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
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
(The Interview follows:)
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.
Should green / sustainable tourism certification be trusted by tourists at
its current state? Should it ever be trusted?
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!
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?
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.
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?
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!
If you were to choose one of your many projects as a best
case, which one would it be and why?
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.
In what way is sustainable tourism significantly different than green
tourism, ecological tourism or responsible tourism? Do labels really matter?
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.
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?
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
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?
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.
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'?
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.
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?
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.
Thank you very much!
complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here