There are strong indicators that over the next several years the growth of the travel and tourism industry in the United States may surpass pre-pandemic levels. It’s an ideal time for graduates of Southern’s highly popular Tourism, Hospitality and Event Management (THEM) degree program to bring their training and hands-on skills to the table — or perhaps the concert venue, conference center, or wedding reception — whether it’s in Connecticut or beyond.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to expand into some of the industry trends and allow students to graduate knowing they have the latest information possible to move into an entrepreneurial or management position in the travel and tourism field,” said Assistant Professor Annamarie Sisson of the Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management Department.
The THEM degree is run by the Department of Recreation, Tourism and Sport Management programs, and while the bachelor’s degree itself is relatively new, its philosophy and core courses are not.
“Prior to 2016, Southern offered tourism as a concentration,” said Dr. Lee J. deLisle, professor and coordinator of THEM. “We added an event management class that became very popular. We then expanded the concentration by adding a total of 51 credits to create the degree program in tourism, hospitality, and event management in 2018. It has attracted many students to these growing fields.”
For reference, in the event planning business, spending for planning, production, travel, and other expenditures around meetings and events accounts for $300+ billion of spending in the U.S. (source: Convene.com). The wedding business is equally as lucrative: Wedding planning employment is projected to grow 10 percent to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), with top planners making as much as $120,000 annually.
“The THEM degree covers everything from research methods to hospitality service management, which is customer service, and basic introduction to event management strategies,” Sisson said. “We are introducing a wide range of topics.”
A new wedding planning course gives students an A to Z of the industry — from planning, coordination, and production — and introduces them to the tremendous entrepreneurial opportunities in the field, Sisson said.
“We want our students to understand how can you be your own wedding planner or wedding consultant so they’re learning the functionality side of the industry, like catering, venue design, wedding attire, and the business side of it, like negotiating contracts, finding new vendors, making connections in the industry, communicating with couples,” Sisson said.
Students take a field trip to New York City to tour one of the top floral design studios (whose clients include Broadway); they even make their own bouquets. An internship pairs students with actual wedding planners.
Another new course, Discover New England, is a state-by-state introduction to tourist attractions in New England. Opportunities abound again, as Connecticut’s travel and tourism industry alone employs more than 64,000 people.
Hands-on learning, which provides students with practical, real-time experiences, feature prominently in the THEM curriculum; it even takes students overseas if they wish. Southern maintains a working relationship with Liverpool John Moores University, offering students an opportunity to study abroad in Liverpool or to participate in a course taught by an LJMU faculty member. Students even have the opportunity to attend a summer medieval festival in the 8th-century town of Roccantica in the Sabina mountains of central Italy.
“Each class is applied knowledge and has a project,” deLisle said. “For instance, students have to do in-depth classroom presentations and, for event classes, they actually have to create a 3-day event, whether it’s real or fictitious and that’s tailored to their interests. Event planning and production is becoming an on-campus business. Students can enroll in THE 365 twice in order to plan and produce actual events for organizations both on and off campus. Every event includes an interview with the prospective clients, a feasibility study based on the scope of the event, and the creation of a contract to identify the responsibilities of the students and the clients.”
Caitlin Floyd, ’22, THEM major and an intern at the Michael J. Adanti Student Center, said the real-world experiences have left a lasting impact.
“We did a graduate reception for the therapeutic recreation majors, and I was in charge of activities,” Floyd said. “We also did a career night for our department and I was on the logistics committee, where we had to make a floor plan, and let the staff working in the Student Center know how many chairs and tables we would need. I found my home in this department. There was not one class I did not enjoy.”
About the Program
The Recreation, Tourism, and Sport Management department has an extensive network of professional organizations for the placement of students in the two required internships experiences, including Yale University Conferences and Events, City of New Haven, Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, New Haven Festival of Arts and Ideas, Live Nation at the Toyota Oakdale Theater, several country clubs, wedding venues, event planning organizations, restaurants, and hotels.
Graduates pursue a wide range of entry-level and mid-management career opportunities in the industry of choice. The curriculum also prepares students to pursue graduate studies in a similar field or business management. To learn more, visit: https://www.southernct.edu/academics/recreation-tourism-sport-management/programs