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Where have I been and what have I learnt

Here is my story of the last two years, the path I've taken and the path I am now on

In the summer of 2021, I decided to leave a perfectly good job in travel that had survived the pandemic and set my sights on a personal goal. I have had a passion for responsible, sustainable and adventure tourism throughout my career and wanted to focus my efforts on this industry sector. Many of us re-evaluated during the pandemic years, and having a small child and a finite amount of summers he’d want to go on adventures with mum was also a deciding factor. I applied to the University of Highlands and Islands in their MSc Tourism programme. And after a summer of mum adventures (and a good few moments of questioning my life choices!) I became a full-time ‘mature’ student.

So have I been in Scotland for the last two years?

I did a lot of shopping around to find a course that I liked the content and piqued my interest in the aspects of tourism I enjoy. Whilst the course doesn’t use the word sustainable, the focus was so. My modules included Current Issues in Tourism, Regenerative Tourism, Sustainable Tourism, Selling Cold Islands, Globalisation and a research project. All of these have been completed from my home in Buckinghamshire, and I haven’t been to Scotland except through a screen for online lectures. I may go to Scotland for my graduation, by overnight train, of course!

What have I learnt?

First and foremost, I’ve learned to be a critical thinker, which for an optimist that thinks she can change the world overnight and single-handley has been the biggest challenge! I’ve also learned there are literally thousands of academic journals and pieces of research that I am sure never make it industry side.

I’ve learnt that I am most definitely passionate about the adventure sector and how we are the pioneers of sustainable tourism. Across the modules was an underlying theme; the importance of reducing impacts from tourism and maximising benefits. There is a need for a paradigm shift in destination planning, product development and tourism behaviour is required if tourism can be sustainable.

I’ve learnt the mass tourism sector, and the cruise sector has a lot of catching up to do but is beginning to wake up to the need for change. But to undo decades of a particular tourism model is a momentous challenge that requires policy change at the government level and buy-in from all industry sectors.

I’ve learnt the importance of global supply chains, cooperation and cultural understanding in changing attitudes and impacts.

Perhaps most importantly, I have learned (or certainly cemented my knowledge) that communities must be at the heart of tourism. They must want to have tourism in their home, and for them to want it it must be done well. They must see tourism's opportunities and be central to developing new tourism experiences and policies as they are the custodians of the environment, their cultural heritage and their economies.

What did I research?

Throughout my course, it was clear there is no standardised set of measures for tourism, particularly tour operators, to be held accountable. There are a plethora of eco-certificates, steps for destinations to reduce water usage, waste etc, and hotel measurement tools, but within tour operating measures take a lot of work to come by. Some are fantastic, and some are purely tick-box exercises. A whole other blog post!

I researched how and if adventure tour operators use the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in their current sustainable tourism strategy. I had to tweak my initial question as it focused on them being used in the supply chain, and I wouldn’t have gotten 15,000 words out of that!

The outcome was interesting, and I will share more on this when I have approval from my university. The SDGs are a global framework that sits not very neatly into the three tenets of sustainability - Environment, Social, and Economic. Many can cross over and could be assigned to all three principles or two of them, or none of them! Again, more on that later.

They help focus thoughts, and many tour operators could benefit from seeing where their current strategies align with the SDGs and how we can further progress towards them. There are pitfalls to them, but there is currently no system that works for every business model, and even if knowing the goals makes us think about a new initiative, a new product avenue, or a new way of including the community, they are worth knowing about!

The path I am now on

Here I am, racing towards another summer holiday of mum adventures and brand new business! I have set up Just Tourism, with my slightly controversial/ambitious tagline of tourism…no adjectives’, to help small to medium tour operators create sustainable tourism strategies that are measurable and transparent. Avoid the greenwash, start storytelling confidently about sustainability and thus also avoid the green hush and get rid of those adjectives we keep assigning to tourism.

To find out more about navigating your sustainability path, follow the link below:


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