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SDSU program combines sustainable development with tourism management

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Established in 2008, the Sustainable Tourism Management program in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at San Diego State University is the only academic unit in the United States to offer an undergraduate-level specialization in sustainability for future hospitality, tourism and recreation professionals. Students enrolled in SDSU's Sustainable Tourism Management program take courses that integrate sustainable development models with tourism management strategies. The approach adopted by the program emphasizes economic development and business improvement in juxtaposition with environmental sensitivity and corporate social responsibility.

SDSU's Sustainable Tourism Management program recognizes tourism as a business, and a community development tool with significant economic, environmental, socio-cultural and political ramifications. Furthermore, tourism businesses face the growing challenge of balancing profitability with quality of life in host communities. Issues at the intersection of the tourism industry and communities include transportation, migration, communication, unemployment, education, natural resources and economic development. In this wider sense, sustainable tourism management is a comprehensive and inclusive approach, and an ongoing process.

Sustainable tourism management underlines the interdependence of the environment with economy and society -- the "triple bottom-line." The triple bottom-line framework encompasses a broad spectrum of issues that include, for example, natural, economic, social and cultural diversity, equity and human rights, corporate and individual responsibility and citizenship, globalization, and localization.

The aggregate of courses in the Sustainable Tourism Management curriculum is intended to deliver competencies relating to the sustainability of the business of tourism, rather than on the more limited topic of "tourism management." The sustainability approach aims to produce well-rounded graduates equipped with innovative sustainability solutions to successfully launch management-level careers in the world of sustainable hospitality and tourism management.

In addition, it is a comprehensive approach that furthers student-centered learning, critical faculties, and the sort of crucial transferable skills that are increasingly advocated in higher education, including the application of: 1) analytical and critical thinking, 2) information literacy and delivery, 3) effective communication and negotiation, 3) social-cultural diversity and biodiversity, 4) social justice, equity and human rights, and 5) personal responsibility and citizenship. Coursework systematically delivers student learning outcomes through the following three stages of students' academic development:

First Stage: Sustainability. Introduce and explore the basic issues concerning sustainability in general, and as it relates specifically to tourism management (tourism and recreation systems, physical and cultural geography, cultural anthropology and macroeconomics). The contents of the First Stage are intended to cover the following topics: Bases and background to sustainability, sustainability and business, sustainability principles "triple-bottom-line" framework, sustainability principles and business, environmental aspects, environment and business, economic aspects, economics and business, social/cultural/political aspects, society and business, culture and business, politics and business, and triple bottom-line and business.

Second Stage: Sustainable Tourism Planning and Development. Develop and refine the issues covered in first stage as they apply to the sustainable management of tourism and recreation resources (social-psychology of tourism and recreation, tourism administration and management, environmental and cultural planning in tourism, natural resource economics and conservation, and sustainable design of tourism facilities). The contents of the Second Stage are intended to cover the following topics: tourism business -- "triple bottom-line" framework, tourism business in global context, tourism business and development, tourism business and ethics, tourism business and stakeholders, tourism policy and planning, tourism business and the environment, tourism business and economy, tourism business and society, tourism business and culture, tourism business and community, and tourism business and legislation.

Final Stage: Solutions, Tools and Techniques for Sustainable Tourism Management. Apply the issues explored and developed in the first two stages toward a specific track of sustainable tourism, i.e., ecotourism and cultural tourism. This stage aims to provide students with the bases of applicable skills for entry into the world of eco-adventure tourism business (conservation techniques, planning solutions, spatial data and natural resource analysis tools, negotiation and conflict resolution techniques) or cultural tourism business (ethnographic and anthropological data analysis tools; cultural resource preservation, design and presentation techniques; and negotiation and conflict resolution strategies). The contents of the Final Stage are intended to build on the knowledge and understanding acquired in previous courses and provides an insight into how these can be put into practical application through the following topics: area protection, industry regulation, visitor management techniques, environmental impact assessment, social-cultural auditing, impact analysis and reporting, stakeholder analysis and conflict resolution, consultation/participation techniques, local knowledge and participation techniques, sustainability legislation, policy and control mechanisms, administration and enforcement issues, codes of conduct, sustainability indicators, and monitoring and assessment.

The Sustainable Tourism Management curricular framework was developed by integrating sustainability dimensions into tourism, recreation and hospitality management courses, and by complementing this coursework with sustainability-related courses from other programs such as anthropology, art, biology, economics, geography, international security and conflict resolution, oceanography, physics, professional studies and fine arts, public affairs, and recreation and tourism management. SDSU's Sustainable Tourism Management program integrates sustainability into the curriculum in an incremental and progressive manner throughout the four-year duration of the undergraduate degree. The program's multidisciplinary curriculum offers purposefully selected and designed courses which deliver real-world sustainability competencies to future tourism professionals -- human development, ecosystem management, corporate leadership, community; and coalition-building, resource development, environmental sustainability, social justice and equity, economic sustainability and sustainable development. Core courses in the program involve hands-on consulting opportunities for students through sustainability-related problem-solving projects in collaboration with hospitality and tourism businesses and not-for-profit organizations in San Diego. Furthermore, fieldwork and internship placements (between second and final years) with major tourism industry partners, dedicated to sustainability initiatives, offer students a variety of options to explore and address current sustainability issues.


Sasidharan is Sustainable Tourism Management program coordinator and adviser at San Diego State University's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

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