The travel services program prepares students to work in a variety of hospitality-related careers. Photo credit: Maggie van Lith

The Hospitality and Tourism faculty at Algonquin College has been hit hard as a result of the pandemic with a reduced number of enrolled students, a remodel of hands-on labs, new safety protocols on campus and COVID-19 specific additions to the curriculums.

Some of the programs have seen a decrease of 30 to 60 per cent in enrollment from last year.

The School of Hospitality and Tourism includes many programs such as hairstyling, tourism- travel services, baking, and pastry arts management and bartending.

Before the restrictions from the pandemic, these programs had many hands-on labs to teach the necessary skills to become a successful graduate of the program.

Since the restrictions set in place in Ontario have taken effect, lab sizes have had to drop to a maximum of nine students per lab, creating challenges for the professors and staff to teach the required materials.

“Student safety is equally important as faculty safety,” said Michael Tarnowski, chair of the department.

“Different labs will have different protocols depending on the type of lab. All the food labs, esthetics and hairstyling labs have always followed most of these protocols in terms of cleanliness because it’s that environment that has to have those.

“In addition to that, we have the physical distancing pieces that are in play, so our labs before this latest lockdown have been at half their capacity to allow proper physical distancing and now, we’ve further decreased the number of students in labs to meet provincial requirements.”

While some programs have been entirely transferred to online, many are still requiring on-campus learning.

Christina Abou-eid, a student in her second semester of the baking and pastry arts management program says she feels comfortable with the safety measures the college has put in place.

“I still go to the campus about twice a week,” said Abou-eid. “They just lowered the number of students in the classroom and separated them.”

“On Mondays, we work on cake decorating, and on Fridays we actually get into baking, we make bread but this semester is all about cakes,” said Abou-eid about her labs.

The program has made many efforts to ensure the curriculum stays consistent and will not be diminished given all of the changes.

“I think they tried their very best to keep everything the same, the hours of going to school has changed, but other than that everything we’re learning is basically the same,” said Abou-eid.

With massive changes to the travel industry, the future for graduates of the travel and tourism specific programs could look very different.

“From our perspective as an education facility, it’s an interesting time for students depending on where they come into this,” said Tarnowski. “They may be going into an industry where there are massive staffing shortages at all different levels. There are some opportunities coming up and it’s definitely something that we’re putting into the curriculum to make sure students are as prepared as possible.”

It is clear the School of Hospitality and Tourism is adapting fast to the new changes and putting every effort in to deliver quality education to the students.

“Our goal is for the students to do well. It’s amazing the lengths our faculty team has gone to, it’s our mission to transform hopes and dreams into life-long learning,” said Tarnowski.