Like many new high school graduates, Megan Attwell took a year off to travel before heading to university. After spending 10 months in England on a work program, she joined Contiki, a travel program for 18 to 35 year olds. Seeing 10 European countries in 22 days gave her the travel bug, and she decided that her career would be in tourism.
Upon returning home to Nanoose Bay on Vancouver Island, Megan immediately enrolled in the Recreation and Tourism Management Program at Malaspina University-College in Nanaimo. The program mandates work co-ops at the end of each year. Megan’s first co-op was spent with the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce Visitor Information Centre (PDCCVIC). During this time, she completed two levels of Superhost and the Tourism/Visitor Information Counsellor Training Program offered by Destination BC. At the end of her third year, she was appointed a Senior Visitor Information Counsellor at the PDCCVIC. During her fourth year, Megan stayed on as a part-time Counsellor and will do so until her graduation, when she will become a full-time employee. “Growing up in this area, realizing all that Oceanside — [Parksville, Qualicum Beach and District] — has to offer, and being able to share that with people, is just really amazing,” she says.
Megan regards enthusiasm, a desire to assist visitors, a sense of local pride and a capacity for innovative thinking as key qualities for a tourism professional: “Look outside the box. Be open to viewing your area from the visitor’s perspective as they’re seeing it for the first time.” This leads to creative approaches to the job. In Parksville, she says, “We don’t just send them to the beach. We give them information for exploring tidal pools at low tide, which resorts pack picnics or supply clam digging tools, where they might sit to write, read or paint, and where to walk hand-in-hand into the sunset.”
But first, Atwell recommends travelling yourself “to get the bug for the tourism industry. And be sure to be a tourist in your own town. You chose to live here, so now go and see why tourists chose to vacation here.”