Leadership

Who Are “We”? What am “I”? Why does that matter?

By Joe Baker

Published by Canadian Travel Press (click to read original article)

Author Joe Baker, CEO of Joe Baker & Co. and Tourism HR Canada Director

Unlike any other time in “our” history, unity became a fundamental concept in terms of thinking and acting that determined how well “we” navigated through a global pandemic. Who am “I” referring to? Those of “us” who work across the span of one of the largest industries in this country. But I can’t even state a name that does justice to the nuances across our field or that resonates with you, the readers of this piece. Are we Tourism? Are we Travel? Or are we Travel and Tourism? And what about Hotels and Airlines and Restaurants? Are they included under our umbrella? And what exactly are we calling our umbrella?

Prior to the beginning of 2020 this may have just been an academic debate or a discussion around the water coolers we used to drink from in our offices. What a novel concept. But now we find ourselves collectively overcoming some of the most significant adversity our industry has ever faced as we transition from surviving during the pandemic into living through the endemic, with unwavering hopes of thriving. Our identity started to matter even more during one of the most difficult times in our history. Why? Because competition gave way to collaboration. Antagonism gave way to communication. How did this happen? Why did it matter then and why does it matter even more now?

We are an industry in the throes of change. Many of our experts predicted disruption would come at the hand of technology. But few predicted it would come at the hand of biology. Nevertheless, we are now well and truly living and working in an era of disruption and constant change. So what did we do as the world changed before our very eyes?  We did what pros always do. We adapted. We made do. And we kept going. But there was a defining hallmark of how our industry made it through the pandemic. And this is not to minimize the destruction COVID-19 had on our workforce or our businesses. Believe me when I say if anyone has empathy for what you experienced, it’s this author, one who took the time to learn more about emotional intelligence and change leadership in the middle of the pandemic to add as much value to others as possible. But what was the defining hallmark that carried us through? Leadership, embodied through unity.

Let’s dig deeper into what unity looked like over the last couple of years and how leadership was manifested. To me, where it started to take root was in our associations, non-profits and advocacy bodies as we rallied to access governmental supports for our businesses and workforce. There were specific national organizations and specific leaders who deserve to be credited with this momentary triumph before we pick up and carry on. Because celebrating leadership deserves as much space in our lives as criticizing it. And because leadership starts with individuals and spreads to teams and organizations and culture.

There were stand out organizations including Association of Canadian Travel Agencies headed by Wendy Paradis, Tourism Industry Association of Canada headed by Beth Potter, Tourism HR Canada headed by Philip Mondor, Hotel Association of Canada headed by Susie Grynol, Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada headed by Keith Henry and Destination Canada headed by Marsha Walden. Notice anything specific about this group? I do. And I am not afraid to name it. Many of the leaders in these vital organizations are women, leading in critical roles during such a pivotal time. This collection of national leaders, and many more, did something we may have never done before. They created collaboration and unity. Have we achieved our diversity, equity and inclusion aspirations?  Of course not. We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do. But I think its ok to celebrate the wins along the way and acknowledge leadership when we experience it. After all, if we are working towards a better future, we will surely need to rely on our leaders again and again. This is less about attaining our goals and much more about who we become along the way.

And there were many other leaders at provincial, municipal and hyper-local levels. They stepped forward and they stepped up. They created unity through leadership. And they started arguably the hardest part of creating momentum. They got us moving. Canadian leadership guru and author Robin Sharma famously says, “Remember that the space shuttle uses more fuel during its first three minutes after liftoff than during its entire voyage around the earth.” Now what are we going to do with this momentum?

Initiatives such as the Coalition of Hardest Hit Businesses and the Canadian Travel & Tourism Roundtable demonstrated that when we come together, when we speak from our values, when we work collaboratively, we can achieve great things. Our governments listened and responded to the best of their abilities. Was it enough? It’s never enough. Was it perfect for all stakeholders? It wasn’t. But it led to accessing funding sources that helped us as much as possible when we needed it most. And optimistically it will help us get back to work and back to business for the nearly 2 million Canadians who work across the tourism, travel, accommodation, food and beverage, transportation, recreation and entertainment industry. But wait. Let’s back up. Do you see my point? What do we even call ourselves? What is our industry? And why does that matter?

I am going to suggest it matters mostly for one reason right now. It matters because we have a workforce calamity on our hands. And our industry is one that is uniquely centred around people. Many report on the labour shortage. But it is so much more than just a labour supply vs demand issue. It is as complex and nuanced as our industry. You see, our workforce calamity is actually an identity crisis. And one we need to overcome with leadership and unity.

So where do we go from here? We should look to other sectors who have had success representing diverse sectors across broad industries. Engineers, accountants, medical professionals, clean energy, STEM, STEAM, the trades. Many have active career recruitment campaigns in our secondary school system. Many support post-secondary scholarships for underrepresented populations. Many support work-integrated learning experiences. Many represent themselves on an international stage as a great industry to work in. Canada has set new immigration targets well beyond any we have seen in our history. And within those targets are high numbers of international students. People who leave their homes, pay handsomely to study in our post-secondary system with the hope of launching their careers in one of our great industries. And there are many people who call Canada home who now have the luxury of choosing from a variety of fields for their careers. And who are welcomed with open arms by industries. Especially those who have figured out that anyone with experience in our fields adds great value to theirs.

