Beginning the Academic Journey
Degrees in mathematics and economics were foundational to my academic career. Choosing tourism as a field of study to which to apply quantitative modelling and data skills, opened up a vast research area for me. I began with a dissertation studying the phenomenon of package tours from an economic perspective. I used mode choice modelling to explore the factors affecting the demand for package tours (Sheldon & Mak, 1987) and used industrial analysis frameworks to learn more about the supply side of tour packaging (Sheldon, 1986). Continuing with demand choice modelling I went on to study mode choice in other types of travel such as incentive travel (Sheldon, 1994; 1995). I also did some forecasting of tourism expenditures and arrivals using economic models (Sheldon & Var, 1985; Sheldon, 1993).
When I was still living in the UK before doing my doctoral work, I read a book called Tourism: Blessing or Blight (Young, 1973). This book influenced me greatly and sowed the seeds of many questions about tourism’s role in society. As I was exercising my tourism economic muscles, I was acutely aware of the inadequacy of economic models alone to understand the complex phenomenon of tourism. I embarked on some studies of resident perceptions of tourism in North Wales (Sheldon, 1984) and Hawai’i (Liu, Sheldon & Var, 1987; Sheldon & Abenoja, 2001) and found this more satisfying than economic modelling. This was the beginning of broadening my scope of research.
At the Beginning of Information Technology and Tourism
As I started my teaching career, information technology (IT) was starting to shake up the tourism industry. I had studied management information systems as a minor in my PhD program, so my Dean asked me to develop our curriculum in this area. I did not know enough to teach so I started to research IT’s impact on all sectors of our industry. There was almost nothing written at the time, so I did studies on how IT was affecting hotels (Sheldon, 1983a), how computer reservation systems were changing travel distribution channels (Sheldon 1993b), and how IT was changing the nature of the industry itself (Var, Liu, Sheldon & Boberg, 1986). This work equipped me to design and teach the curriculum in this rapidly changing field. The next step was to write the textbook (Sheldon, 1997) which mapped out the applications and impact of IT on different sectors of tourism. The book has been published in three editions over twenty years. In recent editions I invited younger, more technically savvy co-authors to work with me (Benckendorff, Sheldon & Fesenmaier, 2014; Benckendorff, Xiang & Sheldon, 2019).
Governments were starting to use IT and customer and product databases to manage their destinations. Much of the progressive work was being done in Europe, so during my sabbatical in 2001, I visited about eight European countries and interviewed destination management organizations at different levels (regional, state and local). What I found was fascinating and was published in a series of papers on the various models of Destination Information Systems (DIS) and the challenges to their design and implementation (Sheldon, 1993b; Chen & Sheldon, 1997). Related topics of data-mining in tourism (Olmeda & Sheldon, 2002) and industrial mapping of tourism Information technologies (Tremblay & Sheldon, 2000) followed.
By the 2000’s, information systems had started to mature into knowledge management systems, offering the potential for destinations to become more intelligent. I explored how knowledge management systems could support destinations to become learning destinations (Cooper & Sheldon, 2010) and how they could contribute to disaster management in destinations (Sheldon & Mistilis, 2006). Mobile technologies and social media were starting to radically change tourism at this time. Working with graduate students we forecasted the use of mobile technology in Japanese tourism using the Delphi method (Katsura & Sheldon, 2008), and also researched the acceptance of technology of travel websites such as Lonely Planet (Luo, Remus, & Sheldon, 2007).
Before leaving IT and tourism to younger scholars, I explored some of the overlaps of IT with my other interest areas. One overlap was information technology and economics (Sheldon, 2006) and another was information technology’s contributions to biodiversity in Hawai’i tourism (Sheldon, 2002). A contribution that I am particularly proud of in the technology field was the creation (with Jafar Jafari) of TRINET (Tourism Research Information Network). This network, which we founded in 1988, now electronically links about 4,000 international tourism researchers and is the most important platform for information sharing and debate on topics related to tourism research and education (Sheldon, 2022b). It was now time for me to leave behind my second technical approach to tourism research.
Time to Awaken to Sustainability and Beyond
As my interest in the economics and IT research waned, I became fascinated by what I called the ‘awakening of tourism’. My acceptance speech for the UNWTO Ulysses Award in Madrid, Spain in 2008 explored this concept. ‘Awakening’ to me meant changing the value system upon which tourism was based. It meant raising the consciousness of all stakeholders and furthering the agenda for a more regenerative tourism. The incorporation of more holistic themes such as wellness and quality of life for residents, tourists and destinations attracted my attention. My first study in sustainability examined the issues and challenges to sustainable growth in the Hawaiian Islands (Sheldon, Knox & Lowry, 2005). About that time, I connected with BESTEN (Building Excellence in Sustainable Tourism Education Network) which I chaired for a few years after hosting the second annual conference in Hawai’i (www.besteducationnetwork.org). This network of like-minded scholars delved deeply into all aspects of sustainable tourism education. We developed quality curriculum modules and other resources for tourism educators around the world interested in including sustainability in their courses.
