BC tourism industry veteran finds perfect work-life balance in retirement.
When it came time to retire, Patti Smolen wasn’t ready to go “cold turkey” from the work that she loves in BC’s tourism industry. After resigning from a long-term role as Director of Industry Relations working with Tourism Vancouver, she jumped at offers to continue working part-time. Today Smolen enjoys a healthy work-life balance with time to enjoy both personal and professional pursuits.
Over the years Smolen built a long and successful tourism career gaining experience and making connections in every sector of the industry. Starting in the late ’60s, she headed west from Ontario and never looked back. “I had always wanted to move out west and work in resorts. I fell in love with the Rocky Mountains and Vancouver,” says Smolen who landed seasonal work at the Jasper Park Lodge in Alberta, and then went on to work at the Hotel Vancouver.
Recognizing the value of connecting and networking, Smolen met and started working with industry mover and shaker George Bartel to build up a successful in-bound tourism and major event business. Following this, she worked with Air New Zealand for 10 years.
In the late ’80s, her diverse industry experience culminated in an opportunity to work with Tourism Vancouver. “I started working on a few events, and then one thing led to another. I was working in membership, sales, setting up a reservation system and more. It was quite an eclectic job,” comments Smolen. Her role evolved over time as the organization grew.
Smolen worked closely for over twenty years with the organization’s CEO at the time, Rick Antonson. When he resigned, Smolen decided it was time for her to move on as well. But as it turned out, she was asked to stay on to help with the transition.
“To go cold turkey and not work at all would be rough. They wanted my help to get Rick out the door and the new CEO, Ty Speer in – assisting with board work, making introductions to industry folks, and so on,” says Smolen who currently works about 25 hours a month. “I work from home and go in as needed. It keeps me engaged doing work that I like.”
On top of that, Smolen was working with LinkBC, an organization that creates connections between post-secondary tourism education and the industry. “I have always been interested in giving back to the student side of things and this is a good fit for me,” says Smolen.
She also works with the Tourism Industry Partners Golf Tournament which raises funds for industry scholarships, and has a contract with PCTIA auditing private tourism schools for accreditation.
“It’s all manageable – a few hours each month, and it’s working out fine. On top of that, I am able to enjoy life. We have a boat that I can now take more time to enjoy. Technology-wise it’s very easy to keep in touch, and I can still do work wherever I am,” comments Smolen.
While many boomers from all career backgrounds are successfully landing tourism jobs in retirement, Smolen suggests volunteering can also be a way to learn more about the industry and make connections. “Tourism Vancouver has a very strong volunteer program with over 250 volunteers. They are formally trained and have to commit to a number of hours per month. It helps a person to understand how a tour operator or a convention work. The Aquarium and Arts Club have volunteer programs as well. Go into something that you like,” advises Smolen.
Major events are also an opportunity to get involved. “The Olympics were a great opportunity for many people to volunteer,” says Smolen. “Be open and willing to step out of your comfort zone and offer your services as a volunteer. From there you will meet people and get engaged in the industry.”
While volunteering is a good option for those looking to learn and explore different roles, there are a multitude of interesting paid jobs for boomers. As Smolen’s story shows, the BC tourism industry can provide excellent part-time, flexible job prospects, but her example just scratches the surface. The industry offers many compelling reasons for retirees, or those nearing retirement, to consider working in the industry. Experience in the industry is not required, but having a good attitude and a desire to ensure visitors to BC have a perfect experience. Visit the go2hr.ca job board and tourism Career Explorer as a first step to get started on your way!