Department of Recreation, Parks & Tourism Hosts Sustainable Tourism Conference

Wednesday, September 04, 2019
Photo: Oracle Park

BEST EN Think Tank XIX delegates tour San Francisco's Oracle Park and learn about the sustainability practices at the park.


San Francisco State University’s Department of Recreation, Parks & Tourism (RPT) hosted the 19th annual Building Excellence in Sustainable Tourism Education Network (BEST EN) Think Tank in San Francisco June 30 through July 3. Think Tank XIX showcased San Francisco, with its varied and extensive sustainability practices, and spotlighted SF State to an international audience.

BEST EN is an inclusive and collaborative network, focusing on the creation and dissemination of knowledge to support education and practice in the field of sustainable tourism. Through research presentations, keynote speakers and interactive workshops, participants engage with the annual Think Tank theme, which seeks to provide vision and cutting-edge insight to the topic at hand. This year’s theme was “Creating Sustainable Tourist Experiences.”

Delegates came from 17 countries across six continents, representing 21 academic institutions, governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as the tourism industry. The event began with a welcome reception at the California Academy of Sciences where John Elia, associate dean of the College of Health & Social Sciences, greeted the delegates.

Keynote speakers note importance of collaboration between industry and academia

Photo: SpeakersGyan Nyaupane, Kimberly Daley, Christina Beckmann & Paige VirenThe three-day program included two impactful keynotes bridging the gap between industry professionals and academic research. Christina Beckmann, senior director of strategy and impact for the Adventure Travel Trade Association, and President & CEO of MT Sobek Kimberly Daley shared valuable insight from the industry perspective.

Daley found her experience illuminating and noted the many opportunities for cross-collaboration between industry and the academic community. She also highlighted the good that the Think Tank has done for her own thinking about research.

“Due to this Think Tank, I am now more committed to greater collaboration involving researchers across the globe, working alongside BEST EN academics to bring their deep knowledge into practice by my company and many others, Daly said. “It’s our duty as travel companies to be stewards of the land and cultures we visit, as well as educators and leaders that sustainable tourist experiences must be taken back home and implemented in people’s daily lives if we are to make a difference in sustaining our planet and cultures for generations to come.”

Beckmann too observed the usefulness of the Think Tank for bridging the gap between industry and the academic community. “Hearing how academics view the challenges we're tackling from the business side is so useful, I am always surprised by what turns up,” she said. “This year's theme, Creating Sustainable Tourist Experiences, was especially relevant for me, coming from an association that represents tour operators trying to do just that all around the world. The wisdom and ideas from the global Think Tank community was very inspiring."

Pictured above (left to right): Gyan Nyaupane, professor, Arizona State University; Kimberly Daley, president of MT Sobek; Christina Beckmann, senior director, Strategy and Impact; and Paige Viren, assistant professor, SF State, and Think Tank XIX planning chair

Delegates learn strategies for sustainable tourism

The Think Tank utilizes workshop techniques to provide an opportunity for participants to highlight and explore aspects of the theme and to identify content areas and learning outcomes that can be used by educators in sustainable tourism. These workshops also provide an opportunity to identify topics and areas that require further research. The key outcomes of these workshops therefore include curriculum outlines and research agendas and opportunities to collaborate with and educate tourism stakeholders.

Tamara Smith, a member of Australia’s Parliament in New South Wales, attended the Think Tank noting the need to understand how to manage tourism in a sustainable fashion. Smith said, “More than a million people a year flock to our region to surf and dive, fish, walk and swim our beautiful beaches. They come to escape the hurly-burly of fast-paced lives, soak up the beauty of the hills and rivers, and immerse themselves in the art, music and culture of the region.” An interest in strategies for creating sustainable experiences at home was her reason for joining.

Destination Marketing Manager Neha Shah said, “The Think Tank experience in San Francisco offered an intensive and extensive view of sustainability in tourism best practices. The engaging conversations among diverse stakeholders from academia, industry, and government are only the beginning of further work and a broader perspective.”

The diverse venues heightened the conference for attendees. Shah commented, “The manner in which the Think Tank is structured, with a hybrid of sessions, posters and think tank activities gave much consideration to future research and outcomes. I appreciated the opportunity immensely.”

Tour features Oracle Park's environmental sustainability measures

In partnership with San Francisco Travel Association, delegates toured the bustling South Beach neighborhood, viewing practical sustainability in the tourism industry and engaging with the topics discussed and developed during the Think Tank. The adventure included guided tours, featuring San Francisco’s Oracle Park.

Pavlína Látková, SF State associate professor of RPT and Think Tank Planning Committee co-chair, said, “The city is proud of San Francisco Giants’ commitment to environmental stewardship. The Oracle Park’s ‘Green Initiative’ includes implementation of power and water conservation measures, recycling and composting waste (including tons and tons of peanut shells), and operation of a garden with aeroponic towers which use up to 95 percent less water than traditional farming. No wonder the San Francisco Giants have won their tenth Green Glove award in 2018!”

At the end of the tour, a reception was held at Spark Social, an urban gathering space in Mission Bay.

Assistant Professor of RPT Paige P. Viren, a member of the BEST EN Executive Committee, was thankful for the support and involvement of the many people involved in making the event an overwhelming success.