In this interview, we hear from Sheikh Md. Monzurul Huq, Professor at the Department of Geography and Environment at Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Drawing from his academic tourism background, Monzur shares his thoughts on the fundamental principles of sustainable development, the role of entrepreneurship in tourism, and why he believes in the potential of tourism as major force for economic, social, and cultural change in Asia.
- Main professional insights and lessons;
- Which are the main flaws in the current tourism development models in developing countries;
- The consequences of uncontrolled mass tourism;
- Trends in tourism research;
- Why entrepreneurship is receiving more and more attention as research topic;
- Which are the main challenges for sustainable travel and tourism in Asia;
- Why tourism, despite its negative impacts, is such an important tool for Asian countries.
Monzur, do you recall what first attracted you to study geography with a focus on recreation and tourism? What got you interested?
I received my post-graduate degree in Geography and Geographical Information for Development (a course on GIS) from University of Windsor, Ontario (Canada) and Durham University (UK) respectively. As a partial fulfillment of the degree I wrote a thesis linked to Recreation Geography, under the supervision of University of Windsor Geography Professor Dr. Gerald Romsa. His guidance and inspiration actually motivated me to study recreation and tourism.
What was your view of sustainable tourism when you first started your professional career?
At the beginning of my academic career I was curious to know about traditional mass tourism and its impact on socio-economic development, with a particular focus on developing countries and people living in remote areas of Bangladesh. I supervised quite a few graduate masters’ theses which focused on these issues.
Gradually, I realized that traditional mass tourism has adverse impact on the economy, environment and society of a country like Bangladesh. This understanding helped me to search for and examine more humane aspects of tourism.
My academic background helped me to investigate and understand the linkages among tourism, community, and environment. This experience and understanding resulted in the transformation of my thoughts and brought changes in the focus of my research.
As a faculty member and researcher I could utilize my research and teaching activities to influence to some extent the practices and understandings associated with tourism activities.
I am enthusiastic about the power of community and small entrepreneur partnerships that not only benefit communities but enhance mutual respect and collaboration. I shall continue to use my disciplinary expertise and passion to generate, propagate and apply knowledge to improve the well-being of the poor indigenous communities, through responsible tourism activities. I will also continue to guide my students to work in these areas.
As a leading sustainable tourism researcher, which have been the main lessons/insights for you personally?
The sustainability issue should get more attention in the developing countries. In our current tourism model, host communities (destinations) do not play a significant enough role in decisions related to tourism development or growth. The approaches taken by the authorities are mostly top down. As a result, communities are neglected and cannot take part in decision making.
Like many other researchers I myself also feel that tourism activities across countries might induce different economic, socio-cultural and environmental benefits, and the consequences of the activities are diverse. The socio-cultural and environmental milieus vary between regions and countries.
An international or inter-regional sustainable tourism approach can be a useful tool to assess the environmental milieu (both physical and human). Having a strategy in place can help to detect the problems each country or region faces in its tourism development.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution in tourism with regards to sustainability. I feel that the concept of sustainable tourism appears to have evolved largely in seclusion and would benefit from incorporating a range of approaches to the tourism/environment system within destination areas.
What role does entrepreneurship play regarding the ability of a tourism business or destination to successfully implement sustainability?
Tourism cannot develop automatically in an empty space. Initiatives should come from the entrepreneurs of a society. Entrepreneurship has received increased attention within tourism research, reflecting the important role of entrepreneurs and start-ups within the tourism industry to drive innovation and value creation.
Developing mass tourism could lead to uncontrolled growth that would overburden infrastructure and put strains on the social fabric and natural environment of a country.
My understanding is that the nature of tourism should be small scale. This is especially important for the poor countries where unrestricted tourism development can jeopardize the ecology and ecosystem. Local people of a region/locality must be incorporated in the tourism activities. Their opinions and ideas should matter and be heard while implementing tourism developments.
You have published more than 40 articles and chapters in various national and international journals and books. Are there any noteworthy trends in tourism research at the moment?
More research is being conducted on environment, ecology and tourism issues. The political ecology issues associated with tourism has become an important topic of research. Researchers are attempting to address very complex, diverse and dynamic issues about tourism that are relevant to the scientific community and society at large.
Where do you see the main challenges – and opportunities – for sustainable travel and tourism in Asia?
The challenges include adequate funding in the tourism sector, confronting governments and tourism stakeholders to establish the necessary connections, high cost of travel, visa problems, security and safety issues, lack of commitment of governmental policy and planning strategy, to name just a few.
On the positive side, tourism is one of the major forces for economic, social, and cultural change of Asian countries. Asian countries possess nice beaches, exotic hills and mountains, forest and lakes, vibrant wildlife, serene backwaters and colorful festivals, heritage sites and so on. The demand for health resorts, theme holidays, home stay, medical tourism and tour packages is rising. There has been a significant increase in the influx of tourists.
Tourism can turn local cultures of the developing countries into commodities and various activities may be reduced to conform to tourists expectations. This is a challenge which should be addressed carefully.
Thank you, Monzur.
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