Starting in the spring of 2022, FIU will offer a fully online bachelor’s degree in Global Sustainable Tourism that will arm graduates to be champions of sustainability in the ever-dynamic hospitality and tourism industry.
With few comparable programs across the country, FIU’s new program is unique as it features an interdisciplinary approach to sustainable practices, says Joseph Cilli, department chair and director of distance learning for the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
“The program tackles the most pressing issues facing the industry today, its impact on the planet, and the increasing public demand for businesses in hospitality to embrace sustainable practices,” says Cilli who brought the program to life based on industry trends and needs.
Before the pandemic took hold, Cilli realized the economic impact of lost tourism and the need to protect natural resources like those found in Florida—a state whose economy relies heavily on hospitality and tourism. When the pandemic and the industry experienced serious financial impacts related to COVID-19, he saw the need as vital. The team he amassed to help create the program set out to build a degree that would produce graduates fully steeped in constructing resilience for the industry. Simply, if you protect natural resources, you protect tourism dollars, he explains.
The unique, fully online program, offered through the Chaplin School, is a collaboration with the Department of Earth and Environment of the College of Arts, Sciences & Education and features a blended curriculum composed of the most relevant, existing courses from each department as well as a host of new courses specifically designed for the degree.
“It’s about the well-being of the planet, the people and the tourists,” says Carolin Lusby who is an assistant professor at the Chaplin School and co-director of the new degree program. “The philosophical premise of this degree is, in order to survive as an industry, and also keep our quality of life, we need to manage tourism in a whole new way.”
John Buschman, who is a lecturer at the Chaplin School and co-director of the new program, elaborates that with several renowned environmental scientists among the faculty, the curriculum brings together the business and sustainability dimensions of tourism, along with industry governance. Along those lines, the Chaplin School has received support letters for the program from both Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau, which markets the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel in Florida, as well as the Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism, which promotes awareness and stewardship of Florida's natural and cultural heritage.
Lusby points out the changes that came because of the pandemic offered time to reflect on what the future would look like globally as things returned to normal operations. She stresses the importance of the hospitality and tourism industry rebounding while prioritizing environmental stewardship.
Students pursuing this degree will learn to apply skills and lead through advocacy, conservation and community partnerships. Topics covered in the curriculum include socioeconomic, environmental and cultural impacts with respect to responsible business practices and local governance. David Bray, professor in the Department of Earth and Environment and co-director of the program notes, “the overarching thrust of the program is to teach students how tourism can adapt to and mitigate climate change and become a key sector in the transition to low-carbon economies.”
“Tourism is the largest industry in Florida and it’s important to everybody’s livelihood in the entire state,” explains Buschman.
Emerging, growing field
The developing field, Buschman emphasizes, offers the hospitality and tourism industry a sustainability pathway. He affirms that collaboration between the industry, governing bodies and environmental causes is the future of the industry and asserts that jobs are growing worldwide.
A Green Lodging Trends survey (2019) indicated that 65 percent of hospitality and tourism businesses employ a dedicated sustainability coordinator and as many as 90 percent are conducting staff training in sustainability either with their own staff or through hired consultants and training experts. The types of businesses include tour companies, hotels, airlines, cruise lines, convention and visitors bureaus, theme parks, festivals, destination management companies and transportation companies.
According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, in 2019, annual salaries averaged $71,360 per year for sustainability professionals, although not specific to the sustainable tourism segment, with a projected growth of 8 percent (double the national average) for specialists.
"The degree prepares for a purpose-driven career that tackles our most pressing problems in a comprehensive, collaborative way,” Lusby concludes.