UH programs help create a lasting, community-oriented visitor industry
The effect of tourism on the history, economy, culture and environment of the Hawaiian Islands is pervasive and ongoing.
The industry impacts everything from transportation systems to water supplies, job opportunities to community development and, ultimately, Hawaii’s future. Some UH faculty have long discussed the cleaner and more community-friendly model of business known as sustainable tourism.
Stewards for the future
At its core, sustainable tourism attempts to ensure that a destination can benefit from tourism but still preserve its environment, culture and social structure. Current models of mass tourism have the opposite effect.
Without taking sides, the University of Hawai'i works to develop and disseminate knowledge and skills so that individual stakeholders can be well-informed decision-makers.
Sustainability has been a theme in the work of newly installed Manoa School of Travel Industry Management Dean Walter Jamieson for the past 15 years.
"Any form of tourism can be sustainable—adventure, ecological, cultural, farm. I have a list of 23 kinds of tourism that can all be sustainable if done right," he says. "There is no argument that some are more sustainable than others, it’s just a matter of how they are carried out."
Sustainable tourism can mean just about anything to anyone, he observes. "Whether it’s low-flow showerheads or a cultural program, businesses tend to pick and choose which aspects of sustainability they use and promote."
While there is a small but growing demand on the part of tourists for certain types of sustainable practices, with more substantive policy-level changes, Jamieson hopes the industry will embrace the changes needed to ensure the long-term preservation of our island environment and the tourism industry built upon it.
Sustainable tourism is good business
"There is a misconception that sustainability means higher costs and less profit and is therefore not economically viable," Jamieson says. "My view is the opposite: we can’t afford not to be sustainable if we are taking a long-term view. Sustainability means thinking about long-term benefits and impacts, it means the environment that we turn over to our children is in at least as good of condition as when we took over, if not better."
Still, a purely environmental appeal isn’t going to convince capitalist interests. "We’re not talking about stopping growth, we’re not talking about stopping tourism, what we’re saying is, if we destroy the natural and cultural resources we have, then, in effect, we are going to have nothing to sell."
Coastal Recreation and Tourism Extension Agent Christine Woolaway of UH’s Sea Grant program agrees. "The majority of people doing business in or on the water recognize that without a healthy ocean and coral reef ecosystems, they wouldn’t have healthy businesses. The two go hand in hand because our economy depends on a good environment."
Sea Grant’s work in coastal recreation and tourism encourages niche businesses that better balance resource protection with economic development and community needs. But they are not the only ones.
Through the Pacific Business Center in the Manoa College of Business, former residents of Bikini Atoll are being helped to create a revenue stream that will eventually pay for the resettlement of the 3.4-square-mile atoll used to test U.S. atom bombs. Although the land remains contaminated, Bikini Atoll boasts some of the world’s best dive conditions.
"Sustainable small-scale tourism can generate revenue without high capital investments or destruction to the environment," maintains Michelle Clark, institutional resource manager and business development specialist at Pacific Business Center. "All Bikinians get a say in how the tourism operation should be developed. It was the Bikinians who voted to open their lands to tourists, and approval to expand operations must be granted by the people." Each of the 3,300 Bikinians gets an even share of the profits, and the eventual goal is to have the dive operations managed and operated completely by Bikinians.
Sustainable tourism is community-based
Academia, the private sector, nonprofit organizations and the government are all vital stakeholders in the quest for sustainable tourism. But sustainable tourism remains a pipe dream without another crucial element: community.
"You can see the stress and strain when communities do not feel like they have been engaged," says Woolaway. "Of course you can’t please everyone, but the idea is to start with the community. That is really important."
TIM’s Pauline Sheldon puts it even more strongly. "You can’t do sustainability without resident buy-in. It’s impossible, because then you get a rift, and it’s not sustainable socially or culturally. There has to be resident involvement, resident agreement, resident enthusiasm."
Sheldon’s work with the state’s Sustainable Tourism Study Group integrates the university’s knowledge base with the interests of key stakeholders. All are aware of the need to give the community a voice, but they admit that it’s easier said than done.
Barriers to community involvement include centralized and special-interest decision-making, as well as questions of education, money or stereotyping. Still, Jamieson and others at the university remain confident that they can provide opportunities for members of the community to take control.
"A part of becoming a really effective component of the tourism system would be that the community itself tells the visitor about its story—who they are, what makes them different, what values they hold dearly, what traditions are important to them," Jamieson says.
"I am particularly concerned about how the university can help the community do that—ensure that they can develop a tourism product that’s authentic but, at the same time, helps them create economic development opportunities for the community and be in control of what’s going on."
Sustainable tourism is a process
The process of moving from rhetoric to practice can be eased by the strengths of the UH System. Commitment, knowledge resources and an inclusive educational system all play a role.
"TIM is very, very passionate about the idea of sustainable tourism," says Sheldon. "Any way that we can bring training in those ideas, push the field of knowledge forward so that the industry here and in Asia-Pacific can learn more about how to do it, that’s really part of our mission." She continues, "Sustainability is a process that requires certain levels of infrastructure. It’s not just the private sector and individual firms that need to buy into this. Of course they need to, but so does local government."
To help stakeholders understand sustainable practices, the school must share knowledge with the larger community. The university has a responsibility to develop knowledge and make it useable.
"That’s the only time that sustainability, from my perspective at least, is going to happen here in Hawa'i and other places," Jamieson insists. "If it stays in our libraries and computers and bookshelves, it’s useless. We have to translate it. Unless we can package the information and get it out, it ain’t gonna work."
Jamieson brings international view
The School of Travel Industry Management’s new dean is a self-described "cultural tourist" who prefers educational activities to outdoor adventure and is strongly committed to principles of sustainable and responsible tourism.
Walter Jamieson was drawn to the University of Hawai'i by TIM’s reputation as one of the top three travel schools in the English-speaking world, Manoa’s proven track record in the Asia-Pacific region and excellent resources within the rest of the UH System.
Now he courts two constituencies. At home, he trumpets TIM’s world-class hospitality program with leading edge emphasis in tourism and travel management. Abroad, he assures stakeholders that the school is flourishing despite the retirement of legendary former Dean Chuck Gee and expanding research and teaching in tourism destination and resort planning and management.
Jamieson has worked as advisor and consultant to a half-dozen organizations, including the United Nations, World Tourism Organization and Cambodian Ministry of Tourism. He spent the past five years in southeast Asia, directing tourism initiatives throughout the region, and he received Canada’s 2003 Queen’s Jubilee Medal.
The new dean plans to guide TIM in effective partnerships in Hawa'i and the Asia-Pacific region, making the best use of available knowledge for a sustainable future. "I’m passionate about ensuring that tourism doesn’t have negative impacts on communities in general, so I’m concerned about environmental impacts, cultural impacts, social impacts and how our planning and management ensures that we’re doing the kinds of things we should be doing in the industry for the long term."
He also seeks to collaborate with community college programs like Kapi'olani Community College’s culinary arts and Interpret Hawai'i, which train the industry’s skilled workers. "Some people think we’re in competition. We’re not. UH has this almost seamless set of skill and knowledge development, from front-end entry level training to the master’s degree. This gives us a unique advantage."