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Intercultural Learning in Hospitality and Tourism Students—Curriculum Design Perspectives
Global hospitality and tourism activities are becoming increasingly diverse in the profile of international visitors as well as in the destination communities that host them. Along with the geographic and demographic shifts, today’s hospitality and tourism employees not only come from multicultural backgrounds themselves but also serve and interact with guests and visitors of different cultures from all over the world. The study was conducted against this backdrop and focused on intercultural competence and intercultural learning in four-year hospitality and tourism programs in the universities of the United States. The purpose of the study is to advance intercultural learning of hospitality and tourism undergraduate students through forward-looking curriculum design. Specifically, the study aims to 1) analyze the extent to which intercultural learning is embedded in current hospitality and tourism programs; 2) identify the intercultural competence in undergraduate students presently enrolled in the programs and effective formats for students’ intercultural learning; 3) evaluate desirable learning materials, approaches, and assessments of intercultural learning from the perspectives of students, educators, and industry professionals; and 4) propose a model of and make recommendations for intercultural learning through curriculum design.
A series of mixed methods were adopted to achieve the research goal and objectives. They include descriptive and semantic analyses, a self-administered survey questionnaire, and semi-structured in-depth interviews. The data were collected from 53 four-year bachelor’s hospitality and tourism programs in public or land-grant universities. The results of descriptive and semantic analyses show that clear and direct statements and content about intercultural learning are lacking in general program literature as well as in specific course syllabi. Results of survey questionnaire data demonstrate that the intercultural competence level of undergraduate students in hospitality and tourism programs is neither high nor low. The most effective format for intercultural learning is through personal involvement and interaction. Intercultural activities organized by the university and community are examples of this format. The findings from the interviews reveal the core characteristics of intercultural learning materials, approaches, and assessments. The learning materials need to be current, visualized, and industry-focused. The learning approaches should be interactive and active to place students in the center during their intercultural learning process. The learning assessments are expected to provide opportunities and platforms for students to share their experiences and reflect on what they have learned from intercultural courses. Based on the key findings from the study, a conceptual model of intercultural learning through curriculum design is proposed for hospitality and tourism programs.
The study makes some theoretical and practical contributions. Theoretically, the study enriches the literature on intercultural learning and intercultural competence in hospitality and tourism from the curriculum design viewpoint and multiple perspectives of students, educators, and industry professionals. The research integrates intercultural curriculum and internationalization at home into an innovative learning approach to facilitate students’ intercultural learning. The proposed model lays a conceptual foundation for future academic discourse and empirical research. Practically in the educational context, the study offers guidelines for hospitality and tourism programs to develop and design intercultural curriculum through an illustration of an introductory tourism course. The study contextualizes intercultural learning as involving two or more world cultures. The findings are significant in intracultural and subcultural settings as well. The expectations of guests and visitors, be they international or domestic, are influenced by their primary cultures and subcultures alike. Hospitality businesses and tourism organizations can provide a higher level of service quality to their guests and visitors from diverse cultural backgrounds if their employees are interculturally competent through education and training and other human resource functions.
The findings from the study bear implications beyond higher education and hospitality and tourism. The study suggests that hospitality businesses and tourism organizations can contribute to building an inclusive community when they are staffed by interculturally competent employees. There have been increasing occurrences of direct and indirect forms of prejudice, discrimination, group profiling, social exclusion, and even hostility both in the United States and around the globe. While these occurrences are rooted in historical, geopolitical, and ideological contexts, they also result from the absence or lack of cultural understanding. Intercultural competence through intercultural learning plays a direct role in promoting harmony and inclusiveness on campus, in the workplace, and in society at large.