global sustainable ecotourism

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As the week wrapped up, it was time to gather some thoughts from the participants.  These students had come from all different tourism related fields;  we had private sector tour operators-both large and small, certification specialists, donor representatives, national parks policy writers, grad students, continuing education students, NGO representatives, students just starting to get their feet wet in sustainable development and others who had been on the ground for decades.

It’s been so valuable to hear the perspectives from the different sectors represented in this course.

It’s made me realize that sustainable tourism can be a cornerstone in the development world, instead of an add-on.

-Rani, student & certification guest speaker

After hearing from the students throughout the week, these insightful comments from Rani and Alison, seem to best sum up the overall feeling expressed throughout the week.

The wide range of experience and expertise in this room, the intimate class size, the non-stop interaction, and just this room full of passionate people is very inspiring!

I’ve been re-energized and have gained so much more knowledge.

Thank you to Megan and the EWI team!!!

-Alison, student

Hear what the students have to say!

What the participants thought about the UVM Ecotourism Course July 2010 Click for a direct link to the YouTube video post!

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Following the video conference from Africa, Megan led a great session on creating tourism models that bring new economic benefits to rural peoples.  In recent years, sustainable tourism development has become an interesting new opportunity for post war countries.   Megan guided the class through her firm, Eplerwood International’s (EWI), experience in Sierra Leone and the different opportunities and challenges that were facing the struggling economy during her work there.

"It all makes sense now!" - Star

After lunch, Epler Wood and EWI consultant, Holly Jones, then presented on the firm’s 3 year project in El Salvador, EcoExperiencias, which has built ecotourism from the ground up–fostering the growth of microenterprises through strategic business planning, targeted capacity building, a solid marketing mix and a cutting edge website that brings the beauty of El Salvador to the world for the first time.

Great dialogs!

Students commented that the El Salvador case study did an excellent job of piecing together all of the different stakeholders’ roles and strategies that the course had covered throughout the week.

Each student could see where they fit into the broader picture of the tourism supply chain!   A great case study for the last day of class!

I came into Gap Adventures from college and this has been my 1st career.  I didn’t learn a lot about this in college. During the days of this course, we learned a lot about NGOs and public sector that I didn’t even think of before; a huge lightbulb just turned on with the EcoExperiencias El Salvador case study.  Every single component was all tied together.  -Star, student & Gap Adventures sales manager

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On Friday, the students were welcomed via video conference by Dr. Anna Spenceley, renowned tourism researcher and editor of the course textbook, Responsible Tourism.

Group photo with Dr. Spenceley!

Dr. Spenceley joined the class from her office on the edge of Kruger National Park in South Africa.  Everyone enjoyed the exciting real-time dialog on topics ranging from greening supply chains to capacity building strategy in Africa.

This course is making me realize that as representatives from many different sectors, we have so much potential as a group. I’m really expanding my knowledge into the broader context here.

– Ben, student & African Operations Director, Gap Adventures

Live from South Africa

Student, Melanie Ingalls, taking part in the video conference.

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On day 4, the internationally focused course took a step back and deeper look into local impact with guest lecturers Ann Nygard,  UVM professor Dave Kestenbaum and the Vermont Fresh Network’s Executive Director, Meghan Sheradin.  They also explored certification standards with Green Seal representative, Rani Bhattacharyya.

Guest lecturer, Ann Nygard, takes questions during the lecture on National Geographic’s Geotourism Program.

The morning began with an overview of National Geographic’s Geotourism Program.  Ann Nygard spoke on geotourism’s special niche within the sustainable tourism industry as a sub-category that adds to sustainability principles by emphasizing a destination’s distinct “sense of place,”  to benefit both the tourist and resident.

Kestenbaum provided personal insight to Vermont’s relationship with the National Geographic geotourism program and the opportunities and challenges associated with such a partnership.

UVM professor, Dave Kestenbaum, on geotourism and the Vermont Fresh Network's impact on the local farming economy.

In the afternoon, the students heard from Meghan Sheradin, Executive Director of the Vermont Fresh Network, a local NGO focused on building relationships among farmers, food producers and chefs to promote Vermont chefs and restaurants that use Vermont grown and produced foods.

Sheradin and Kestenbaum provided excellent insight into how these regional connections have contributed to stronger communities and their economies, the expansion of the colorful foodie culture and the growth in cuisine tourism that Vermont has experienced in recent years.

Meghan Sheradin on creating the Vermont Fresh Network.


In addition to exploring tourism’s local impact in Vermont, day 4 also featured guest lecturer, Rani Bhattacharyya of Green Seal, a non profit, independent certifying body whose role in tourism certification increased as they partnered with the lodging industry, the nation’s second largest employer, to promote environmentally responsible products and practices within lodging properties.

Guest speaker, Rani Bhattacharyya, on certification.

All the presenters have been very beneficial.  It’s great to get both the theoretical and practical view, and of course I loved hearing from the Vermont people!  – John, UVM grad student

Megan Epler Wood and Bhattacharyya spoke on the fundamentals of the certification industry, its role in the sustainable tourism industry and touched on specific certification items such as waste minimization, energy efficiency and water resource management.

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Megan Epler Wood presents during the UVM summer session.

Megan Epler Wood presents on her field experience and research duing the course

Megan provided insights from her 8 years of working in challenging field situations as an international development consultant, where tourism can be a lifeline for people living far from the benefits of the cash economy and globalization.

Her passion to direct the attention of sustainable tourism professionals to the growing importance of tourism in the global economy and the need to make it work on behalf of peoples living in rural areas motivates her drive to build the knowledge base for tourism development professionals.  Megan works with local people who treasure the nature and biodiversity around them, want to preserve their culture, and yet are naturally keen on obtaining more health and education benefits in their distant locales.  Some cash is required, but with local people and businesses in the lead developing viable small and medium enterprises is key and that is what the course sought to demonstrate via a wide variety of cases.

