So what exactly am I actually doing at work?! The following is the co-op work term profile I’ve submitted as one of my co-op assignments. Be prepared for a long and detailed reflection about work!
For my second co-op work term, I have chosen to explore the tourism industry by working as an Information Counsellor with Banff Lake Louise Tourism Bureau (BLLT) at the Visitor Information Centre (VIC) in Banff. BLLT, a private marketing company with member groups of businesses within the Banff National Park, is the organization that operates the attractions, dining, accommodations, and activities counter of the information centre, while Parks Canada operates the permits and hiking information side. Hence, along with seven other Information Counsellors, my day-to-day responsibilities primarily involve providing impartial travel advising to visitors and maintaining the database of brochures and information pamphlets available for visitors at the Information Centre. As well, it was encouraged and expected for the Information Counsellors to continually explore the activities and attractions of the area, in order to expand their knowledge base and provide better information to visitors throughout the season.
Thus, Information Counsellors are expected to possess almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the area, a certainly daunting prospect to be faced with especially for those who were barely settling in. As such, to prepare Counsellors adequately, our two-week training involves familiarization tours (also known as FAM trips) and product knowledge sessions on the popular activities, hotels, and attractions around the region, as well as FAM trips throughout the season outside of work time. For example, we visited and were shown the different types of rooms of almost every hotel, resort, and bed-and-breakfast within the Banff National Park, an interesting and educational experience not only from the perspective of tourism, but also from the perspective of marketing as similar properties attempt to distinguish themselves from each other by organizing events for the VIC staff or sending in treats to the VIC throughout the season. We were also entitled to other tourist-orientated tours and trips for free, such as white water rafting trips with the various companies in town, horseback riding, guided hikes, ATV tours, Gondola, bus tours around Banff and Lake Louise, dinner shows, and helicopter tours. Training is evidently one of the highlights of this position.
A position that seems to involve repetitive responsibilities as Counsellors give similar advice to visitors at least twenty times a day, the job does provide variety in the sense that we do meet and speak to a wide variety of visitors within the hour everyday – individuals from different parts of the world, with different motivations for travelling or being in the area, with different travelling attitudes, and with friends, family, or alone. Some major skills that are practiced daily would certainly be customer service, which involves professionalism in all circumstances (i.e. own fatigue, angry visitors, bickering couples), as well as maintaining high levels of energy and enthusiasm when interacting with visitors throughout the day. Another skill would be to provide information counselling in languages other than English, such as French, Mandarin, and Cantonese, as arriving English-speaking visitors may prefer receiving information in those languages. The skill to think quickly on the feet is developed as we encounter unexpected questions and requests in areas outside our specialty. Most importantly, although we do have databases and the internet to draw from, the skill to remember as much as possible about what we learned about the area as well as the continuous updates on the hundreds of member groups is also valued and worked on.
In addition to the challenges that are connected with the aforementioned skills and knowledge mentioned above, a more personal challenge would be to juggle the different priorities related to the job, to my present location away from home, as well as my status as fourth-year student approaching graduation – a state that I most likely share with many other coop students at the moment. Constant reflection of my goals and personal planning are some ways to remind myself of my priorities and not be carried away by the perks of being paid as a tourist in an area popular with world-wide tourists.
As a History major looking to explore different possible industries and my preferences for my own career through coop, it has definitely been an amazing educational experience to fulfill my goal to explore the tourism industry, as I had the opportunity to connect with other aspects of tourism positions to learn about their responsibilities, qualifications needed, and their motivations for being in the position in the first place: the sales department of hotel franchises and tourism bureaus, other frontline staff such as concierges and tour guides, and the half-tourist-half-travellers that are drawn to Banff by the abundance of jobs available in the area. For my future career goals, I am interested in working abroad, developing my language abilities, interacting with individuals from all over the world, and learning about different cultures. Tourism is thus an obvious potential sector to explore and this work term has certainly opened my eyes to the different possibilities and opportunities available in this focus. I cannot wait to see how this will affect my chances for future coop terms!
If you made it this far, thanks for reading! =D