Anita Conefrey – BBs (Hons) in Tourism with Event Management

Name: Anita Conefrey

School: Mohill Community College, Co. Leitrim

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to choosing your course:

I am originally from rural Ireland, a small parish in Co. Leitrim. I took a year out after my Leaving Cert, as I was not sure which third level education route I wanted to take. I had so many interests, but I knew I wanted a career that allowed me to be creative and make a difference in the world. In 2014, my family emigrated to the United States, and I decided to remain in Ireland to get my qualifications before joining them.  Since my Leaving Cert year, I had been working part-time in Lough Rynn Castle as a banqueting server. I always admired the creativity, organisational and critical thinking skills of the event managers, particularly when coordinating weddings and making them unique. So, I enrolled in the Business in Tourism with Event Management course in ATU Sligo, with the intention of a career path in the events sector. However, after my second year of studies, my interests in sustainable tourism destination management and understanding the impacts of tourism quickly surpassed my interest in event management.  In 2019, I graduated with a first-class honours degree, and I achieved the highest dissertation results in my class. I knew then that I wanted to continue my studies even further, specifically in tourism research. So, I applied for a doctoral research project at ATU Sligo and I was awarded the position with a full scholarship from the Connacht Ulster Alliance bursary. In 2023, I will have completed my doctoral research studies and I will be emigrating to the United States to join my family and begin my academic career.

What specifically about the course did you particularly enjoy?

I particularly enjoyed the fact that the course offers a broad range of modules, which gave me an insight into the many career paths I could choose from, as the tourism industry and events sector are complex and intersectoral. In addition, I also thoroughly enjoyed completing my dissertation research in my final year, which drove me to continue my studies.

What is the best thing about the course that you think new applicants should know?

Typically, the tourism with event management classes are small, which means that you get to know your lecturers and classmates quite well. You also get to go on numerous tourism-related field trips, which are extremely fun, but you learn so much more when you are immersed in the industry. Furthermore, the support that you receive from the lecturers is phenomenal and they are always willing to help you to improve your skills. Additionally, in second year, you go on paid work placement, and you have the opportunity to work abroad for the summer, as the work placement lecturer has great international connections. Lastly, there are great opportunities to progress within the university, as various doctoral tourism research projects are emerging annually – speaking from experience!

Any favourite modules during your time studying?

My favourite modules were tourism impacts, destination management, research methods in tourism, global tourism and completing my dissertation. In these modules, you have a lot of freedom to choose the direction that you want your continuous assessments or dissertation to go in, such as choosing the destination or the topic that you wish to investigate. Being allowed to investigate something you are interested in or enthusiastic about makes an enormous difference when you are completing your projects.

What key skills did you learn while studying at ATU Sligo that have influenced your career?

Throughout the course, I completed many reports and presentations, both individually and in groups, which helped me develop my academic writing and public speaking skills. Furthermore, from studying research methods in tourism and completing my dissertation, I learnt the valuable academic skills of critically reviewing existing literature to identify knowledge gaps, employing both quantitative and qualitative methodologies, designing data collection methods, and analysing and ethically reporting my research findings. These skills enabled me to write a research proposal when I was applying for the doctoral research project. In addition, I now have the ability to prepare presentations on my research findings and present them at tourism conferences.

Can you share some detail of your career path or further studies to date?

I began my doctoral research project in October 2019 at ATU Sligo. My research aims to assess the carbon footprint of Irish tourism and develop a stakeholder-based decarbonisation toolkit. I am continuously analysing existing literature and national tourism plans to determine the knowledge gaps in measuring, monitoring and reporting tourism emissions. I have also presented at tourism conferences (nationally and internationally), and I have received an award from the AMI conference for the best academic paper. Furthermore, I have published academic papers in credible tourism journals on my research findings to date. Most importantly, I have created a novel bottom-up methodology to measure, monitor and report tourism emissions at a destination level. This year (2022), I have established the first baseline carbon footprint of tourism in the Republic of Ireland, which will soon be made available publicly. Currently, I am measuring and reporting the carbon footprint of tourism in Northern Ireland. Thus, I will have established the first baseline carbon footprint for tourism on the Island of Ireland. After that, I will be moving on to the next stage of my research which is to develop a stakeholder-based decarbonisation toolkit to mitigate climate change for sustainable destination management.

What does your current role involve?

I am the primary researcher of my project, and my lead supervisor is Dr James Hanrahan. As a tourism researcher, it is my responsibility ethically conduct research and avoid biases when analysing data. My role is to measure, monitor, and report tourism emissions to provide tourism policymakers and planners with an evidence-based approach to developing location-specific tourism decarbonisation policy, plans and strategies. Additionally, I am developing a novel bottom-up methodology which can be easily replicated in other destinations that lack detailed tourism data.

What advice would you share with our current students considering a career in your field?

If you are unsure about what career path you want, then this is the course for you due to the variety of modules that it covers. People do not realise how diverse tourism is and how interlinked it is with other sectors. Above all else, if your main goal in life is to travel, this course will not only give you employment opportunities, but it will also teach you how to travel sustainably.

What did you like best about studying at ATU Sligo?

Not alone did I love my course, but I also love living in Sligo. I am still here 8 years later! Coming from a rural area, I knew I did not want to go to college in a big city miles away where the rent was unaffordable and the classes were going to be ginormous. I also wanted to go somewhere with mountains, beaches, and forests right on my doorstep, and Sligo ticked all those boxes for me.

What advice would you give a first-year student starting in ATU Sligo?

Firstly, join as many clubs and societies as you can, to meet like-minded people and try new hobbies for half the price! Secondly, do not be afraid to speak up, any crazy ideas you have will be the best ideas for the tourism and event management industries – people pay to walk alpacas! Thirdly, the most important advice I can give is to not leave your assignments until the week they are due, proofread everything (twice) and always go to your tutorial classes to get feedback on your work. This can make a dramatic difference in your grades. Lastly, do not make the mistake I did, do your work experience abroad when you have the opportunity!

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