In this session,  Megan talked about the people she collaborated with with in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Sierra Leone, and El Salvador. The was class full of good questions, interactions, and thoughtful discussions.   Folks from class seemed to appreciate the process of both learning, discussion and facilitation. Megan talked about how meaningful she finds her work,  but she also communicated her concern about the limited training available for sustainable tourism development professionals. Tourism NGOs, consultant and local staff often lack the tools they need to advance sustainable tourism planning in a real world local context.  Given the momentum of tourism development in this new Millennium, the need for more effective capacity building programs, collaborative learning, training and greater innovation in approach to the development of destinations will only become more critical to the tourism industry.

I’ve really enjoyed how Megan can pull all of these concepts and relationships together for us, over and over throughout the week.  I love how she is passionately involved and open about sharing her vast personal experience.  It’s been so valuable from all different perspectives.

-Melanie, student

This session also included a discussion about connecting tourism products to local supply chains. It was a concrete example of an opportunity to build truly sustainable foundations for responsible tourism. In this case study, we looked at howVermont has created a booming local food economy that has farmers selling roughly $16 million dollars per year, with more every year, to chefs working in hotels and restaurants in the State. This was an important opporunity to emphasize how making sustainable tourism an economic driver for better purchasing practices can make such a difference.  Base upon the  student question and comment period, this was one of the most exciting topics in the course!

Even with no field experience, I now feel that I have a voice if I go back to Ecuador; I feel that I could give my opinion now with confidence, having learned from this excellent personal and professional experience.

-Priscila, student

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After the mid-day break we heard from Richard Edwards, who shared his experiences in his role as Marketing Director at Gap Adventures, and as the Director of Gap’s foundation, Planeterra, a non-profit organization with a history of supporting communities through travellers’ desire to give back.

The session was full of rich examples of current projects that Planeterra and Gap are spearheading to benefit the local communities they work with around the globe–the women’s weaving cooperative in Peru, polar bear research in the Artic, the New Delhi street kids project in India, and the Tibet Eye Camp-restoring vision to hundreds of people with a simple 15-minute cataract surgery, etc.  Thank you, Richard, for such a highly interactive and educational session on giving back through sustainable tourism!

Richard Edwards, Gap Adventures and Planeterra

Richard Edwards, Gap Adventures and Planeterra

It’s been very powerful to understand how everything is so interconnected and how the private sector, the donor community and a triple bottom line approach can contribute to sustainable tourism development.

-Paula, student

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The week started off running with Megan Epler Wood’s orientation lectures and a great kick-off presentation by Peter Shumlin, VT Gubernatorial Candidate and Senate Pro-tem leader.

The discussion for the night’s events centered around how sustainable tourism can better benefit local economies. He was joined at the podium by internationally renowned corporate CEO, Bruce Poon Tip of Gap Adventures in Toronto, Canada. Together they officially launched the new short course, Global Sustainable Ecotourism currently being conducted from July12-16 at UVM as part of the Continuing Education Program.

David Kestenbaum of the UVM Extension Tourism Data Center facilitated and Meghan Sheradin Executive Director of Vermont Fresh Network  co-hosted.
Shumlin discussed his work with his family firm, Putney Student Travel, and the positive economic impacts he has seen from sustainable tourism, both in Vermont and around the world. Bruce Poon Tip, who launched his innovative firm 20 years ago this year, discussed how through incorporating sustainability into all corporate operations has helped to make Gap Adventures the largest independent adventure travel firm in the world. Meghan Sheradin, Executive Director of Vermont Fresh Network provided data on how the tourism and hospitality industry is a primary driver for Vermont’s local food economy.

Kick-off for first annual UVM Summer Program for Global Sustainable Tourism

Peter Shumlin, VT Gubernatorial Candidate delivers the opening remarks.

Participants enjoy the opening day reception.

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July 9, 2010

Peter Shumlin Speaks at Event at UVM on Tourism, Agriculture and Local Economies

Burlington, Vermont Gubernatorial candidate and Senate Pro-tem leader  Peter Shumlin will join a discussion at UVM at 5PM in the Billings Building, Marsh Lounge on how sustainable tourism can better benefit local economies.  He will be joined at the podium by internationally renowned corporate CEO, Bruce Poon Tip of Gap Adventures in Toronto, Canada.  Together they will officially launch the new short course, Global Sustainable Ecotourism to be held July 12-16 at UVM as part of the Continuing Education Program.  The session is open to the public.

David Kestenbaum of the UVM Extension Tourism Data Center will facilitate and Meghan Sheradin Executive Director of Vermont Fresh Network will co-host.

Shumlin will discuss his work with his family firm, Putney Student Travel, and the positive economic impacts he has seen from sustainable tourism, both in Vermont and around the world.

Bruce Poon Tip, who launched his innovative firm 20 years ago this year, will discuss how incorporating sustainability into all corporate operations has helped to make Gap Adventures the largest independent adventure travel firm in the world.

Meghan Sheradin, Executive Director of Vermont Fresh Network will provide data on how the tourism and hospitality industry is a primary driver for Vermont’s local food economy

David Kestenbaum will then facilitate questions from the audience.  This will be an hour session and light refreshments will be provided.

This event is being coordinated by Megan Epler Wood, of EplerWood International, a firm based in Burlington, Vermont specializing in the sustainable development of tourism worldwide.  Epler Wood is the lead instructor for the UVM course on Global Sustainable Ecotourism and has 20 years of experience leveraging the positive benefits of sustainable tourism for local economies worldwide.

For more information contact:

EplerWood International, 802-865-3351

369 S. Union St., Burlington, VT  05401

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