The University of Maine System Board of Trustees today, March 19, 2012, approved a new tourism and hospitality program at the University of Southern Maine.
"This is Maine's first comprehensive, four-year program in tourism at a public university," said USM President Selma Botman. "Our partners in the legislature and industry identified a need, and a statewide team led by Dean Joseph McDonnell and Professor Kreg Ettenger designed a creative, interdisciplinary approach to sustaining and growing Maine’s largest industry."
Development of a tourism program within the University of Maine System is a direct response to needs expressed by leaders in Maine’s hospitality industry, and the final recommendation of a committee of industry stakeholders convened by Maine’s state legislature to address the state’s tourism workforce. First sponsored in February 2011 by Senator Roger Katz (R-Augusta), the resolve to consider such a program within the state gained support from the university system and Maine Community College System; Department of Economic and Community Development; Maine Tourism Association; Maine Innkeepers Association; Maine Restaurant Association; and Maine Chamber of Commerce.
"Having a four-year tourism and hospitality program at USM raises awareness of the hospitality and tourism industry in Maine, affirming its substantial economic role in the state and the role travel and tourism plays throughout the world,” said Maine’s Director of Tourism Carolann Ouellete. “This degree program provides an excellent opportunity to develop leaders for the industry within the state and provides Maine businesses with a skilled and educated workforce with an understanding of immediate and long-range issues related to the industry.”
In the summer of 2011, leisure and hospitality supported 78,000 jobs and brought approximately $4.4 billion into the state, according Charlie Colgan, economist and professor at the USM Muskie School of Public Service. Tourism has long been the keystone of Maine’s economic growth, but a rapidly evolving landscape in global tourism demands a highly skilled workforce that can adapt to new trends, challenges, and competition from other states and locales. As USM faculty designed this new tourism and hospitality program, it was critical to align curriculum with the needs of state businesses and corporations, who look for employees who can successfully develop and manage a wide variety of tourism experiences.
"The development of this program has been a partnership between the industry and the university. We aim to develop ‘critical practitioners’ -- graduates with the practical skills to provide valuable assistance to the tourism and hospitality industry, but also educated with a broad understanding of the tourist experience. It provides flexibility for students to pursue different aspects of the industry," said Joseph McDonnell, dean of the USM College of Management and Human Service.
The program takes a unique, multi-disciplinary approach to tourism studies, drawing on experts from throughout the university to provide integrated study in such areas as business, planning, recreation, and environment. Program graduates will also bring to their careers a critical understanding of the impact of tourism and its role in community development, cultural contact, and environmental, economic, and cultural sustainability. Both experienced students and those new to the field benefit from in-depth study in all aspects of the industry, from tourism planning and development to running a successful hospitality business, preparing graduates for a variety of career paths.
While emphasizing a broad knowledge base, the program also engages students in high-level, hands-on training from experts in the field. Internships and active learning within the community prepare students for real-world challenges and give those working in the field a broader range of experience and the opportunity to create stronger professional networks. With support from a wide range of Maine business owners and industry leaders, the program is already making a positive impact in re-energizing Maine’s tourism industry and further establishing Maine as a travel and leisure destination of choice.
"We’re very excited to be a part of an incredible effort put forth by the University of Southern Maine,” said Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeeper’s Association. “What has been discussed in Maine for the past 20 years has been accomplished in very short order thanks to the efforts of USM leadership. We believe it’s incredibly important for the university system to see the importance of the tourism industry as one of the state's largest employers and job creators, and we applaud the resolve that has been shown in accomplishing this.”
The degree program is now accepting applications for fall 2012 and will continue to develop certifications, workshops, and institutes to provide the industry’s workforce with additional opportunities for professional development. For more information, see Tourism and Hospitality.