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ISSN 1108-8931


 Year 8 - Issue 94 - Oct 07

Sponsored by: Hana Maui Botanical Gardens (US), Maris Hotels Traditional Apartments (GR), Beyond Touring (BZ),
Siam Safari Nature Tours (TH), Canyon Travel (MX), La Selva Jungle Lodge (EC), Eco Holidays Malta (MT), Abha Palace (SA),
St-Géry Historic Estate (FR), International Centre for Responsible Tourism (UK)

RACHEL DODDS: "I have always only focused on projects I believed in – even if the big unsustainable ones were offering to pay more"

ECOCLUB Interviews Rachel Dodds
Index of Interviews

Rachel DoddsDr. Rachel Dodds has 17 years of experience in the tourism industry specialising in sustainable tourism. Rachel is currently the Director of Sustaining Tourism, a consultancy firm, as well as an Assistant Professor in the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. She has worked in all facets of the tourism industry including tour operators, hotels, governments, NGO's and small businesses. Her experience includes working with the World Bank/IFC, the Caribbean Tourism Organization/European Union, the Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum's International Tourism Partnership, WWF, Toronto's Green Tourism Association, as well as many hotels, tour operators and small businesses. At her website,  http://www.sustainabletourism.net the reader may find case studies, definitions and potential solutions for sustainable tourism. The site also offers consulting services including planning, marketing and implementation tools for sustainable tourism/ecotourism management.

Rachel holds a PhD in sustainable tourism from the UK and a Master of Tourism Management from Australia. She has authored multiple articles about sustainable tourism, corporate social responsibility and ecotourism and is currently undertaking research in climate change and sustainability issues. She has furthered her tourism knowledge through her travels and has visited 6 continents and over 55 countries.

(The Interview follows:)

ECOCLUB.com: You are young, but already a highly-accomplished sustainable tourism consultant and academic. Academics are famed for their doubts, consultants for their certainty. Is it easy to wear both hats? What would you advise other young people wishing to enter your line of work?

Rachel Dodds: Being both I am certain that I have doubts! Seriously though, I believe, consultants tend to be more focused on the practical element than academics but academics tend to focus more on rigor and methodology. That being said, I feel I have an edge by being both as I try to be real-world focused to teach my students what is needed in the workplace but also my consulting projects benefit from my in-depth analysis I learned through my academic research studies. It is also nice to sometimes be able to bring real-life experience into the classroom which gives a practical element to the students.

In terms of advice for young people – the most important thing I have learned is to network. Volunteer to get experience, ensure you say thank you when people help you out along the way – and stay in touch with people. Tourism is a diverse industry so I would suggest getting experience in all areas – I have worked in restaurants, attractions, tour operators, hotels, government bodies and NGO's – having that knowledge of how they all work gives me a great insight for my work.

ECOCLUB.com: Should green / sustainable tourism certification be trusted by tourists at its current state? Should it ever be trusted?

Rachel Dodds: As to whether certification should or ever be trusted – well, a company which is moving in this direction is better than one who isn't – so that is a good start! I believe that companies that have been certified have had to improve their overall operational efficiencies and have therefore realised that being environmentally and socially focused makes good business sense. It is confusing to the consumer that there are so many standards and often quality is not ranked along side environmental indicators but it is slowly moving in this direction. I believe the biggest issue with certification is marketing – most people don't even know certified companies exist and there is currently no one-stop-shop where all certified companies are accessible to the consumer. I am hoping that large on-line booking companies will see the value in offering certified or companies with a strong CSR or environmental focus to be offered to the consumer beside other mainstream ones – that then would be an easy choice for the consumer to choose green or not green in just one click!

ECOCLUB.com: How about carbon-offsets by tourists, are you convinced that they really lead to a decrease of carbon emissions, are they a useful pretext to raise some funds for other green issues, or just a scam?

Rachel Dodds: Sustainability is first about reducing and reusing, and carbon offsetting is about offsetting whatever is left. At the moment it is what consumers are offered as a mitigation strategy but I believe general education on how we, the tourist, can reduce our overall footprint is important and will have a great benefit. Carbon offsetting can help by funnelling money to renewable technologies and to mitigate our effects on the climate but it should not be a replacement or tick box to alleviate guilt! It is not always clear where monies are going for project and I also have concerns about the nature of how offsetting projects are set up – for example Tourism Concern highlighted how a community in Uganda was displaced to make way for a reforestation project! I have just finished some research in this area and there is a lot of confusion in the marketplace and there is a need for regulation – for example a flight to London, UK from Toronto has a multitude of different prices for offsetting depending on which offset company you choose.

ECOCLUB.com: Have you found it more practical, as a sustainable tourism consultant, to work with communities, or with small businesses? Are sustainable tourism consultants adequately remunerated, or are they frequently tricked by aid agencies, governments and businesses?

