Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dr. Tobias Luthe - first visiting scholar speaks on sustainable consumption in the Swiss Alps

The new Masters in Sustainable Leisure Management at VIU is done in partnership with the World Leisure Organization. As such, we are trying our best to internationalize the content that the students are exposed to. One of the ways we are doing this is to bring in "visiting scholars" or experts in sustainability and innovation. Our first visiting scholar is Dr. Tobias Luthe, Senior Researcher at the Transdisciplinary Sustainability Studies - University of Applied Sciences Institute for Tourism and Leisure Research in Chur, Switzerland.

The Graduate students have been learning from Dr. Luthe in their first course on Paradigms and Principles in Sustainability. Tonight, Tobias will share some perspectives with the public when he gives a lecture on : Sustainable Consumption - innovating products and behavior: the case of tourism in the European Alps. Sept 27, 7 - 9 pm at the Nanaimo Campus of Vancouver Island University in Building 355-203. Join us!

"Todays’ challenges of designing and managing a complex world require innovations in how economies and markets function. Global environmental change further increases the pressure on societal transitions to design resilient and more sustainable economies.

As one example, tourism in the European Alps is of highest regional economic importance while being a saturated industry suffering from climate change and socio-economic developments. Current efforts to increase adaptive capacity focus on maintaining a status quo – clearly lacking innovation and pioneering developments. The Alps have a history though of pioneering success in tourism, such as the train up to the Eiger or the gondola to the Klein Matterhorn. Fresh ideas are needed now to develop an industry that is resilient to change, and that understands change as an opportunity to innovate in both products and services. Such a step requires behavioral changes from all stakeholders, on the production and the consumption side. Sustainable consumption is a paradigm of growing importance that allows to fuel necessary market innovations that can drive Alpine tourism to become more sustainable. This presentation discusses examples of new products and market developments in the tourism industry of the Alps both from a qualitative and a quantitative angle.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Graduate students debate public investment in tourism

This week, our new Graduate students in the Masters in Sustainable Leisure Management met to debate to what extent public investment should be made into tourism in the Vancouver Island Region. It was held at the Annual Tourism Vancouver Island Conference in Nanaimo from Sept 20-22.

The pro side, led by speaker Laurel Sliskovic, argued that investment into tourism is actually reinvestment into an industry that generates significant revenue for local and provincial governments. The pro team also argued that consistent investment is needed in a number of areas, including into the systems that are required for tourism such as BC Parks.

The con side, led by Marc Sorrie, argued that investments in tourism should come from the private, not the public sector. His team also suggested that there are numerous other competing priorities for the limited public dollars that exist, and tourism takes a back seat to things like health and education. He also suggested that until First Nations agreements are made, public investment would be inequitable and we would not reap the full benefit of the potential that will be present when Aboriginal communities can more fully participate in the industry.

Both teams did a great job of presenting to a packed room full of operators, Mayors, marketing organizations, and a variety of other delegates. I am sure their ideas sparked off conversation for the conference as well. While a show of hands indicated that the pro side won, it was obviously, a biased audience in the room!

I was reminded in organizing this debate at how effective they are in bringing about both sides of issues. We all too often hear what we want to hear, that which validates our own thinking on topics. In a democratic society, where complex issues are all around us - we can learn from these students perhaps, to think about the opposing sides and ideas to try and find common ground to move forward.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Undergraduates help out at the Cowichan Wine and Culinary Festival

Each fall I have the pleasure of teaching undergraduates in the Recreation and Tourism Degree about the joys of doing applied research. In doing so, I think it is imperative for them to work with real life scenarios and organizations that need information for improved decision making. This year, the Cowichan Wine and Culinary Festival, who we have worked with in the past, asked our students to be involved in collecting market intelligence for them. Six students in the course signed up to greet visitors at various vendors in the festival to survey them on their experience.

Surveying people during an experience is a bit problematic in terms of getting valid data. If you ask someone who is not done their experience yet, it is difficult to get complete information from them. For example, asking someone how much they spent at the festival when they are still spending, may provide you with inaccurate amounts. I have been trying to experiment over the years with models to correct this bias. The students method with the organizers was to solicit visitors contact information and then to contact them post experience to ask the questions. They had tremendous success with this approach, and are now busy collecting their data for the organizers. If they have strong response rates, it may be worth sharing with other organizers who are facing similar issues.

