Canadian Academy of Travel and Tourism Graduate Taking Off in Travel Career

Proud WestJet employee Brittany Walker may not have realized it at the time, but her decision during high school to enter the Canadian Academy of Travel and Tourism (CATT) would have a profound effect on both her personal and professional life.

Brittany was introduced to the CATT program by her Tourism Studies instructor, Karen Woycenko, who was also the CATT Advisor for her high school in Calgary. “The CATT program helped me to improve my communication and organizational skills through volunteer work with Tourism Calgary and by working on program projects such as creating my portfolio,” says Brittany.  In 2006, she graduated with her high school diploma and was awarded the CATT Gold Level Certificate for fulfilling all requirements of the program.  The Gold Level Certificate is the highest recognition granted by the Academy and to earn it, students must meet such program requirements as completing 240 hours of practical work experience with a tourism business and mastering ten learning outcomes based on essential and transferable skills. As further recognition of her achievements in the program, Brittany was the recipient of the annual scholarship available to CATT graduates to assist with postsecondary studies.

Brittany recalls how CATT contributed to her choice of postsecondary program and to her educational success. “I gained insight into what types of careers are available in tourism. CATT helped me to be confident in choosing this as a career path for myself.  Without CATT, I would have struggled with choosing a postsecondary institution and what area I wanted to continue my education after high school. The career-oriented nature of the CATT program led me to SAIT. Like CATT, the program at SAIT emphasizes the knowledge and skills needed in the industry. The CATT program was my first stepping stone into travel and tourism, and SAIT allowed me to focus my studies and earn my Travel and Tourism Diploma. ”
While at SAIT, Brittany specialized in travel services. After her first year in the program, she completed her practicum at Sears Travel, where she gained valuable experience in leisure travel. Her second stint of work experience was spent working in the world of corporate travel, at American Express Corporate Travel Services. In between, Brittany pursued her personal love of travel by embarking on a three and a half week trip to Central America with some classmates. Her excitement is evident as she recalls the adventure. “We started in Guatemala, and traveled through Honduras, Belize, and Mexico, discovering old Spanish towns, climbing volcanoes, and trekking through Mayan ruins. It was absolutely the trip of a lifetime.”

After graduation, Brittany stayed on at Amex as a corporate travel agent. Over the next two years, Brittany became a valued employee in corporate travel services. She became an expert with the corporate reservation system, learning all she could about booking flights, hotels, and car rentals for multiple international clients. It wasn’t long, however, before her passion for travel had her on the move.

“Soon I was itching to go traveling again”, Brittany remembers. “Fortunately, Amex approved a three month leave of absence during the summer, and I backpacked through Europe with a friend. We visited England, France, Italy, Greece, Austria, and Germany. It was amazing; we traveled by train and by ferry, experienced history firsthand, indulged in all kinds of different food, and immersed ourselves in European culture. I could write a novel about everything we did and experienced!”

Brittany returned to work at Amex, but soon wanted to learn about other aspects of the industry. Aware of their reputation as a progressive and innovative employer, she decided to pursue employment with WestJet—despite its reputation for being a difficult organization to break into. In November, 2009, Brittany applied for a sales agent position with WestJet and was elated to be offered the position just one day after her interview. She is fitting right in with the company, having been recently promoted to a second level support position with the call centre. Brittany’s new employment also enables her to satisfy her travel bug—since starting with WestJet she has traveled to Honolulu, New York, Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver.  She couldn’t be happier.

“A career in tourism is perfect for me because I am so passionate about traveling. I love everything about the industry, from the experiences that you get going places yourself to the inspiration that you get from helping others. I enjoy travel services because I can live vicariously through others—I love to plan and research destinations and learn new things by doing so. I enjoy educating people about traveling and with my experiences from the past few years I believe I can help when people are uncertain or naive about traveling.”

Thinking about all that has happened since the day she first heard about the CATT program, Brittany is amazed.
“I feel very lucky to have done all of this in only four years. To be honest, I'm not sure what I would be doing if it wasn't for CATT. I may not have continued my education in tourism, and may never have pursued travel services as a career. Through CATT, my  organizational skills, communication skills and  self-confidence improved.. Because of what I learned in CATT, I knew I was pursuing a career that I would love and that I will remain passionate about forever.”

Years from now, looking back to that day in high school, Brittany Walker will be grateful that she was introduced to the Canadian Academy of Travel and Tourism. The travel services industry, especially Sears Travel, American Express, WestJet and any other organization lucky enough to employ Ms. Walker will have reaped the benefits of her time in the program. Most importantly, although they may never know it, many thousands of happy travelers and tourists will have enjoyed a travel experience guided by this successful CATT alumnus.