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20 Aug, 2001

Tourism Educational Institutions Seek Ways to Make Training More Relevant

A growing regional network of travel & tourism educational institutions is making steady headway in helping overcome one of the region’s most pressing problems: The chasm between the quality of manpower being produced by these institutions and that actually required by the private sector.

With the involvement of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific (ESCAP) and the funding of the Japanese government, the network is allowing about 120 regional travel & tourism institutions to swap research, students and faculty members in areas that would have been otherwise impossible.

As a result of the networking contacts, students in Bangladesh are learning to cook Thai food courtesy of trainers from the TAT’s tourism training institute in Bang Saen, instructors from the University of Queensland are helping the Shanghai Institute of Tourism set up training courses, the Institute for Tourism Studies, Macao, is helping its counterpart in Mongolia with summer courses in tourism, to cite just a few examples.

All these institutions are members of the network of Asia Pacific Education and Training Institutes in Tourism (Apetit), who are looking to each other for help in overcoming a woeful shortage of funds which prevents them from attracting well-qualified trainers and educators or purchasing equipment good enough to meet today’s high-tech requirements.

The result is a major drain of foreign exchange from Asia-Pacific countries as students seeking a career in hospitality or tourism head for universities and schools abroad. It also seriously disadvantages small and medium-sized enterprises which, according to an ESCAP report, cannot access the broad management expertise available to their multinational hotel chain competitors.

In the Asia-Pacific, says the ESCAP report, “the shortage of skilled manpower poses a major threat to the overall development of tourism…In the ultimate analysis, skilled and training human resources will ensure the delivery of efficient, high quality service to visitors, which is particularly important in sustaining long term growth.”

In 1997, ESCAP set up Apetit to help tourism institutions help themselves. The group has grown from about 30 founders then to 120 today in 30 countries, of which 20 are from Thailand, including such places as the Prince of Songkhla University in Phuket, Khon Kaen University, Mahidol University and the TAT’s Bang Saen institute.

Over the last four years, the universities and institutions have helped each other with programmes related to ecotourism management, language training, hospitality and food & beverage preparation, and many more.

Thailand has been both a contributor and beneficiary. The Bang Saen institute has dispatched trainers to places like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to teach Thai cooking and in turn has received instructors from the Shanghai institute in Chinese cooking.

Apetit members have to do their share. In the exchange programmes, the receiving institution takes care of visiting instructors’ board and lodge while the salaries continue to be paid by the employing institutions.

One of the more active members is Prince of Songkhla University’s Dr Manat Chaisawat who says, “One of the good things of Apetit is that it allows us to learn about each other problems as well as from each other’s experiences in solving those problems.”

Adds Dr Laiard Silanoi of the Bang Saen institute, “Many of these training facilities are normal for major hotel and travel industry groups but for us, it is not that easy. So Apetit is a good means of filling those gaps.”

Japanese funding is playing a crucial role. About US$20,000 to US$25,000 has been poured into it every year, mainly to facilitate travel by instructors to and from least-developed countries, landlocked countries and the Central Asian Republics, many of whom would never be able to attend regional meetings or gain the benefit of foreign instructors.

Inspite of Japan’s economic problems, ESCAP’s Tourism Unit chief Ryuji Yamakawa told Apetit delegates at their annual meeting earlier this month that Japan has pledged to maintain the funding for the foreseeable future.

Not all the institutions are impoverished, however. Some Australian universities can draw on Government funds for specific projects. Others, facing cutbacks, are beginning to offer consultancy services to top up their coffers.

The University of Queensland, which is Apetit’s focal point for research-related activities, is teaming up with members in China and Korea for research projects. That gives its professors valuable exposure to emerging trends and issues in the Asia-Pacific, as well as teaching experience in dealing with students from a different culture.

Mr Yamakawa says Apetit would welcome private sector funding for specific projects like research or marketing activities. As more regional educational institutions queue up to join, Apetit’s executive committee has agreed that no membership fee will be charged.

However, the committee is considering allowing in private sector travel trade associations whose input will be valuable both to help make the training more relevant to industry needs as well as a potential recipient and supporter of courses themselves.

Some academics are trying to encourage Apetit to look at wider issues. Says Prof Walter Jamieson of the Canadian Universities Consortium, “So much of the education/training is forks and spoons related and not dealing with the development/destination issues. Trainers/academics mostly seem only to see hotels. They have to understand that most tourists do not go to hotels but destinations which the hotels are part of.”

Other academics are trying to explore ways by which they can start making an impact at a policy-making level, an issue that was discussed at the recent Apetit meeting in Khajuraho, India.

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