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Tourism futures

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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.”

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