Dr Miller is also a consultant and qualified accreditation
officer for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and their Tourism
Education Quality Programme, while the University of Surrey currently holds the
chair of the Education Council of the UNWTO. He is a judge for the World Travel
and Tourism Council’s prestigious Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, which seek to
establish the tourism company making the greatest contribution to sustainable
tourism each year. Graham Miller sits on the editorial board of the Journal of
Sustainable Tourism, and is the Tourism editor of the journal Tourism and
Hospitality Research. Dr Miller is vice-chair for the Research Ethics Committee
of Hammersmith Hospital, and a member of the Faculty of Management Ethics
Committee at the University of Surrey.
(The Interview follows:)
As a UNWTO accreditation officer for
tourism education, how satisfied are you with the quality of tourism education
around the world? Has tourism attained social science status, or is it still
considered a new, soft, option in academic circles? What more needs to be done
in that respect?
Tourism education continues to improve and there are some fantastic examples of
innovative programmes delivering good quality education to students around the
world. I have seen the subject taught by some of the most enthusiastic people
and this has enthused students with a desire to work in the industry and to make
a positive contribution to the world. Yet, tourism undoubtedly still suffers
from the image of being a purely vocational subject with little academic value.
I believe it is the value of tourism research that needs to improve for the
subject to gain further recognition amongst its peers. As the standard of
research improves and the value of tourism research for government policy is
demonstrated, so tourism will be taken more seriously as an academic subject.
In relation to the UK, which you know best, how satisfied
are teachers and students with the content & form of tourism studies. Is it
relevant and hands-on or too abstract? Are UK tourism graduates really useful
for tourism companies in the UK and overseas, judging from their current
Increasingly students are becoming focused on questioning the
'worth' of their degree. This can be assessed in a number of ways, but more and
more, this is interpreted in terms of whether students can get good jobs quickly
after graduation. This makes universities focus more on teaching the kinds of
skills industry finds desirable. This presents a challenge to universities to
deliver educational programmes that develop key intellectual skills, encourage
deep lifelong learning whilst also ensuring students are able to impress an
employer with the things they will be able to do. Such a situation also
challenges employers to be more ready to engage with universities, to invest and
co-operate in order to help produce the kinds of graduates they want. If
industry does not co-operate, then the graduates will be less likely to be the
kind the industry wants!
Is remote, on-line training & life-long learning the
future for Tourism education, a discipline that after all is very applied and
geographically dispersed? If so, what should Universities do so as not to miss
the training train?
Virtual learning has many potential positives
for lifelong learning, but it risks missing the essential communication and
interactivity of tutorials and seminars. Increasingly, technology can overcome
many of these problems to allow remote participants to engage with a seminar.
Many universities now offer remote learning versions of their programmes and for
short training programmes, the remote learning environments can be very
effective. As with many aspects of life, the challenge is to be able to offer
the core product in as many formations as the customer finds desirable.
As an expert on business ethics, what is your position on the relation of
academia & business. Is it ok for professors to act as consultants for companies
and vice versa? Who should be entrusted to steer (through funding) academic
research: the government, the 3rd sector, or the market? All of them, or should
universities be self-sustained islands/oases of integrity and ethics, even at
the risk of producing abstract/irrelevant research?
Tough questions! I
think that the more co-operation there is between academia and business the
better. Universities are often keen to have industry representatives on their
boards and as advisors, but there are fewer examples of companies with academic
advisors. However, I do not believe that it is the job of academics to provide
consultancy services for business, or to provide the answers for industry needs.
If industry has a problem, then it needs to find the solution. That might be by
working with a university, but it is not the job of a university to provide
solutions for business. I see academic research as being equivalent to cat walk
fashion designers. This is an odd comparison given the way many academics dress,
but when we see the extreme fashion on display in Milan, London and New York we
often think how abstract and removed those designs seem from the things we wear
in our day to day lives. Yet, undoubtedly, those designs do influence the
clothes that are for sale in high street shops, and thus the clothes we wear. In
the same way, academics need to feel justified in thinking abstract thoughts
that may have no immediate relevance, but which can influence the direction of
the industry. If academia becomes too pre-occupied with trying to solve the
practical problems of today, it will not be able to look at the big problems
facing us tomorrow.
Also related to business ethics is the issue of
Tourism Awards. Beyond the major, quality, award-giving bodies, of which you
have first-hand experience, how satisfied are you with their overall level of
transparency. Are there perhaps conflicts of interest, with judges awarding
former clients / sponsors? To the experienced, cynical even, eye of the
academic, how credible are all those awards?
I have been a judge for the Tourism for Tomorrow awards for
the last few years, and believe these awards have credibility because all the
finalists are visited by people with vast experience of sustainable tourism.
There is a large investment of resources into the process, and the people
involved have strong personal reputations. Where the procedures are not as
rigorous, then there is cause for concern. PR driven awards have their place in
helping to sell magazines and perhaps even encouraging readers to ask a few more
questions about the places they travel to, or the companies they travel with.
Accreditation is going to be an important area in the near future as sustainable
tourism becomes more relevant to us all, but we find ourselves without the time
or expertise to assess destinations and companies, so we will need to rely on
external verification and accreditation bodies.
You are editing for
various academic tourism journals. What is your evaluation of the current trend
for free, electronic, open-access academic journals? Academics are not paid to
write these articles, so why should readers pay? Is it a matter of upsetting
cherished 'gentleman's agreements' between universities & a few publishing
houses which also influence the composition of editorial boards?
I would love to be paid for the material I write, but I don't
see the system changing any time soon. There is a large administrative element
to running a journal, and I am not keen to take on that task - hence someone
needs to perform that role, and that person needs to be paid! The amount of work
just necessitates the readers need to pay in order to keep the business running.