Maybe I will leave with this. When was the last time you thought about the value proposition of working in our industry?  What would you tell a family member considering a career with us? How about a post-secondary student trying to select their program of study? Answer those questions for yourself and use your epiphanies for your recruitment plans. And take a moment to reflect on just how important our collective identity is as an industry. And one more question. What do you say when people ask, “What do you do for a living?”


Joe Baker is a passionate leader within Canada’s tourism, hospitality, and education sectors. he is a vocal advocate for a resilient, inclusive, future-forward industry. He is CEO of Joe Baker & Co., a human capital consultancy focused on strengthening hospitality and tourism organizations and people through transformational strategy, coaching, training and talent.

A heartfelt congratulations from the Tourism HR Canada team to Sally MacInnis, Reservations Manager at Keltic Lodge, in Ingonish Beach, Nova Scotia. Sally is this year’s recipient of the Tourism HR Canada Employee Appreciation Award.

The Honourable Randy Boissonnault, MP, and Tourism HR Canada President and CEO Philip Mondor presented the award in Ottawa last week at the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s (TIAC) Tourism Congress. Accepting the award on Sally’s behalf was Terry Smith, President & CEO, Destination Cape Breton, who nominated her.

Terry described Sally as one of Cape Breton Island’s most authentic and passionate ambassadors. Working with Keltic Lodge for the past 35+ years, Sally promotes Cape Breton Island and all its exceptional experiences to each and every visitor she welcomes. Her infectious spirit and dedication to Island tourism is renowned.

“Sally has a deep knowledge and understanding of Cape Breton’s history, culture, and experiences,” explained Terry. “She keeps up to date on the latest tourism offerings around the Island and cultivates exceptional travel itineraries for her guests, not as part of her duties, but to ensure happy and satisfied travellers. No matter who is on the phone line, or what employee she is dealing with, Sally treats everyone with respect, knowledge, and a caring nature. Her leadership has ensured Keltic Lodge is one of the leaders in Cape Breton Island hospitality and service excellence.”

Sally leads a team of reservation specialists, comprising seasonal and year-round staff, ensuring to mentor each and every one with Cape Breton Island travel knowledge and excellence in customer service.

“Visitors are thankful to have Sally’s personal help and knowledge when they call to book their accommodations,” Terry added. “In thousands of instances, she has turned a one-night stay into three or four, and even a week, just by spending the time to listen to and understand her guest, and then uses that information to customize their itinerary choices, educate them on travel times around the Island, and up-sell them on additional experiences based on their preferences. Sally’s dedication doesn’t only benefit Keltic Lodge, but rather the entire Island.”

Tourism HR Canada is honoured to acknowledge the incredible passion and professionalism demonstrated by Sally, and is delighted to share such a positive story amidst all that the pandemic has dealt to the tourism sector.

The team would also like to extend its congratulations to all this year’s recipients and finalists. Thanks to TIAC for celebrating the individuals and companies who go above and beyond to offer travellers superior tourism experiences in Canada. Watch all their stories here.

By Joe Baker, Tourism HR Canada Board Member

This article was originally published in STAY Magazine.

One of the greatest challenges the hospitality and tourism industry is grappling with is the present state of our workforce. Workforce can be an ambiguous term. When I use the term, I am speaking about a spectrum that includes every individual working in our industry—from frontline to senior executive.

The most pressing issue at hand requires us to focus on a core concept that should already be present in every business in this industry—real leadership.

In September of this year, Canada reached a milestone on our route to recovery. According to Statistics Canada, after four consecutive months of increase, the country added 157,000 new jobs. The gains in September brought employment back to the same level as in February 2020, just before the onset of the pandemic. A sampling of the headlines from major media outlets could lead an observer to believe all is well. To mention but a couple: “Canada’s labour market returns to pre-pandemic levels” (BNN Bloomberg), “Canada posts massive jobs gain; employment back to pre-pandemic levels” (Reuters). Looks good. Doesn’t it?

If you have been reading STAY Magazine then you know this is not the lived experience of employers across Canada’s hospitality and tourism industry. In late November of this year, through in-depth analysis, Tourism HR Canada reported an unprecedented 200,000 job vacancies. That is 200,000 jobs unfilled due to an insufficient supply of human capital.

These two data points create a challenging dilemma and conflicting narrative for our industry. On one hand, we run the risk that our government officials who may be looking at macro-level employment numbers are influenced to slow business relief programs assuming there is a healthy and robust workforce. This puts pressure on our associations and advocacy bodies who are tenacious in their push for continued support to our employers. And most immediately this puts pressure on our employers who feel beaten by the pandemic.

These seemingly divergent data points also put pressure on a narrative I hope we can begin to move away from. The idea that hospitality and tourism workers have traded their jobs for a steady supply of government subsidies and are staying at home rather than returning to work is both inaccurate and dangerously anecdotal.

