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Choosing a career in tourism

By all accounts, I should be a chemist. It’s what my father did. But I chose a different path — tourism and hospitality.

A friend of mine asked what my job was, and I replied, “My job is to make people happy.” Tourism is a great career.

In this city, it’s not hard to see how a career in tourism would be both a fun and logical choice. Tourism is everywhere and touches so many other industries.

Recently, I read a post promoting the tourism industry in British Columbia. It was called the “Top 10 reasons why you should choose a career in tourism.”

The author, Dave Butler, works in tourism in Canada as the director of sustainability and the summer adventures brand manager for Heli-Skiing. He delivered his top 10 reasons to a graduating class of tourism and hospitality college students.

I want to share three of them. You can read all 10 of his tips at tourismleadershipcouncil.com.

1. Tourism is a growth industry.

Butler’s first point is echoed all across the nation. Tourism is big business and has huge growth potential. The U.S. Travel Association attributes $2 trillion in economic output for the overall American tourism industry.

“It ranks among the top 10 private employers in the country,” according to traveleffect.com generated by the U.S. Travel Association. “(Tourism) supports 14.6 million American jobs and contributes more than $129 billion in tax revenues.”

Locally, we see more than 23,000 people employed by tourism and hospitality, an uptick of 1,000 jobs from last year.

In a previous article, I talked about how this market sees people in tourism advance more quickly than in most other industries. Why wouldn’t you choose a career in a field that offers so much growth potential?

2. Tourism presents opportunities to tackle challenges.

No matter what industry you choose for your first, second or third career, tourism offers abundant opportunities to solve problems. And the problems are different every day.

It’s thrilling to work in an industry where the environment, the people and the solutions are always in flux.

When I wake up in the morning, I know each day brings about a new opportunity. I’ve never been stuck in monotony. I’ve never been bored at work. The final one I share today may seem a bit too lofty, but it resonates with why I chose to work in tourism.

3. Tourism allows you to change lives.

In Butler’s address, he said, “We have the incredible and humbling opportunity to join people from around the world in situations where they experience something that they have never experienced before to the point where we can and do change their lives.”

When people come to Savannah, they plan and save and dream about the time they will be here. They open up their hearts and minds to a new experience.

I worked with a historic hotel in Savannah that was featured on Samantha Brown’s television show “World’s Greatest Hotels.” For years, we had people come to the hotel because they had watched that one episode.

One couple in particular stuck out in my mind. When the woman made the reservation, she said her husband worked overtime for five years straight for them to afford to stay at this hotel.

I challenged my team to come up with ways to offer them an unforgettable experience. They really stepped up.

We greeted the couple like they were the most important people. We made reservations for their meals. We had a limousine take them around town for free, thanks to one of our transportation partners.

As you can imagine, they were thrilled. They will never forget their time in Savannah. My staff had a blast going out of their way to creatively cater to these guests.

It might not be life-changing, but it made an impact they will not soon forget. How many other industries allow you the opportunity to affect a life like that?

For these three reasons, and for so many more, I’m glad I chose a career in tourism.

We live in a city where everyone is touched by tourism, from the obvious restaurant servers to the farmer who grows the vegetables that are being served.

Even the man from whom I bought tires the other day is tourism. He has fixed flats for our city’s guests and helped customers find a hotel room for the night.

So, even if you didn’t choose a career in tourism, I hope you can embrace it like I have. Turns out it’s a great career choice.

Michael Owens is president/CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council, the largest nonprofit trade organization that supports and represents the tourism industry. Contact Owens at michael@tourismleadershipcouncil.com or by calling 912-232-1223.

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