There is a movement to make more content free for readers, and many journals now
make content freely available after a number of years, but unless someone pays
for it initially and it is left to academics to disseminate the material, there
is going to be a long delay before publication!!
tourism consultant dilemma: By assisting previously unsustainable mega-resort
developments become (or at least look) more sustainable, sustainable tourism
consultants become on the one hand part of the solution, and of the other, part
of the problem, painting the Trojan horse green so that it can reach the parts
it could previously not. There are plenty of examples with 'green' golf
developments on arid Mediterranean (is)lands. What is your evaluation?
The only way in which tourism can be a responsible industry
is for mass tourism to become more sustainable. I don't believe that mass tourism
can be sustainable, but then I don't believe that any form of tourism can be
truly sustainable. The challenge is to do as much as we can and behave as
responsibly as possible. Then, we need to hope that this is enough to keep the
world turning. If not, then we are going to have to really change our behaviour
and start doing different things. If we don't do different things voluntarily,
then changes are going to have to be imposed either by legislation or through a
market system of pricing certain activities out of our reach. Hence, it is going
to be a lot easier to change our behaviour now in favour of more sustainable
As consumers, we need to ask more searching questions of the places
we visit. If we are golfers, then we need to recognise that our hobby can
have a large impact on the local environment, ask questions about the places we
go and try to avoid those courses with the wildest claims. The market will
punish those businesses that are least sustainable, but we need more information
in order to be able to make the right decision. Journalists have a role to play
here in investigating what is actually happening at destinations and exposing
those that make the most unfounded claims.
There is criticism that
academics, but also businesses, have a tendency to create niches, so as to
monopolise them and excel in them. Does the constant creation of tourism niches
obstruct and fragment quality academic discourse and research, or is it a
natural path of competition and evolution?
Tourism is a new subject, so
we are exploring all its facets and features. I don't think that anyone really
studies golf tourism for example, without seeing the whole picture of tourism as
part of leisure. If we look at academic disciplines like medicine and law,
researchers will study the most minute aspect of their discipline for their
entire careers, so I don't think that the identification of small niche areas of
study is a problem for tourism. What is a problem is the relatively small number
of tourism researchers and large number of tourism journals means getting
published is perhaps too easy now, which has led to the risk of a reduction in
quality of papers being published. There are several key journals which have
really been at the forefront of attempts to drive up the quality of tourism
research, but the increasing numbers of tourism journals is creating a quality
Especially in the UK, there appears to be a growing
hostility against airline companies (and airports), and their role in greenhouse
gas emissions. Some feel this is justified (forgetting of course to blame the
heavily subsidised aircraft manufacturers oligopoly), others suspect it is a
ruse for assisting well-meaning travellers to part with their money through
unregulated click and offset schemes. In the light of air disasters and arduous
flight connections, it has been argued that instead of being penalised, the
world and especially parts thereof like Africa actually needs a network of
subsidised, safe air routes, that could support greater tourism & trade. What is
A very difficult question to answer, and one that I do not
have an answer for. Certainly the world benefits from a tourism industry. 80% of
the world's poorest 50 countries have tourism as their chief income earner, yet
these very same countries are least equipped to deal with the effects of climate
change, with aviation as a significant contributor to climate change. I do
believe that in the future we will look back on this period of history and be
amazed at the amount people travel. I feel an increase in domestic tourism would
be a positive development and a re-focusing of our vision on local
opportunities. Of course, this would mean many of the poorest countries would be
denied a chief source of income, threatening the reasons cultures and
environments are preserved at the moment, and this would need to be addressed
through development income, although this is not satisfactory. However, the risk
of continuing this incredible expansion of aviation seems to be too great.
Despite all the pro-environment rhetoric most tourism administrations
carry on with maximising travellers numbers and revenue, constantly comparing
themselves to the Jones's, neighbouring and distant 'competing destinations'. In
your teaching and research you have covered many countries. Which of these
countries or destinations, has (or have) in your view developed a tourism model
that approaches sustainability ideals, and which was its key to success?
I am impressed by the work Australia and New Zealand are
doing at present. They have recognised that in a resource constrained world
there could be a lot fewer tourists to their part of the world and so they have
to derive as much of the current benefits from tourism as possible from fewer
tourists. This will make them assess actually which groups of tourists are most
beneficial to the country. Is it the backpackers, the package tourists, the
retirees? As ever with necessity, it will be the mother of invention and we will
see the best answers emerging from those places with the most pressing need to
find the answers.
You have just completed a major study for public
views & perceptions of sustainable tourism and leisure in the UK. So, please
tell us, should someone be doing a better job, and who?
As I said above,
we should all be doing a better job. Consumers need to ask more questions,
industry needs to find more solutions, governments need to show more leadership
and investment in solutions, academia needs to be more creative, NGOs and
journalists need to be more investigative and keep the pressure on.
Thank you very much for your time; one last question - you are young, however
already very accomplished on many levels. What are your future aspirations? Do
you believe politics is the answer for someone who wants to bring about change
in Tourism, or can everyone (academics, practitioners, travellers) play a key part?
I derive huge pleasure from teaching and I also enjoy the
investment the university is prepared to make in my development in order to help
me to be a better teacher and researcher. This is a privileged position, but I
do believe that unless we have people thinking about big problems, then the day
to day nature of business means that we are going to miss the really important
things. The challenge for academia is to make sure business and government is
listening when we do have something important to say. Tourism faces a political
challenge in that some bits of government want it to expand in order to develop
the economy, others want it to contract to protect the environment, while other
bits still want it to shift overseas in order to help with international
development. However, this reflects the complexities of life, there are no
single or simple answers - and that is what makes my job interesting!
ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much!
complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here