Rachel Dodds: As a consultant I work with all types – small and big business and government and Ngo's - so regarding practicality, I really think it depends on the project. For example, sometimes a large government or aid agency project can have more influence if it is disseminated out to a lot of people as it may bring issues to the agenda in the right political and business circles where decisions are being made. At the same time, working with communities and small business, it is easier to see results and initiatives can be implemented much faster. In terms of remuneration, many small organizations cannot afford to pay but often large organizations and aid agencies take forever to pay or don’t in some sad instances. For a long time, people have not been willing to pay for expertise on sustainability issues as they didn’t see the negative effects or they were more focused on the economic side of business. Sometimes, for me, it has been hard to make ends meet although I have always only focused on projects I believed in – even if the big unsustainable ones were offering to pay more – it is all about personal ethics in that regard. Recently, however, sustainability has become a sexy topic – perhaps due to the fact that tourism depends on the very product it sells – the environment and the culture and people are starting to realize that this needs management for its protection - hopefully remuneration will change to reflect this. If it comes true I will let you know!

ECOCLUB.com: If you were to choose one of your many projects as a best case, which one would it be and why?

Rachel Dodds: Fortunately, I cannot just choose one as there are a few good ones. I do profile a lot of good practices, and not just my cases, on my website. Perhaps projects which have influenced the wider community are the best example – e.g. helping a company audit their sustainability practices and then seeing this company start new labour, procurement and environmental practices which have a direct positive benefit on others is rewarding.

ECOCLUB.com: In what way is sustainable tourism significantly different than green tourism, ecological tourism or responsible tourism? Do labels really matter?

Rachel Dodds: We all need to move the industry toward more sustainable tourism if it will survive – new labels will always be developed to describe tourism which is confusing and sometimes inhibiting for groups to work together as they can be egotistical and proprietary about their labels. Sustaining a tourism venture is about being responsible so I believe they are similar labels while sometimes ecological or green tourism omits the social aspects which can be dangerous. In my view, as long as we are all moving towards sustainability – call it whatever you like. For example, I am working on a project about climate change and tourism – it is essentially dealing with sustainable tourism issues – climate being one of them, but if government wishes to call it this because it is sexier that is fine with me.

ECOCLUB.com: How satisfied are you with the content, level and quality of tourism education, in English-speaking countries where you have first-hand experience? Some businesses complain that tourism graduates lack even a basic grasp of how the tourism sector really works. Are there any grains of truth in this argument? Is there a practical/ theoretical tourism education divide?

Rachel Dodds: Personally I still think there is a gap between industry and academia. I would love to see more industry at academic conferences/workshops and vice versa but perhaps theory and practicality are not always matched. At Ryerson, we are currently in the process of revamping the tourism course to be more inclusive and practically focused about issues and concepts. Tourism is diverse and fragmented but also the world’s largest industry so it is difficult to teach it all. I believe that hospitality and food service courses often take priority as a subject matter even though the wider understanding of tourism as an entity is needed. At the same time, the operational and managerial side of the industry needs to be included in addition to concepts of sustainability and development so that students can enter the workforce with realistic and hands-on skills.

ECOCLUB.com: Your work takes you to tourism academic conferences around the world. What is your general evaluation: Is it a case, for most participants, of parallel monologues, and "going through the moves to get the grants", or do these conferences really advance tourism thought at an academic level, in a way that other offline and online forums can not?

Rachel Dodds: I believe on-line and off-line forums are just as beneficial if not more beneficial than academic conferences as often industry is present and current issues are being discussed. Academic conferences, do however, expose you to new areas of research and theory and are useful in terms of keeping up to date as well as networking and establishing relationships with experts in other fields as well as geographical locations.

ECOCLUB.com: In your very informative website, www.sustainabletourism.net, the average reader, used to tourism platitudes & niceties, suddenly comes across a passage about "a land where an invader has demolished a country in order to try and flatten the spirit of the people". We would argue that this daring description would fit nearly all countries around the world at some point in their history! But do you believe that sustainable tourism consultants & academics are increasingly more daring in expressing their personal opinions on political & religious matters, and risk losing 'business', as opposed to the old adage - 'leave only footprints'?

Rachel Dodds: For me, I believe in quality, not quantity and perhaps I am not a very good consultant because I tell the truth even to the extent when clients don't always want to hear it! Tourism historically has looked only at economics but sustainability must look at all elements of the triple bottom line. If a feasibility study, for example, is negative I believe that by outlining truthfully the consequences, it will save a company far more money long term which is then good value. Additionally, my line of work is sustainability therefore I try to practice what I preach. I believe that all news is not necessarily good news but at the same time, my recommendations must be based on the research I do – not my personal opinions or ideas.

ECOCLUB.com: As a sustainable tourism webmaster, what is your assessment of role the Internet as a communication tool for sustainable tourism? If you could fix one thing, what would it be?

Rachel Dodds: If I could fix one thing – it would be to have someone help me with my website! But seriously – I think that blogs and podcasts are becoming key forms of media these days and on-line forums and chat rooms for sustainable tourism should be nurtured. I think ECOCLUB.com is a great source of information and your chatroom is great. Planeta.com also does a good job of this and a recent organization Stepuptravel.org also has started to focus on advocacy.

ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much!

Find the complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here

Disclaimer:  Any views expressed in this magazine belong to their respective authors and are not necessarily those of ECOCLUB S.A. Although we try to check all facts, we accept no liability for inaccuracies - which means you should not take any travel or other decisions based only on what you read here... Use of this magazine is covered by the Terms & Conditions of the ECOCLUB.com Website and by your uncommon sense and good humour.


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