safety. New global positioning satellite navigation systems are not only improving the efficiency and safety of air traffic control, but are making it impossible for a traveler to never be lost again, whether exploring a remote glacier site or trekking through a deep rain forest. There are countless other examples where technological developments are changing the travel landscape for both the consumer and the travel industry alike. Guided computer controlled cars and buses, self controlled airport trams, maglev trains that travel 300 miles per hour, alternatives to fossil fuels such as photovoltaics and biomass for inexpensive travel, trips to outer space and trips to amusement parks on the ocean's floor will become commonplace travel experiences.
While this all appears to be good news for the travel industry, there is growing concern among industry professionals that this labor intensive industry will face severe staff shortages in the coming years. While consumer demand for travel products and services is steadily increasing, the labor pool to fill jobs in tourism is steadily decreasing due to lower fertility or birth rates in industrialized countries. These industrialized countries account for 80% of all person trips. This clearly casts a shadow on the future prosperity of the global tourism industry, but at the same time, clearly creates a rainbow of opportunity for those who are preparing for international careers in this field.
There is a condition, though, to consider in exploiting these opportunities. The tourism industry is a service - based industry and a very competitive one. Many tourism enterprises will open and soon close unless they have educated and trained manpower to deliver what has come to be expected by customers throughout the service sector, i.e., quality service.
To fully take advantage of the career opportunities that await tourism and hospitality students today, students must be well educated and have excellent technical, personal as well as interpersonal skills. They must understand the nuances of marketing, from multi-level marketing to niche marketing, and at the same time be able to understand the basics of a business, such as, - this hotel room clean?" They will need to have within their basic management arsenal working knowledge of countless software programs for improving the performance of their business. Working knowledge of software programs such as spread sheets, statistical analysis, desktop publishing, web site publishing, graphics design, database management, and others will become standards for anyone wanting a mid or upper management level job in tourism. In sum, the tourism manager for tomorrow must be prepared to wear many hats, with the most important one being, that of a "continuing student."
To be recognized is the fact that there is no one institution, or no one business that can provide in one single program all of the skills, knowledge and training needed to work for a lifetime in the international tourism market place. This will require a change in educational focus from 'just-in-case" learning to 'just-in-time" and "anyplace, anytime" learning. One of the best responses to this industry and labor force dilemma has been the growing sophistication of higher education and skills training delivered through the Internet. The value-added aspect of becoming savvy in the Internet for education purposes, is that, one is simultaneously improving skills to better function in the intensive information technology tourism sector.
Higher Education in Tourism: Potential of the Internet
The amazing aspect of this computer linkage which evolved from ARPANET to Internet, only in 1989, is that by 1997, a large percentage of computer users were not even aware of the Internet.(Gates 1996) Today, the number of Internet host servers in North America is estimated to be over five million strong. Though much discussion and debate prevail as to where the Internet is headed, what is clearly observable is that a handful of industries are turning the Internet into a highway of commerce and not just a highway of information sharing, as its original intent. In retrospect, it is not surprising that Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, predicted that there would be three industry sectors that would be chief beneficiaries of Internet commerce: health, entertainment and tourism. What he failed to see and what appears to be taking center stage, is the value of the Internet as it relates to higher education, continuing education, and professional development. (Gates 1996)
For all aspiring tourism students--whether full-time young learners, or older labor force participants developing new skills, the Internet can be a valuable resource in three ways:
The purpose of this paper is to provide students, teachers, and industry professionals with basic information that will be helpful in optimizing the time they have for either adding content to their respective curricula or personally engaging in additional education, training and learning appropriate to international tourism.
