TT 19



Conference Report

The 17th Building Excellence in Sustainable Tourism Education Network (BEST EN) Think Tank took place in Mauritius between 14th and 17th June 2017. It was hosted by the International Center for Sustainable Tourism and Hospitality at the University of Mauritius. This year’s conference was co-chaired by Dr Pierre Benckendorff and Dr Robin Nunkoo, and was attended by 28 participants from more than 10 countries. Additional knowledge sharing events were attended by a total of 51 participants from government organisations and the tourism industry. The conference proceedings were divided between two keynote presentations from Dr Scott Cohen from the University of Surrey and Dr Susanne Becken from Griffith University in Queensland, conference presentations and a field trip to a neighbouring tourism resort focusing on hospitality and environmental and social sustainability.

The core component of the conference involved presentations of 25 papers in four working sessions, where authors presented the findings of their research and participants asked clarifying questions or offered advice on how to strengthen the research findings. This was extremely useful, especially for those presenting their PhD findings or seeking journal publication. The variety of topics presented ranged from the application of different tools for managing the impact of sustainable tourism, such as water quality testing of eco-lodges in Botswana and South Africa, to surveying the perceptions of residents towards tourism, as well as traveler satisfaction. Increasingly important issues such as the how to address the impact of climate change on the tourism sector, overtourism, enclave tourism and reducing the economic leakages of tourism in rural destinations were also presented and provided the opportunities to share experiences, concerns and identify potential future areas of important research. All conference papers are available on the BEST EN website along with two recorded presentations of papers, which are available as learning materials for students (see As with all BEST EN conferences it is often the times in between the working sessions that prove the most fruitful with chances for more active and informal engagement during coffee breaks, lunches, dinners and field trips. Participants took these opportunities to continue to discuss topics and research interests, as well as build professional connections with fellow academics and researchers.

A conference field trip to a neighbouring tourism resort provided participants with an opportunity to view the practical programmes initiated by the private sector in collaboration with the University of Mauritius to create business opportunities for local communities as well as provide conservation demonstration projects for tourists to view. A panel discussion between tourism operators and the Government of Mauritius was also organized and participants were able to understand the practical issues faced when aiming to implement sustainable tourism initiatives.

The Think Tank experience certainly met my expectations. I was able to present my research findings to experts in the sustainable tourism field and receive their feedback. Colleagues provided extremely useful comments on how to strengthen my research as well as share their experience both on the topic and research processes. This also offered the chance to reflect on my research and how it could be improved. The chance to exchange ideas formally, with the workshop events, as well as informally, during coffee breaks and dinners, opened my eyes to how my research, in its own small way, contributed to the wider field of research as well as made me acutely aware of its limitations. There were arguments or avenues of discussion I had unintentionally neglected in my PhD, which I may not have unearthed without the Think Tank experience.

Equally importantly, the Think Tank enabled me to listen to a wide range to topics from a number of countries, broadening my scope of interest. For example, the use of social media tools for data collection is something I had not previously considered and some presentations demonstratively this method with impressive implications for their respective research. I realized that when I embarked on the PhD, my field of interest had become extremely narrow. An opportunity to listen to others on topics ranging from water quality in protected areas to climate change and tourism demonstrated the diversity of interests on offer. Beyond the specific research interests, it was useful to understand more about the profession of academia, opportunities available to emerging researchers as well as the evolving research agenda. The periods in between the formal workshop events were just as important to elaborate on previous discussions and connect with other professionals.

Finally, I was kindly asked to present a paper I had co-authored with Dr Anna Spenceley, on local economic linkages to tourism in Botswana, which was recorded for teaching materials. Again, this was a new experience and hopefully of some use to students in the future. This paper was awarded the Outstanding Paper Award and I am extremely grateful to the review committee for this accolade. As I am sure the vast majority of PhD students experience, you never really know if your research ‘contributes’ to the knowledge base, so I really appreciate the vote of confidence from the Think Tank. Overall the Think Tank was a great opportunity that I would not have been able to experience without the bursary, so I am extremely grateful and encourage others to also apply for this in the future.

Finally, the next BEST EN conference on "Marketing of sustainable tourism products" will be held 19-22 June 2018, Lucerne (Switzerland), hosted by The Institute of Tourism, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences. See for more information.