It also casts our workforce in an extremely unflattering light and allows us to shift blame to them rather than wrestling with the idea that it is the industry that let them down. Take a moment to reflect on what the Stats Can data told us—the Canadians who left the overall workforce during the pandemic have now returned. But interpreting the data requires careful analysis. They may have returned to the workforce, but they did not return to our workforce. They left. And they likely aren’t choosing to come back.

Albert Einstein is famously quoted as having said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.” The question to ask ourselves now looks more like this. Why did our workforce leave in the first place? What prompted that choice? Why did they then decide to re-join the labour market in a new industry? And what can we learn from this loss that can prevent another in the future?

As we look forward to solutions, we need to focus on new recruitment strategies in tandem with new retention plans. The cost of this correction in the labour market will be substantial. And anyone reading this who works in sales or human resources equally understands that the cost of recruiting new is far greater than investment in retaining those we have. If we want to make a difference, we need to accept that the path less travelled is one lined with empathy and growth leading to a new approach in human capital management that nurtures our workforce.


Joe Baker is a passionate leader within Canada’s tourism, hospitality and education sectors and a vocal advocate for a resilient, inclusive, future-forward industry. He is CEO of Joe Baker & Co., a human capital consultancy focused on strengthening hospitality and tourism organizations and people. Baker was dean at Centennial College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts where he led the most significant transformation in the school’s over 50-year history. He serves on the board of directors at Tourism HR Canada, Tourism Industry Association of Ontario and is on the editorial advisory board for SUSTAIN Magazine.

Joe can be found everywhere @thejoebaker.

“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end”. A very pertinent quote for the world we are living in by one of the world’s foremost leadership experts, Canadian author Robin Sharma. We have faced our fair share of ‘hard’ and ‘messy’. Let’s hope ‘gorgeous’ is on its way.

The good news? Whether you have already been immersed in personal or professional change, or if you are newly embarking on a change journey for yourself or for your organization, there are best practices that can guide you along the way. One that has served me well throughout my career is a model developed by Multi Health Systems called Change Navigator. It is a simple and effective blueprint.

MHS Change Navigator ™ Model

There are four steps in this change process. Knowing where you are at any moment in time and knowing where to go next can be really impactful. Remember, it is hard at first and it is messy in the middle so don’t be discouraged. Just keep reflecting on where you are and what actions you can take to move forward. Let’s look at the four steps.

Step 1: Acknowledging

Acknowledging change begins with awareness. In many cases this is also where the process of coping with feelings begins. In the early stages of change, emotions are apparent. This is a very normal part of being human so you should allow yourself or the team you are leading to experience these emotions. Sometimes we rush through this stage, which can appear later in our process as a pitfall. Patience is really critical here. As leaders we should focus on building acceptance and commitment with ourselves and with our teams.

Step 2: Reacting

Reacting is the second step in the change process. It usually comes on its own and can often begin with a change event. Something ‘happens’, and we react. It is also a critical step that requires us to become aware. Are you aware that you are reacting? And even further, are you aware why you are reacting? When you find yourself reacting to change or a change event, try to turn this awareness into progress. Denial is common and natural, which is why information is critical. Leaders should focus on building understanding of the need for change and the scope of the change initiative.

Step 3: Investigating

The step of investigating change is the most pivotal step. It begins after feelings are vetted and allows us to begin the process of exploring options. Anticipation is a common experience during the investigating step. It can start to feel really exciting and hopeful. Honesty is critical both to yourself and to the people you are trying to build change with. This presents a unique opportunity for leaders to focus on building commitment to the new reality. The more we visualize and talk about the outcome, the more real it becomes. This is how we turn hope into results.

 Step 4: Implementing

The fourth and final step in the change process is to move towards implementation. This can only begin once direction has been defined. It is the process of understanding new expectations. This is the critical stage of growth, and learning is absolutely essential. Our hearts and minds have become open to the change and we now have a plan. New skills are essential as we build towards the future. Learning as a group or team, even if just reading together or sharing a digital learning experience, can really boost the all-important element of buy-in. This is the opportunity for leaders to focus on building new skills for themselves and their teams, as well as modelling and rewarding behaviours and norms that suit the future state.

The old adage that change is a natural part of life may feel a little cliché, but for most of us it is a true reflection of our life’s experience. I hope this change model has been helpful and can act as a tool for you and your organization as you navigate the change landscape. Remember, this is a process. It requires re-iteration. Try not to be discouraged for yourself or for anyone on your team who is moving through this process. Instead, try to reflect at any given moment where you are in the four-step process and get back on track.

I started this piece with a quote from Robin Sharma. So, I will end it with another. “Persist. Greatness loves the relentless.”


Joe Baker is President and CEO of Joe Baker & Co., a leadership consultancy focused on strengthening organizations and people at the core of a future-forward hospitality and tourism industry. Joe is a board member of Tourism HR Canada and presently working with the team at OTEC as a Strategic Advisor on the Tourism and Hospitality Emergency Response initiative. You can find Joe everywhere @thejoebaker.