Sustainable Community Development Program: Expert Interview with Cynthia Ord of Village Earth


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May 31, 2014

Our Training Ideas and Insights interview series offers a collection of tips, ideas, and inspirations by and for trainers and training experts. In this edition, we asked Cynthia Ord, travel consultant and marketing specialist, about her experience working with the Online Certificate Program in Sustainable Community Development by Village Earth and Colorado State University.

Cynthia Ord
Backpacking in Colorado, USA (Photo by Cynthia Ord)

How did you become interested in teaching/training?

Through a good friend from my semester abroad back in college, Jamie. Several years ago, she was directing the Online Certificate in Sustainable Community Development program at Village Earth. I had recently completed my masters degree in Tourism and Environmental Economics, which qualified me as an instructor. Jamie approached me about developing a curriculum about tourism and sustainable community development.

We both agreed that a course on tourism and development would make a great elective for the certificate program, which covers so many aspects of international development. My course is listed alongside others such as "Technology and Community Development", "Challenges in Smallholder Agriculture", "Politics of Empowerment", and "Participatory Water Resource Management". It's an honor when students choose my course with so many great elective options and instructors to choose from.

Who are your students, and why are they interested in learning about tourism and development?

Although the class size has been fairly small, I've been delighted with the quality and variety of international development professionals, academics, and ground-level tourism practitioners that this certificate program attracts.

Some examples of my past students include a finance professional from the Bahamas looking to invest in ecotourism; a professor at EARTH University in Costa Rica who wants to supplement the school's agronomy program with agritourism; the founder of a small, locally-based tour operator in Morocco; a coordinator of Food Sovereignty Tours, a travel program through the international NGO Food First; a lawyer and mother from Montana who simply wanted to find out how she and her family can travel more sustainably.

For the upcoming section in November, I've received interest from a coordinator at Studies Abroad for Global Education (SAGE). This course has been a great networking opportunity for all of us.

As an instructor, do you also learn from your students?

Absolutely! My final assignment for the students is to propose their own community-based tourism initiative for their destination of interest. The proposals have been consistently creative, innovative, and thought-provoking.

For example,

  • One student, noting the political instability in Honduras that threatens the country’s inbound tourism, proposed an "inside out" travel program where Hondurans in the travel industry visit schools in the United States for cultural exchange, speaking engagements, and grassroots-style destination promotion.
  • A student from the Bahamas had the great idea of offering locally-operated excursions for cruise ship tourists to an under-utilized national park near a port of call on the Bahamian island of New Providence.
  • A Moroccan tour operator student proposed a locally-owned Bedouin-style tent lodge for desert tours that would compete with the bigger foreign-owned tent lodges, create local jobs, and offer a more authentic travel experience.

Do you find that lessons from unsuccessful examples of tourism and development offer valuable insights?

Yes, when balanced with positive examples as well. In the case studies module of my course, I present students with four "negative" case studies and four "positive" case studies. They can choose two of each to read and discuss. I was careful to find readings from all major regions of the world, both developed and developing.

I'm also careful to point out the source of each case study, as I think it's a good indication of institutional attitudes toward sustainable tourism. Private interests, NGOs, aid agencies, and industry-oriented publications are usually the ones to laud its successes, whereas academia and its peer-reviewed research journals tend toward criticism.

Another module of my course is dedicated to critical examination of various forms of sustainable tourism development, with readings that critique pro-poor tourism, voluntourism, and community-based tourism. We also look at communities’ right to opt out of tourism completely.

What do you think are some of the most critical needs in the tourism field in terms of training and education?

I've learned from several of my students who are ground-level practitioners (and from my own ground-level experience) that many struggle with the human resources aspect of locally-based travel operations.

They'd love some guidance about hiring and training local staff, preparing them for customer service roles that face demanding foreign tourists, formalizing new jobs in largely informal economic environments, offering fair wages and benefits, freelance contracting with local tour guides who are also working for the competition, harnessing student interns and voluntourists, etc.

Online training for tourism HR managers would be difficult since employment culture is so relative and unique to place, but I think it would be worthwhile to create a training module geared toward this super-important aspect of local tourism operations.

Cynthia Ord holds a Masters of Tourism and Environmental Economics degree from the University of the Balearic Islands in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Her M.S. program focused on the socio-cultural, environmental and economic impacts of global tourism.