Defining Distance Education
First, it is important to understand what distance education, or distance learning is. Distance education and distance learning are used today in literature as synonymous terms. In some instances, the term "distributed learning" is used interchangeably with distance learning; the intent is to stress that learning may take place away from an instructor, and perhaps among learners. The concept had its early footings in "correspondence schools," dating back to more than one hundred years in both Europe and the US.(Sherry 1996) Although technology advances of recent decades have greatly changed the panorama for delivering distance education programs, the fundamental concept remains intact to this day: the delivery of instruction when the teacher and student are separated by physical distance. Studies during the past five years have reported large and growing numbers of individuals who are making use of distance learning resources. In Europe, an estimated 2.25 million people per year are involved with distance learning programs.(1993) Several states in the US have been particularly aggressive in embarking in state funded distance learning programs. In Colorado, where distance education has been introduced throughout the state through the Extended Studies Program, more than 10,000 courses are offered annually, with a total annual enrolled of over 125,000. (1994)
While distance learning today encompasses a wide variety of communications technologies, an Internet search revealed that distance education delivery, which relies strictly on correspondence between the teacher and student, is still very much present. For example, the Independent Learning program of University of Wisconsin-Extension offers nearly 550 correspondence courses. Other universities listing correspondence programs included: Metropolitan State College of Denver, Central Metropolitan College, Australia, University of Iowa, University of Reno, Queen's University, University of Alabama, Seattle Central Community College, Carey College, and others. Though correspondence schools appear far from becoming extinct, the predominant trends in distance education programs, whether for professional development (certificate programs) or at the post secondary or university level (degree programs), is to incorporate various communications technologies, particularly those that incorporate two way communication channels between the teacher and student.
Research by the American Broadcasting Company
(ABC), Computer Editor, Gina Smith, reported the astonishing growth of
online distance learning education among fully
accredited universities.(Smith 1997) She observed that today there
were approximately six such schools in the US which offer an entire degree
on line, from registration to graduation with no residency requirement.
By the year 2000 she predicts almost every college will offer a university
degree program on-line. The costs to students of those programs can be
great, as is shown in Table 1.
Internet Education in Tourism & Hospitality Management
In determining whether distance education is appropriate for an individual or for incorporation into an education institution's tourism curriculum the following technicalities must be addressed. Distance education is delivered in several forms:
Distance Education through the Internet, relies on the World Wide Web, which is a graphical Internet interface, or on the Gopher, a text only interface. While it is difficult to determine the actual number of institutions that are delivering classes or course material over the Internet (due to the massiveness of the Internet and the constant stage of flux and growth of programs), several sites were identified on the Internet which provided comprehensive information on online college courses. Clearly, NOVA Southeastern University made an early commitment to distance education, beginning in 1972, and substantially expanding the program in 1983 to include graduate education programs delivered through interactive electronic telecommunication systems (Kontos 1995) and in 1994, to be the first institution to use compressed video (Mizell 1995).
Current leading institutions in the field, based upon the number of courses and program offerings include: University of Minnesota Independent and Distance Learning Program (over 340 courses); University of Wisconsin-Extension (over 150 courses); Mind Extension University (which is comprised of offerings from several universities); Open University in the UK; and NOVA Southeastern University. The University of Phoenix Online claims to be the largest private university in the U.S., with more than 30,000 students.(1999). There are several Internet sites that provide master listings of distance learning programs, such as The World Lecture Hall (1999). The World Lecture Hall contains links to faculty throughout the world who are using the WWW to deliver class material in over 98 different subject areas, from biotechnology to travel industry management. The largest proportion of courses listed are in the area of the science.
Only a handful of universities, though, offer courses over the Internet
in tourism or hospitality management. The most
extensive tourism certificate and degree program is offered by the
Canadian government supported Humber College. This university uses regional
industry mentors and an array of tourism internship sites to deliver both
certificate as well as degree programs in tourism and hospitality management.
Other universities which have tourism course offerings include Alberta
Distance Learning Centre, the University of Las Vegas, The George Washington
University, and the University of Houston's Conrad N. Hilton College of
Hotel and Restaurant Management.
Other models for educational delivery are also evolving: the consortium or "virtual" university.
The major benefit of distance learning in tourism is the ability to
reach special population
At the same time, distance or Internet education is not for everyone. Studies have shown that successful distant education students have certain characteristics, which will determine their success. The successful individuals in these programs are commonly ones who are motivated, goal directed, highly disciplined and generally, more mature degree-seeking students. (Riddle 1994; Reed 1997; Dessinger, Brown et al. 1998)
How to Evaluate?
