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Prof. Monika Prakash on Tourism Management Education and Career Opportunities

I started my career in 1996. That was the time I was taking up a management course and I entered tourism in 2007. So, that’s almost been now 13-14 years that I’m associated with tourism management academics

Education Post15 December 2023 04:40

Prof. Monika Prakash on Tourism Management Education and Career Opportunities

Introducing several initiatives for students whose first priority is tourism management, Prof. Monika Prakash, Nodal Officer of Indian Institute of Travel and Tourism Management (IITTM) in Nellore, tells Education Post’s Tanay Kumar that better salaries are the only way to attract good talent.

You have taught for 18 years. What significant changes have you witnessed in Tourism and Hospitality Management education in India?

I started my career in 1996. That was the time I was taking up a management course and I entered tourism in 2007. So, that’s almost been now 13-14 years that I’m associated with tourism management academics. So, I care because I was into management. Honestly speaking, we never used to give too much weightage to tourism in those days, because probably tourism was not a kind of mainstream sector at that point of time.

Now, the good news about it is that that everybody has started talking about tourism, and people have started realizing that tourism is one very special area where there are so many job opportunities and so many things to learn. The whole study has also become a science and it definitely requires some kind of a professionalism.

In 2007, when I shifted to Gwalior and joined the Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management, it was that time that my journey with tourism actually started.

You have taken some noteworthy digital initiatives at the Ministry of Tourism. Please tell us about them?

The Indian Institute of Tourism and Travel Management is basically under the aegis of the Tourism Ministry. I would say we are an autonomous organization of the Ministry of Tourism. So, that gives us an added advantage. In 2019, tourism was actually flourishing, for example – one in 11 jobs was from tourism. There was a huge demand for tourism and its associated stakeholders.

The Tourism Ministry realized that the number of regional level guides (RLGs), were actually not able to cater to the demands of this industry. Most of the tourism was happening up in north, so there were many people in north, but there were very few numbers in south and the east. So, the programs for regional level guides used to be offline classes. Offline would mean that the aspirants have to come to the IITTM campuses, stay there for four and a half months, take up their one and a half months of internship and after completion, they would get their licenses. That would make them eligible to go to monuments under the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) and take up tour guiding jobs.

The whole process was very time consuming. At the same time, there were many people who wanted to come to the campus, but because they were unable to pay the amount, they couldn’t.

So, it was at this point that the then DG of the Tourism Ministry, Meenakshi Sharma, decided that we have to come up with an initiative where we don’t call people to the campus, but we reach out to them. We started the program known as Incredible India Tourist Facilitator Certification Program, as IITFC. IITTM got an opportunity to work with them.

Right now, I am the coordinator for IITFC and this particular program is an online ad a self-paced program. It is for all those people who are interested in the tourism industry, irrespective of age or gender. It is a three-stage process. After completion, they get the IITFC badge.

After this, you get a chance to take up advanced courses. This is very much like a guide training program and till now we have been receiving good responses. The next exam will come up in December. This is a wonderful program for all those people who want to be a storyteller to showcase their own cities, who do not want to go out of their own city, but want to remain in the city that they belong to.

In your opinion, what skills are crucial for students aiming to excel in the tourism sector?

See, I come from the field of management. For me, anything which has a word management associated with it, means it is a serious business and it is a proper science. I think management is a subject where you really need to have a good theoretical knowledge.

For me, tourism is not easy. Anybody who thinks that if I just learn one aspect of it, I can excel in a business, is wrong. You might be able to excel at it right now because the market is not mature, but in the future, if you want to grow, you really have to take up business and tourism as a business aspect.

For example, your interest in earning knowledge about destinations, learning about societal concepts are some crucial skills. Learning about technology is something that is very important. You need to have a basic concept and understanding of everything that is required in the tourism industry.

Tourism is a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary subject, understanding of all concepts is very important. But at the same time, since you’re dealing with people, there are soft skills that are very important as well. Now that would mean your communication, your persuasion, negotiation, problem solving, stress management etc.

Time management, is literally an important aspect in this field as we as people are very unpredictable. Many times, people would want everything at the last minute.

As the industry continues to expand, what strategies are being employed to address the shortage of qualified faculty members in Travel and Hospitality Management programs?

To survive in the market now, you really have to be very receptive and you have to be adaptive to the changes that are happening around. There was a time when tourism was only associated with history. People thought that only a person who majored in history can take up tourism. It’s not the case right now.

One good thing is that a tourism department would have a combination of people coming from all different areas. You would have a person coming from economics, research, management, psychology, and definitely there are core papers in tourism.

I think the speed at which we start up with the educational institutes is much higher than the speed at which we actually produce the teachers, so that gap along the way is always there. Although, every institute on their own part, is trying to come up with innovative ideas to address the shortages they are facing right now.

In recent years, India has seen rapid growth in domestic and international tourism. Are educational institutions adapting to meet the demand for skilled professionals in Travel and Hospitality Management?

There have been a large number of new inclusions. For example, when we started, digital marketing was not there too much in the scene as it is today. Nowadays, digital marketing is one of the core areas where the tourism business rests on

MICE Tourism (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) was in a very nascent phase almost a decade ago.

Today, sustainability is a very indispensable factor and we want to inculcate the practice of sustainability as a paper, as a knowledge to the students. So, this is how the educational institutes are now adapting to the ever-changing demand that the industry speaks about.

Further, students also need to be aware of technology today. So, we have a special paper on information technology, and digital marketing, e-marketing. Thus, tourism education institutions are keeping themselves abreast of all the changes that are happening around.

What are the challenges that the study of Travel and Hospitality Management is facing?

I am aware my answer might annoy some people, but that’s the reality which should be put forth before people. Study, job, workforce and the industry is like a circle. In a rational scenario, it would happen that one studies a course with diligence, they get employed with a decent salary in an industry and the sector or the employer gets benefitted by the student’s diligence. And that’s how circle’s perimeter gets wider year after year.

Unfortunately, that is not the case with the tourism and hospitality course. Even if I tell a student that this is promising and rising sector in India, even the diligent and skilled students are not being paid a decent salary at the start of their professional career. The return on investment for this stream, in the starting phase of the career, is not very encouraging.

If you explain to a parent about the potential of this sector, they immediately ask, “What could be the remuneration the child might get immediately after college?” This question silences many of us.

The paradox is, it is a sector with tremendous demand but the initial remuneration in this sector is very low. This is that sector in which an employee has to be there 24*7. Smiling and pleasant always is another demand of this sector, which can’t happen with someone every day. And, there is no fixed time that one can retire at a particular age.

So, in conclusion, I say it with an emphasis that when an industry desires for promising people, they have to raise the bar of remuneration. And because of this elevated bar, it will become a preferred choice for many potential students.

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