There’s no denying COVID-19 has affected global tourism, hospitality and events. With lockdowns, restrictions, capacity limits and the shift to online events, it's no surprise people are wondering things like "will these industries survive the pandemic?" or "will event management jobs still exist in the future?"
Yet according to Caitlin Ring, a UQ Master of Tourism, Hotel & Events Management graduate, these industries aren't going anywhere. In fact, looking at Caitlin as an example, it seems careers in event management are as achievable and rewarding as ever.
Working as a senior events operations executive at City Parklands, Caitlin manages hosted events at the popular Roma Street Parkland and South Bank Parklands in Queensland. These include Brisbane Festival, World Science Festival, and the 2021 announcement that Queensland would be hosting the 2032 Olympics.
Overcoming industry doubts to pursue her career in event management
Despite her thriving career in event management, Caitlin was originally warned off working in tourism, hospitality and events. People cautioned that it was a finite industry with few event management jobs available for graduates.
This led her to study a Bachelor of Physiotherapy at UQ first. But even while working as a physio after completing her undergraduate degree, Caitlin continued doing event work on the side.
“Eventually I decided I loved it enough to make it a full-time career,” she says.
“I enrolled in UQ’s Master of Tourism, Hotel & Events Management because UQ has a great reputation as one of the best universities in the world."
"It also has a reputation for a great events program – there are actually very few out there.”
Caitlin fast-tracked her master’s program by studying while also working full-time hours casually as a physio.
“I knew if I wanted to change careers, I’d have to do it early, because experience is really important when working in events," she says.
Caitlin's career in event management has taken her from New Year's Eve in New York City to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
What is it like studying UQ’s Master of Tourism, Hotel & Events Management?
Balancing theory with the development of practical skills, UQ’s Master of Tourism, Hotel & Events Management empowers students to work on real-life industry projects. UQ offers the only tourism program in Australia with accreditation from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and is currently ranked 9th in the world for hospitality and tourism management (Global Ranking of Academic Subjects 2021).
“There were some great lecturers that had a lot of experience," says Caitlin.
“One of my lecturers had worked for the Noosa Jazz Festival, and one of my first projects was to work on a full marketing plan for a live event. For me, having that real life experience was important."
“In another course, we got to do a deep dive into Disney as a leader in the tourism and events management industry. Learning from real life examples and having guest lecturers come and talk to us demonstrated that there is a lot of potential for jobs in this industry and widened my idea of what I could get involved in.”
How did the program prepare you for a successful career in event management?
While a lot of her colleagues don’t have a degree, Caitlin recommends the program to anyone wanting to get ahead in the industry. The skills and confidence from the master's program can make a real difference when looking for event management jobs.
“Having this master’s degree allowed me to fast-track my career a lot quicker than other colleagues, and I have a broader understanding of industry fundamentals and how to put events together," says Caitlin.
"For example, rather than just an operational mindset, I now understand how to put together a full marketing plan and manage customer experiences.”
Prior to the pandemic, Caitlin enjoyed working to contracts, which gave her the flexibility to travel the world.
“My master’s degree facilitated a visa for me to work in the US, which was an incredible experience and where my events career really took off,” she says.
“Working the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square, New York, was a lifelong dream of mine. Without my degree, I don’t think I would have been able to do that.”
How did the pandemic affect your career and the tourism and events management industry?
There’s been a lot of talk about whether the global tourism and events industry will recover after the COVID-19 pandemic. But according to Caitlin, the industry isn’t going anywhere.
“I decided to change my career trajectory during COVID-19 and find more solid, permanent work, because the world felt so unstable," she says.
“But I think what we’ve learned is that events will never die. Yes, everyone in our industry had to find a new way to deliver events during the pandemic, but they never actually stopped."
“As the world becomes more technologically advanced, people still want that community satisfaction of coming together and celebrating. For example, the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square went ahead again in 2021, despite all the challenges in New York. This goes to show that events still push ahead in the pandemic if they’re important to us.”
What does the future of the industry look like?
“In my experience, events are back, and they’re back in full force,” Caitlin says.
“I’ve never been busier than now, and I know a lot of my colleagues in the industry feel the same way. People are coming back with bigger budgets, and they want to celebrate, so there’s a lot of work to do. This is especially true in the lead up to 2032, because we need to showcase Southeast Queensland as much as possible to the world.
“Hopefully we’re now through the thick of the industry disruption caused by the pandemic. But, if not, I wouldn’t be scared off by it – you just have to learn to adapt."
“I believe COVID-19 highlighted the need for people with the unique skillset event managers have. We are great at multitasking, organising, and dealing with stress well. Being able to pivot during COVID-19 is just one example of that skillset in action.”