1000th CATT Gold Graduate Continues Tourism Studies and Wins National Scholarship

When she graduated from Auburn Drive High School in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sarah Burden was the 1000th student to be awarded the CATT Gold Certificate. In Ottawa this past November at the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s 2011 Tourism Congress, Ms. Burden added to her list of accomplishments when she was awarded the TIAC/Parks Canada Sustainable Tourism Scholarship. HR Times sat down with Ms. Burden after the scholarship presentation to talk about her experiences in the CATT program and her future plans in tourism.

First off, congratulations on winning the TIAC/Parks Canada Sustainable Tourism Scholarship! Looking back and your days at Auburn Drive High School, when you started the CATT program did you ever think you would end up working toward a career in tourism?

                 Not at all! I had originally taken tourism and co-op as electives in grade 12 as a change from all the history and sciences classes I had taken the year before. My teacher recommended entering the CATT program, and when I saw the number of options available I jumped right on it.

So, you’re here at the TIAC congress getting your scholarship.  What it was the application process like, and why do you think these types of scholarships are important?

                For this scholarship, I had to submit my resume, letters of reference, academic transcripts and a short essay detailing the importance of sustainable tourism and why I deserved the scholarship. Nova Scotia has some of the highest tuition rates in the country, so I’ve been working part time and keeping my marks up, anything to avoid those student loans! Tourism is a huge economic benefit to the province, so it’s important that the sights we’re offering are available for future generations to enjoy. Scholarships like this can help encourage students to consider tourism as a career.

You’re now in your third year of tourism at Mount St. Vincent. Are you enjoying your experience so far and how did CATT help prepare you for your university program?

                The Mount has been a great experience; they really live up to their small class size reputation. I had the opportunity to go on an exchange in my first year, and had a great work term this summer as part of my co-op placement. The co-op requirement for CATT was very helpful, because it gave me real industry experience, and an idea of the kind of work I’m interested in and like doing. I did my CATT co-op at the Museum of Natural History here in Halifax, and I still volunteer there.

Can you describe work you’ve done in tourism and how your experience with CATT helped you in the work world, either directly through having the certificate on your resume or through the skills you gained as part of the program?

                For my degree program, we’re required to do three co-op work terms in the summer. It’s similar to CATT because you finish school with work experience, plus you have a guaranteed paid job for the summer. This year I worked for a tour operator, Atlantic Tours – formally part of Ambassatours Gray Line, as a reservations sales agent. There were some tasks that were similar to what I did at the Museum – clerical duties, lots of research, presentations. I really liked learning about the back end of what it takes to put together a tour package, and all the different options there are to see the world. For the CATT certificate, I had to take the Super Host course, which really helped because my job this summer involved talking to clients over the phone and email. Customer service was a top priority at all times!

You are in the third year of your university program, so I’m sure you’re thinking about future career plans.  Do you want to continue in the industry, and if so, why tourism?  What do you like about it?

                I definitely want to work in the tourism industry, my problem is narrowing down what exactly I want to do – there are so many options! I’m currently looking into positions for a co-op placement for next summer, I think I may like to go outside of the province and try something new. What I like about this industry is how many opportunities there are. New destinations are constantly being developed, it’s very fast paced, and there’s always room for advancement and new opportunities. Being able to travel and work all over the world is very enticing as well!

Imagine yourself 15 years in the future. Can you describe the career path you might have taken? 

                This is difficult for me to answer as I’m not sure what exactly I want to do after graduation. I know that I’d like to try out cruise ships or ski resorts – two very different markets! I’ve never had a problem being away from home, so for now all I can say is I’m going to take advantage of whatever opportunities will let me explore and give me more experience. My degree will be in Tourism Development with a Certificate in Marketing, so I hope I’ll end up with a career where I can put that to use!

If you were to walk into a CATT classroom tomorrow, what is the best piece of advice that you would give the students?

                Take advantage of any opportunity you can! If you’re interested in something, just go for it. Find volunteer positions at different industry events or festivals. Talk to people that have a job you may want some day. The tourism and hospitality industry is full of fun and friendly people so don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

For tourism employers reading this article, what do you want them to know about the skills you learned through the CATT program, and what CATT graduates can bring to their organization?

                The CATT program is a great way to be introduced to the tourism industry and career possibilities beyond retail and fast food that people may not think of while in high school. It teaches the importance of being professional and customer driven, and exposes students to all kinds of different jobs they weren’t even aware existed. CATT graduates like me learn to be extremely organized and hard working, and those pursuing tourism careers are very passionate about the industry.