Ben Veenstra is a lecturer at NHTV and teaches in the International Tourism bachelor programmes as well as the Master in Tourism Destination Management. This is his perspective on the 2010 ITMC fieldwork to Australia.
Being invited to join the 2010 fieldtrip to Australia, I really had the feeling going “down under”. After 1,5 years of lecturing different topics at ITMC, the concept of a field-trip for 2nd grade students was still something “from hear say”. And despite having traveled to several parts of the globe, Australia was still a blind spot on my personal road-map.
So there I was, in Aussie Country, after a short stop of 2 days in Singapore, assessing presentations of TDM Master students. Leaving the sweaty heat in Singapore behind and welcoming the cool evening breeze, I was picked up at Brisbane airport. Heading for Noosa Heads, headquarters of the ITMC staff, a 2 hrs drive up North. The staff resided in Wolngarin Holiday Resort, a family friendly, small scale resort, run by an enthusiastic British immigrant, Jim. Here I found myself welcomed by my colleagues with a refreshing cold Mexican … beer, funny anecdotes and a serious briefing about the field work. Building up the right mood to get started.
After a relaxing Sunday, discovering the green back-yard of the Sunshine Coast and enjoying a fantastic BBQ at the Wolngarin swimming-pool, field-work was about to begin for me. In rotating shifts, traveling with different colleagues, we visited a variety of areas with inviting names like Rainbow Beach, Maloolooba and Maroochydore. It was great to see the difference in areas, accommodations, composition of the groups, the group-cooperation and the approach of the research-problem. I was pleasantly surprised about the professional attitude of the students, eager to learn something about the dynamics of the destination, working together with fellow-students with perhaps different motivations, but ultimately with similar goals. In a part of Australia where the tourism product is not focused on young people and where prices are above student-budget.
Using the theoretical knowledge gained in the last 1 or 2 years, students discovered that even in a small research area a lot of things take place in terms of investments, (land)ownership, power, property-development, marketing, targeting markets, stakeholder-involvement and so on. The first step was to collect information by desk- and field research, interviewing locals, hotel-managers, destination-managers, airport-staff, restaurant-owners, local government and tourists. Structuring and analyzing this overload of information students gained insight in “what’s going on” in the destination: what are the (inter)relations, who’s in control, what is the role of government, how does the industry cooperate and so on. Resulting in a destination report to be finalized and presented back in Breda.
I strongly believe that the concept of the ITMC field-trip is an effective way to challenge students to put their theoretical knowledge into practice. To teach them to look at a destination through the eyes of a professional researcher instead of those of a tourist. A very valuable experience in my opinion, adding professional skills and knowledge, both necessary to become a successful manager in the tourism industry in the nearby future, in whatever discipline. Being a lecturer and consultant in destination marketing myself, I can say that experiences like this are priceless.
Finally, my visit Down Under also brought some remarkable experiences. Koala’s spend their days hallucinating in tree-tops and can only be found with the help of a park-ranger. Kangaroos can not be found on every corner of the street, however visit a University and you’ll find many. Aboriginal – “traditional” – products are everywhere, Aboriginal people are not. Aussies are friendly and polite, how come that their kids are the opposite after drinking a “few” pints? Last but not least, let’s adopt some of the laid-back life-style of the Aussies, it might improve our own quality of life.