From education to business consulting, Rebecca Hawkins has been helping shape the sustainable tourism industry for almost twenty years. In this interview, Rebecca tells us how her Gran’s kitchen creativity helped alert her to the need to minimize waste and how a doctorate and a bit of luck launched her sustainable tourism career.
She also shares her experience helping PhD students become the sustainability leaders of tomorrow and how her organization, the Responsible Hospitality Partnership, helps companies use sustainable tourism strategies to create meaningful benefit to their business and the world in which they operate.
- The origins, mission and successes of the Responsible Hospitality Partnership;
- The true impact of food waste in the tourism industry and what businesses can do to minimize it;
- Where most businesses go wrong with regard to sustainability;
- Rebecca Hawkins’ advice to early career professionals in tourism.
Rebecca, when did you first become aware of the concept of sustainable tourism?
The foundations were probably laid by my Gran who, like so many of her generation, had a waste not want not ethos. She was a school cook and could make a meal out of almost anything. In her view, there was no excuse for wasting food (or anything else come to that). All that was needed was a bit of creativity and willing kitchen helpers (often her grandchildren) to cook up a storm.
College was the point at which I first came across ‘sustainability’ as something that people wrote books about (although most called it environmental management back then). I started college on a history course, but quickly discovered it wasn’t for me. I found myself in the environment section of the library one day. By chance, I picked up Silent Spring (Rachel Carson) and went from there to James Lovelock’s Gaia all in the same afternoon. And that was my light bulb moment. I realized that ‘sustainability’ wasn’t just a quirky lifestyle choice, but an academic discipline in its own right, underpinned by serious theoretical principles. I changed course and became absolutely passionate about “sustainability” as it applied to pretty much everything.
Post college, my early jobs were in tourism and hospitality (I have always loved travel). I ended up landing a contract as Research Assistant at Bournemouth University and this involved writing a PhD. This gave me the freedom to really examine the environmental and social impacts of tourism just as sustainable tourism was starting to emerge on the policy agenda. It also gave me a great grounding in implementing a research proposal (I learned as much from the failures as successes). In fact, I often claim that writing my PhD was the single most important factor in forming my career.