Even though it is the state’s largest economic sector, many turn up their noses at tourism, saying it creates seasonal, service jobs with low pay and few benefits. These critics are more likely to see paper mills, as one example, as the real driver of the Maine economy.
Yet the numbers clearly point to tourism more than paper mills. And no one is more aware of that, and more of a cheerleader for that maligned cousin, than Ron Nykiel, dean of Husson’s School of Business. “It’s a clean industry. And it has a tremendous multiplier effect in terms of jobs,” he said. Tourist spending also filters deeply into the economy, sustaining cottage industries, and it generates significant tax revenue.
Nationally, Mr. Nykiel said, travel — airlines, bus tours, travel agencies, lodging and the catch-all of “away from home services” — makes up one-seventh of the U.S. economy.
Even in Maine, tourism businesses are less often mom-and-pop operations. Like paper mills, managing them is serious work requiring a solid education. For this reason, Husson recently created the School of Hospitality, Sport and Tourism Management, spinning off the disciplines from its business school. Students now can choose to major in hospitality, sport or tourism management, and the university also is offering a master’s degree in hospitality management.
Husson has maintained a 100 percent job placement rate in the three areas of concentration. “There are more jobs in those areas than we have students,” Mr. Nykiel said. While tourism does create jobs for wait staff and room cleaners, there also is a demand for managers. Resorts, hotels, motels, restaurants, catering companies, tourist-oriented retail stores and tour businesses such as whale-watching cruises all need managers who are knowledgeable about hiring, human resources, real estate acquisition, customer service and contracts.
The sport management education will lead to work with athletic teams, including food and beverage concession management, as travel agents for teams and event stagers. A broader view of that concentration also could mean managing hunting and fishing lodges, Mr. Nykiel said.
Even if graduates do not end up in tourism or sports jobs, their skills and knowledge are transferable to other businesses and organizations, such as casinos, entertainment venues, hospitals and nursing homes.
Mr. Nykiel, who once worked for the Marriott hotel chain, a company with $40 billion in annual revenue, believes tourism should be regarded as the economic driver it is for Maine. Having lived elsewhere in the country, he also enthusiastically sings the praises of the Maine tourism product, with its outstanding beauty, outdoor recreational opportunities and rich cultural and natural assets. State tourism advocates must work harder to “brand” Maine on the global market, he said.
Mr. Nykiel also hopes Husson will become a leader in tourism research.
The goal of educating professional managers for Maine tourism businesses reflects a mature and accurate view of this important industry. It’s about time.