TT 19



Conference Report

Conference report: 2019 Building Excellence in Sustainable Tourism Education Network (BEST EN) Think Tank

Soheon Kim, PhD student, Bournemouth University, UK

More than 30 participants from 15 different countries met in San Francisco, California, USA between 30 June and 3 July 2019 for the 19th BEST EN Think Tank. It was held in conjunction with the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism at San Francisco State University. The conference was opened with a brief welcome by the conference chair Professor Gianna Moscardo. Two keynote presentations were delivered by Christina Bechmenn, Senior director from the Adventure Travel Trade Association and Kimberly Daley, President and CEO from Mountain Travel Sobek, focusing on adventure tourism and its links to sustainable tourist experiences. The three full day programme, organised into featured paper sessions, workshops, poster session and a field trip, brought together a community of researchers, PhD students and industry professionals to reach a shared understanding of creating sustainable tourist experiences.

The conference provided an excellent opportunity for experts and practitioners from the tourism industry to share research and experiences. In four paper sessions, eighteen papers in total were presented where each session was related to the core themes of the conference. Central themes included: sustainable hospitality experiences; sustainable tourist experiences in nature; design for sustainable tourist experiences; and issues and challenges for sustainable tourist experiences. Authors shared the findings of their research responding to questions and comments from members of the audience. Alongside the paper sessions, there was a poster session in which six different poster presentations were covered outlining and discussing research findings. In this session, each poster presenter had the opportunity to actively engage with other participants, enabling the presenters to talk about very specific aspects of their own research.

A half-day conference field trip in the local area to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Mascone Center (including stakeholder forum: San Francisco Travel MYSF), Oracle Park, Lucky Strike, and SPARK Social SF allowed participants to explore various local attractions and learn how they have been integrating sustainable practices into their operations and strategies. The city, San Francisco, as one of the most popular tourist city destinations has responded to the need to ensure the growth to be sustainable for the future. During the trip, participants had opportunities to experience the products and services offered by some of the attractions. This was also a very unique part of the conference because of the opportunity to engage with the local community during the visits, where participants could enrich and stimulate their academic knowledge and professional development concerning sustainable tourist experiences.

During the conference, group workshops were run every day. Participants were given three different topics regarding the conference theme to choose in order to work on for the three consecutive days, including: slow tourism/staycations; design principles for sustainable tourist experiences and creating tourist experiences that support sustainable action at home. As a group with individual participants who chose the same topic, participants shared knowledge and explored different aspects of the topic. Throughout the workshops, all worked together to develop ideas for educational package on the chosen topic of interest and tried to identify areas that require further research. In the end of the conference, each group had an opportunity to present the key workshop outcomes, such as educational frameworks or future research agendas. 

This was my very first attendance at the BEST EN Think Tank  and it provided support to my research and myself in several different ways.  First, the conference helped me to learn about new methodologies and unpublished data that I was not aware of before. For instance, I would not have considered using guest books from tourist accommodation as a tool to explore tourist experiences, if I did not learn that from a paper session in the Think Tank, which surprised myself at a significant level (in a positive way). Attending the Think Tank was very crucial for me at the current stage of my PhD journey to realise not to constrain but broaden the scope of my research.

Secondly, in one of the paper sessions, themed ‘Issues and challenges for sustainable tourist experiences’, I presented the initial findings of my research. In the end of my presentation, I received some meaningful suggestions and inputs to strengthen my research findings. I also had many opportunities during the conference to have informal conversations with other participants and they all kindly provided me with enlightening ideas and encouraged me to explore different possibilities back in the UK.

Lastly, interacting with and learning from a global group of like-minded individuals from the field was not only knowledge boosting, but also provided extremely rewarding experiences. Thanks to the nature of the BEST EN Think Tank, i.e. a platform for knowledge exchange and creating networks with rather small number of participants, I had a chance to speak to almost all participants informally and share ideas on research and others. The conference was an opportunity to gain useful insights, contacts and other tips to help me advance.

Overall, the Think Tank resulted in personal growth as well as research improvements. I am really grateful to have had this invaluable experience, which would not have happened without the PhD bursary. I would strongly encourage other PhD students to apply for the bursary in the future. The next BEST EN conference themed “Smart Tourism for Sustainable Destinations” will be held between the 23rd and 26th of June 2020, at Greenwich University in London.