What inspired you to study tourism and in particular heritage tourism?
While I was undertaking my undergraduate studies, I had an opportunity to become the co-owner of a travel agency, so I changed my major from linguistics and international relations to geography, which is where the tourism degree was situated at my undergraduate institution. The business deal fell through, thankfully, but I ended up being devoted to geography and in particular to the geography of tourism. As I began learning about the world of tourism and its many perspectives and manifestations, I became more interested in furthering my education to understand the phenomenon of tourism. I completed a master’s degree in political/cultural geography at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, and then completed a PhD in the geography of tourism at the University of Waterloo, Canada. I was blessed to work with great mentors like Lloyd Hudman, Richard Butler and Geoff Wall during my undergraduate and graduate years. How could one not be interested in tourism research with these remarkable mentors? As for heritage, since I was a small child I have always been interested in archaeological sites and historic places, and the events and people that accompanied them. It is a truly deep passion for me, not just a job, but a lifelong, serious endeavour. Naturally I gravitated to this subfield within tourism studies, and it has been extremely satisfying.
What makes your book different from others that have been published before?
It provides the most comprehensive overview of cultural heritage and tourism heretofore published and is a state of the art assessment of the field. It focuses on the social science aspects of heritage tourism but also delves into many of the management issues and how these can be dealt with to make heritage places more sustainable and the tourism that revolves around them more destination-friendly. Also unique is the book’s second half, which examines various subtypes of cultural/heritage tourism in greater detail and relates each one’s characteristics and concerns back to the important concepts of sustainability, authenticity, identity, dissonance, interpretation, conflict, and the like.
Which researchers in your field do you particularly admire?
As I mentioned earlier, I have great admiration for Lloyd Hudman (who passed away in 2009), Dick Butler and Geoff Wall. Professor Hudman wrote a couple of pioneering textbook during the 1970s and 80s that were widely used in tourism courses as the field was just beginning to grow. He was a wonderful undergraduate advisor, who gave me a taste of the good life in the tourism academy. I took courses from Professor Butler at the University of Western Ontario, and it was he who really helped me develop a fascination with scholarly research in tourism. Professor Wall was an amazing PhD supervisor, who provided a lot of insight, encouragement and constructive criticism, and also pointed me in the right direction as a researcher. Identifying others is hard, because there are so many excellent tourism researchers, but in my work on cultural heritage I have developed a particular fondness for the writings of Valene Smith, Mike Hall, Stephen Page, David Lowenthal, Greg Ashworth, Brian Graham, Erik Cohen, Richard Prentice, Myriam Jansen-Verbeke, Alan Fyall, Brian Garrod, Graham Dann, Anna Leask, David Herbert, Dean MacCannell, Gianna Moscardo, Alison McIntosh, Bob McKercher, Greg Richards, Tony Seaton, Hilary du Cros, Myra Shackley, John Tunbridge, Melanie Smith, Deepak Chhabra, Joan Henderson, David Airey, and Yaniv Poria. I admire the work of so many brilliant scholars, so it is very hard to narrow this one down.
As a tourism academic you must get to travel to some exotic locations. Where is the most unusual place you have travelled to for work?
I think it’s a toss-up between Greenland and Bhutan. While these are two very different places, they are both extremely unique and fascinating. I have been privileged to have visited more than 120 countries, and I hope to visit many more in the years ahead. Every place has a unique heritage, and I am prone to be interested in the details of every individual place’s past and present. That’s what makes travelling most interesting for me.
What do you think you might have done if you hadn’t pursued a career in academia?
I would probably be in government. I had always wanted to work in the Foreign Service for the US government as some sort of diplomat. I’m glad to have become an academic, however.
And finally, what is your next research project?
Just one? I never have just one, so here’s a more long-winded answer. Presently, I am co-writing two books (and developing three more), which should be published in 2012 by Channel View Publications, one on tourism trails and the other on Christian travel. I also have several ongoing and near-future research projects. First is an examination of divided cities throughout the world to address the dynamics of cross-border management of cultural resources in cities that are partitioned by international borders. The second project looks at borders as a form of geopolitical heritage and the meanings of this designation. Third is a series of surveys in Israel and Palestine with colleagues there to assess the meanings and adaptations of Christian souvenirs and Christian tourism in the Holy Land. Fourth is an exciting new project in six countries of Central America looking at several tourism phenomena, including Mayan culture, intra-regional migration, borderlands shopping and trade, and cross-border cooperation in planning and development. The fifth project, which is in its initial stages of development, examines the role of slave heritage and sugar culture in the Caribbean. Finally, I am finalizing a project that looks at the relationships between religious tourists and destination residents in Nepal and India.