Whistler is widely regarded as one of the top alpine resorts in the world, but if Steve Haddad has his say it will also be recognized as one of the top places to get an education in the tourism industry.
In September, Montagna Alpine College will accept its first flight of students in two programs, Hotel Management and Adventure Tourism. Both are two-year programs, and after a year's probation for the school they will be recognized by the Private Career Training Institutions Agency of B.C.
It's taken Haddad three years to get the college off the ground, developing a curriculum and recruiting students. He is still working to recruit instructors, but expects to have his staff in place by the summer.
"Our goal is to be known as one of the top hospitality schools in North America very soon, and produce the best possible employees for Whistler or wherever our students want to go," said Haddad, who also operates International House language schools. "It sounds cheesy, but I really wanted to strive for something."
Most of the curriculum is based on Swiss hospitality schools, which Haddad says are recognized as the best in the world. That means students will take accounting and human resources courses, as well as courses that are tailored to their studies. He also looked at ways to make the programs relevant to Whistler, adding sustainability and eco-tourism components, and talked to human resources staff at local hotels to see what skills and knowledge they are looking for from graduates.
Haddad expects to have anywhere from five to seven students enrolled in each program in the first year, and has limited the number of students to 12 per class. In a few years he hopes to add additional classes, and additional courses.
"We're definitely looking and have been approached with a few ideas," said Haddad. "I've talked to quite a few restaurant managers that would like us to start up a cooking school, and I would like to start up a resort management program for people that want to work for the mountains. I'd also like to start up a full eco-tourism course; now only part of the course is eco-tourism based, but I want to create a full course with research facilities and really push the envelope. I see that as the future of tourism."
The courses are open to international students, but will be taught in English. Two of the students already enrolled are from Switzerland and Italy. They are graduates of International House. Through his English school, Haddad also has roughly 5,000 agents around the world, and up to 200 partner schools, to assist with recruiting students.
As well, he's looking to work with other schools in Switzerland and New Zealand to offer compatible programs in the next few years that would allow students to travel and do one semester at one school and their next semester at another.
But one of the reasons Haddad started the program was to provide a post-secondary educational opportunity for young Whistlerites that currently have to go Squamish or Vancouver after high school. He has also put his courses online so that residents can study while working their way up in the hotel and adventure tourism industry.
The school will be based out of International House classrooms from September until November, when the English language students arrive. That's when Haddad has scheduled work placements for Hotel Management students and outdoor learning for Adventure Tourism students.
If it grows - and he expects it will - there's potential to hold classes at Millennium Place, the library, and other venues around Whistler.
The Hotel Management Diploma program is four semesters, and includes everything from academic theory of hotel management to sales and marketing, from international law to accounting. Haddad says it's important for students to be well-rounded and have a thorough understanding of the industry.
The Adventure Tourism Management Diploma includes many of the same courses, but with several key differences. For example, there's a natural science component, as well as a variety of outdoor certificate programs in things like first aid, avalanche safety and ski mountaineering. The course also has a summer session, which includes outdoor certificate programs in wilderness first aid, rock guiding, kayaking and other activities.
Montagna College does have some accommodation for students and Haddad is looking to increase the number of rental opportunities for his students, but some students will have to find their own accommodation.
While many students will likely take the skills they learn elsewhere, he also hopes that many will stay to work in Whistler.
"There's nothing that is going to affect Whistler in a negative way, there's no footprint or anything but a benefit to the community, because our service is pretty brutal right now," said Haddad.
The website is www.montagnacollege.com.