World Tourism Day Celebrates Cultural Understanding Through Travel

Foreign trained workers bring diversity and tolerance to work and community

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recognizes September 27 as World Tourism Day, a day dedicated to raising the awareness of the importance of tourism to the global community and its social, cultural, political, and economic value. The theme for World Tourism Day 2011 is Tourism– Linking Cultures. In 2010, 940 million tourists travelled outside of their home country; this incredible amount of international travel serves to introduce people to unfamiliar cultures and helps foster global understanding and increased tolerance of different traditions.

The economic importance of the tourism sector in Canada is undeniable. Tourism is a growth engine and a job generator even in times of economic uncertainty, in every community, in all regions of the country. It generates $74 billion in economic activity annually and employs more than 1.6 million people– one in ten Canadian workers. The demand for tourism goods and services is expected to continue to rise as tourists from emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil begin travelling abroad in greater numbers.

Despite these impressive facts, the Canadian tourism sector faces real and growing human resource challenges that must be addressed now to ensure its sustainability and continued competitiveness.

As the economy recovers, labour shortages are expected to return to the sector, with a projected 219,000 tourism jobs in Canada going unfilled by 2025. Statistics Canada expects that 100% of net growth in the Canadian labour force will come from immigration beginning this year. Recruiting internationally trained workers (ITWs), whether temporary foreign workers or new Canadians, is becoming an increasing important strategy to counteract the effects of these changes in the Canadian workforce, and is another way that tourism creates pathways to intercultural understanding.

The Canadian Tourism Human Resource Council (CTHRC) released a collection of case studies in 2010 entitled “Good Employer Practices: Attracting and Retaining Internationally Trained Workers in Canada’s Tourism Sector”. This research project sought out tourism businesses across Canada who had successfully recruited, hired, and integrated ITWs into their workforce, analyzed their related processes and policies, and identified a number of best practices and benefits associated with employing ITWs.

Many benefits of hiring ITWs were identified during development of the case studies. Employers consistently found that ITWs were extremely loyal and eager employees who were grateful for the opportunity to work in Canada. National companies found that since ITWs were often far from home, they were more willing than other workers to relocate within Canada. Employers also noted that ITWs became great ambassadors for their businesses, providing a connection to new international and local communities of prospective employees and customers.

For the workers, tourism occupations offer the chance to master a wide range of essential and transferable skills, including language training and an introduction to North American service standards. The training and practical experience is invaluable to those workers who move on to other careers, but many ITWs will take advantage of the fact that tourism businesses often offer opportunities for advancement within the organization, from entry level to supervisory and even management positions.

The awareness and appreciation of cultural differences that arises out of employing ITWs brings real benefits to a business. Tourism employment gives ITWs a unique insight into Canadian culture, and employers and their existing employees must understand and accommodate the cultural traditions of their new colleagues. The end result is a level of tolerance and understanding that creates a family atmosphere and sense of unity throughout the company.

Welcoming internationally trained workers into tourism occupations is just one strategy that has proven effective in meeting the human resource needs of the sector, and in creating and enhancing the cultural understanding of those involved. Developing a professional, dedicated and sustainable workforce that includes ITWs will ensure that Canada is in a position to welcome and serve the 16 million international tourists visiting each year, and take advantage of all the benefits—economic, social, and cultural—that they carry with them.

Canada should do all it can to help employers attract and retain internationally trained workers in order to close gaps in the supply of tourism labour, and to assist these workers as they prepare for and adjust to living and working in Canada. What better way to celebrate World Tourism Day than to embrace this valuable, under-represented labour group and their unique contributions as a reflection of this year’s theme:  Tourism-Linking Cultures.