Tourism futures


Oregon State University’s hospitality degree program invests in next-generation leaders.

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To guests, Oxford Hotel assistant manager Brian Barisano may appear to be casually strolling the halls of this boutique luxury hotel. But beneath his laid-back demeanor is a highly educated, well-trained and experienced hospitality professional — one who is keen on making sure the right employees are in the right place at the right time, ready to exceed guests’ expectations.

“The key is finding people who really love this business, the business of taking care of people,” Barisano says. “It’s got to be about more than a paycheck. You’ve got to really love your job.”

Finding people with a love for hospitality is not the only challenge. Strong growth and new job creation in Central Oregon and throughout the state have also made it harder to find new hires with a strong hospitality-education background. But in less than a year, the area will be nurturing up-and-coming leaders in the field when Oregon State University’s Cascades campus launches its four-year hospitality management degree program.

“Our vision is not to just be a great four-year program in Central Oregon,” says Todd Montgomery, an OSU-Cascades instructor and an executive-in-residence in hospitality management who is leading the school’s efforts to develop the program. “We’re wanting to be a world-class program and provide what the industry needs, not just now but 5, 10, 15 years from now.”

OSU offered a hospitality program in the past but shuttered it in the 1990s due to budget cuts. The school continues to offer hospitality classes as part of a general business degree, but the loss of a four-year program resulted in the hospitality industry losing skilled graduates and interns.

The loss was so deeply felt that the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association — along with 15 hospitality-based companies, organizations and individuals in Central Oregon, including the owners of the Oxford — put up $320,000 to launch the program, which will begin in fall 2014.

“The hospitality industry is Oregon’s second-largest private employer,” says Steve McCoid, president and CEO of ORLA. “We see a degree program focused on the skills needed to lead as an investment in the future of the hospitality industry.”

And because hospitality and tourism are major economic drivers in Central Oregon, Montgomery believes Bend is the perfect place for the program, where opportunities for practical experience in the field
are plentiful.

“We have a world-class laboratory here in Bend. One of the fastest-growing areas in hospitality is ecotourism. Our unparalleled natural resources in and of themselves are attractive to students and provide another dimension to the study of hospitality.”

Joe Porter is a senior enrolled in hospitality classes at OSU-Cascades, which currently offers hospitality courses within its business degree program. A maintenance manager with Vacasa Rentals, a vacation rental home management company with properties in Central Oregon, Porter wishes the four-year hospitality program had been available when he began his studies. 

“What I’ve learned in these classes has been directly applicable to my work,” says Porter.  “A four-year degree in hospitality as opposed to a business degree with a hospitality option would have been even more valuable.”

Montgomery says graduates of four-year hospitality programs have higher job-placement rates than other fields of study. “There’s lots of opportunity,” he says. 

The data seems to support that assertion. A first-of-its-kind study by Oxford Economics and the U.S. Travel Association shows that workers beginning their career in the tourism and hospitality industry earn higher average wages throughout their lifetime and enjoy better career progression than workers starting out in other fields. 

According to the 2012 study, based on data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average maximum salary for employees who start out in the travel sector reaches $81,900. The report also noted that two out of five workers starting their careers in the travel industry eventually earn more than $100,000 per year.

OSU’s new hospitality program will help more workers reap the financial — and lifestyle — benefits of a tourism career. “Most people who graduate with this degree go directly into management,” Montgomery says. “The salaries are competitive and give people the opportunity to work in locations around the country and the world.”

Teen Chefs: Cooking up a future

In addition to supporting OSU’s new hospitality management degree program, the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association Foundation helps fund a two-year culinary and hospitality management training program in the high schools. This program, ProStart, was created by members of the restaurant industry and is curated via the National Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation. In Oregon, it is currently offered in 39 high schools with 3,000 students participating. Nationally, 95,000 students participate in this school-to-work training program. 

The program awards more than $1 million in scholarships annually with strong statistics to back up the effort. In fact, five years after earning the ProStart National Certificate of Achievement, 81% of ProStart students are still studying and/or working in the industry.

Higher Hospitality

In addition to OSU, many other Oregon higher-education institutions offer various forms of hospitality and/or culinary arts programs, including:

Central Oregon Community College

Chemeketa Community College

Lane Community College

Mt. Hood Community College

Oregon Culinary Institute

Southern Oregon University

SW Oregon Community College

Tillamook Bay Community College

The Art Institute of Portland

Western Culinary Institute/Le Cordon Bleu