Kudos to the students on their work, to the vendors that worked so hard during the festival and to the organizers for asking VIU students to engage with them in their search for information. Win-win-win scenarios are always possible.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Using amenities to market liveable rural regions

This weekend I was golfing at the St Andrews By the Lake course just outside of Penticton when I came across this sign. Much of my work in the past two years has been focused on amenity based rural development - or the idea that rural areas can use the amenities that make them attractive to visitors, to encourage repopulation of rural areas as well. This sign showcased what many in real estate have known all along, that the attractiveness of these amenities when experienced as a visitor, can often be the impetus for resettlement decisions.

In this case, the golf course and the scenic amenities in the rural area were being promoted as key lifestyle enhancements. I have written about ABRD in previous posts, so won't repeat a lot of that here - but will reiterate that for rural areas thinking about using this approach (or who already are pursuing tourism and repopulation but perhaps not with a unified strategy) - collaborating with those in real estate is likely an important step in setting up a sustainable future for the area. While most view real estate sales as "anti-sustainable development", I have been impressed with the level of market intelligence that firms possess that can help indicate who is moving to the area, how long are they staying, what attracts them and what influences them to leave. This information, combined with the long term land use plans for rural regions (once we get those in place in all regions of BC) can help us connect amenities with desired migrants.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Just ducky to be back at work

As I transition back to work, I decided to take my new textbooks for the MA in Leisure and Sustainability with me on the long weekend. I have to decide what reading these new students will be exposed to, which is always a challenge. Not only are there lots of books out there nowadays, but they vary greatly in their ability to get ideas and content across to audiences. Academics, as wise as they can be, are often terrible at getting their wisdom across to the very people that can most benefit from it. This often leaves important knowledge out of touch and inaccessible for people, including students. I am a real advocate for selecting reading that stimulates thinking and discussion and encourages students to see things from opposing sides (not what they necessarily want to hear).

So, in the end, I chose a couple of great ones that I hope will do just that. The first is by Cecile Andrews - called "Slow is Beautiful: new visions of community, leisure and joie de vivre".
I chose this one so that students could see the link between consumption, the pace of society and our quest for status and overall sustainability. While they are not likely to agree with everything, or to digest some of her messages easily, it will inspire good discussion. We are skyping Cecile in on the first day so she can discuss the background of the book with them as well. I always find that meeting the authors can help one situate their work a bit better.

I also chose Andres Edwards "Sustainability Revolution: Evolution of a Paradigm Shift" as a way to bring students onto the same page with sustainability concepts. He packs a lot of background and initiatives into this little book and covers off a variety of principles that various groups have developed to try and move sustainability from and idea into reality. I think that the duck on the beach at Walnut Beach Resort in Osoyoos enjoyed this book too, as he and his buddies were hanging around me while I read it (taking any opportunity to nibble at the food I had with me).

After this, the students will get lots and lots of readings from Dr. Tobias Luthe, our visiting scholar and lots of independent studies as well. I hope it inspires great dialogue and reflection, the goal of all teaching.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Linking products for enhanced visitor experience - art and wine combo

This weekend I tried to soak up some of the last days of summer in the rural area of Osoyoos. There is so much to do in this gem of a place, beaches, great weather, small towns, authentic spaces, friendly people, antique markets, and of course - wine and art!

I was impressed at one of the initiatives taken by Tinhorn Creek (near Oliver, BC) when I passed by their sandwich board on the road. I am a bit of an artist and always look for ways that rural areas are trying to showcase their arts and culture products to visitors. Tinhorn Creek had partnered with local artists to showcase their work in the tasting area. While we weren't planning to visit wineries on that day, it caught my attention and we went in. The greeter at the venue asked if we were there to see the art or to taste wines (impressive as they are gathering market intelligence too!). We told them we were there for the art (and of course, bought a few items when we departed). All visitors were given a ballot to vote for their favorite painting which encouraged us to see them all, and to participate in providing feedback to their artists. The works were stunning and the venue worked great for a display.

I always like to see these innovative ideas to collaborate. In this case, the winery provided a venue for local artists and the artists provided a value added part of the experience for visitors. I am sure it was a win win for them and wanted to share it with others as I know display opportunities for artists in rural areas can be difficult. So, follow their lead and take it where the visitors are going already!