Since the past few years have witnessed the proliferation of higher
education and professional
Thoughts about the Future
Distance education can be more costly than traditional education for the student, and also costly for any institution that decides to expand into this area. Distance education has real and recurring costs, and also significant investment in the development of the technological infrastructure. Kenneth Green, who is director of the Campus Computing Project, suggests that, "Only when educational institutions view distance education as a fully capitalized business will they begin to understand the options and opportunities, the real risks and real costs."(Cole 1997) The costs of developing distance learning programs may be viewed in three categories:
Training Teachers in Technology
Finding and training teachers to accommodate new technologies for delivering courses may be a significant problem as more and more institutions incorporate this mode of education.(Pietras 1995) Distance learning is occurring in an environment that requires sophisticated technical knowledge by not only the potential student but also the instructor. Radically changing technologies require instructors who are on the "cutting edge." It is not surprising that the greatest number of distance learning courses is offered in the sciences. What can be done to assist current educators in expanding their grasp and comfort level in the use of appropriate technology? (Bardo 1994)
Assessment & Evaluation
The Copyright Law of 1976 in the United States was established to provide special provisions for the education environment. Essentially, a "fair use" provision within the law provides copyrighted materials for use without express permission when the purpose for educational use. Since the rapid advancement in technology for distance education occurred after the copyright law, recent amendments to the law applies in the distance education classroom. (Boettcher 1999) The major question is can copyright materials (including print matter, videos, and multi-media materials) without express permission is placed in closed circuits for use in a particular class? When dealing in an international marketplace, additional issues are raised which will make it more difficult to protect course content and provide collateral materials such as articles, reprints and related items.
Delivery of Interpersonal Skill Development vis-a-vis the Net
Recent studies have pointed to overwhelming need of education and training institutions to focus on the development of interpersonal skills in order to meet the needs of the tourism sector in all industry segments. (TEDQUAL 1997) If this is, indeed, such a critical need, how can this skill set be facilitated in situations where the instructor and student are in remote locations? Is not distance learning at the opposite end of the education spectrum in improving skills in this area?
Information Skill Development for an Information Intensive Industry
In addition to requiring strong interpersonal and customer service skills, most segments of the tourism industry are information intensive, requiring workers, from front line personnel to managers, to be adept in all forms of communications technology. Is not technology driven distance education the platform for reinforcing skills in this area?
Conclusion and Recommendations
In consideration of the rapidly changing technology environment and the need to provide continuing education for those who are currently employed within the tourism and hospitality sector, as well as to those who are current students, the following recommendations are offered:
Tourism Hospitality Web Site for Distance Learning Programs
The difficulty in locating distance learning tourism and hospitality
programs that are delivered within the current Internet architecture points
to the need to establish a common site where information can be more readily
delivered to potential students, teachers and individuals needing re-training.
This could be a cooperative endeavor between international
and regional tourism organizations, such as
the World Tourism Organization (WTO) (http://www.world-tourism.
org/), the World Travel and Tourism Council (http://www.usadata.com/),
the Council on Hotel, Restaurant, Institution Education
(CHRIE) (http://www.chrie.org/), and
the Pan American Federation of Hotel and Tourism
Power of Partnerships In Tourism Education and Training
Providing education programs for the diverse tourism and hospitality sector could be better served by a pooling of resources between education and training institutions. Cooperative distance education could allow institutions which have specialized expertise in a particular segment of the tourism and hospitality field to partner with another institution which has a different area of expertise, thus increasing the breadth of course offerings for students at both institutions.
Without a solid educational infrastructure, a country or region may be precluded from establishing or expanding its presence in the competitive, technologically driven, international tourism marketplace. The quality of a country's or region's educational system will largely determine whether or not there will be a sufficient supply of workers who can deliver the type of services that will allow destinations to effectively compete. It is also unlikely that any one institution or one business can single handedly provide the total education and training required to equip students for a life long career tourism in a technology evolving society. Distance education and the Internet may be one important element in improving the current education infrastructure to better meet the current and future needs of tourism employers worldwide.
Clearly further development and implementation of programs for tourism and hospitality education holds great promise. That promise, and expectations must be tempered with a realistic assessment of the costs and benefits. Expansion into the Americas and the Caribbean can be accomplished effectively with adequate planning, coordination, and funding.
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