The concept of personal wholeness and wellness had fascinated me since I was 19 years old. So, I decided it was time to explore its application to tourism. My first publication in this area was a co-edited book entitled Wellness Tourism: Mind, Body, Spirit, Place (Bushell & Sheldon, 2009) which examined models for incorporating wellness into destination design. A study that identified important attributes in the development of a wellness destination followed (Sheldon & Park, 2009). My personal interest in wellness continued and matured and I will re-visit it at the end of this chapter.
The 2009 BESTEN annual conference focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a component of sustainable tourism. I had always felt that corporate practices based on financial greed were the root cause of many destinations’ problems. Larry Dwyer and I co-edited a special issue of Tourism Review International on tourism and CSR. I also studied the status of CSR in the US tourism sector (Sheldon & Park, 2010) finding that much CSR activity in tourism was token at best and new models were needed. Social entrepreneurship (SE) emerged as an alternative, more regenerative private sector model for destinations. Meeting Roberto Daniele at TEFI in Milan sparked my interest to work more in this area. To me, SE was a critical component of a more awakened tourism. Roberto and I co-edited a book on Social Entrepreneurship and Tourism: Principles, Practices and Philosophies delving into its principles and including international case examples (Sheldon & Daniele, 2017).
I have lived on islands for most of my life and have been intrigued by their different cultures and rhythms of life. They are excellent test-beds for understanding and applying the theories and practices of awakening or regeneration. After spending a semester teaching in Mallorca, Spain, I was intrigued by how differently the Balearic Islands and the Hawaiian Islands had developed as tourism destinations. In a collaboration with Esteban Bardolet, we analyzed and compared tourism development in the two archipelagos and found that zoning and regulation had contributed significantly to their different development profiles (Bardolet & Sheldon, 2009).
What is Tourism Academia and Education all About Anyway?
All through my career, while studying the topics above, an intrigue for tourism as a field of study simmered. I wanted to know how it fit into the larger academic world. Tourism studies, located in different units on university campuses, offer different employment conditions to faculty. Research projects to investigate these differences showed that in particular, hiring and promotion standards and salaries differed between the social sciences and business schools (Sheldon & Collison, 1990; Sheldon, 1990; Collison & Sheldon, 1991). This research was extended to investigate the research environment for tourism academics with a study on journal usage in tourism and hospitality and an authorship analysis of tourism research (Sheldon, 1991). My interest in tourism education also resulted in a collaboration with UNWTO to explore its role in international destination success (Sheldon, 2004).
In 2006, during a dinner at the TTRA Conference in Dublin, Ireland, I had a seminal conversation with Daniel Fesenmaier about the future of tourism education. Fundamental socio-economic changes were occurring in the world, and we agreed that tourism education was not addressing them. A new approach to tourism education was needed – one that would create future leaders to transform tourism in response to these seismic world changes. From that conversation Dan and I created the Tourism Education Futures Initiative (TEFI) with the vision of restructuring tourism education for the future (www.tourismeducationfutures.org). Publications describing our efforts to activate change based on TEFI’s framework and values followed (Prebezac, Schott & Sheldon, 2013; Sheldon, Fesenmaier, Woeber, Cooper & Antonioli, 2008), and annual special issues of Journal of Teaching in Travel and Tourism tracked the work of TEFI. This work built a framework for tourism education to prepare students to be change agents for the future rather than cogs in a wheel. I am proud of this initiative because it stimulated much needed change in tourism education, and provided a sense of community and strength for educators who separately had similar goals. TEFI goes from strength to strength with new leadership.
Maturation and Fulfillment
Even after my retirement in 2010 I remain curious about tourism and continue to write. But now I feel freer to work on more holistic topics closer to my heart. I have spent the last years reading and thinking about the transformation of consciousness and transformation of tourism and society. I notice that tourism is not engaging with this progressive thinking in other disciplines. In my last two publications, I have tried to weave some of these ideas into tourism. One article considers what is needed to design tourism for inner transformation (Sheldon, 2020). It provides a framework of tourism scenarios that can change the consciousness of the individual. In the second paper I gingerly return to economics and challenge the neoliberal economic structures and assumptions upon which much of tourism has been based. The paper proposes new economic structures for tourism such as regenerative tourism, the gift economy, the economy of creativity, the circular economy, and the sacred economy (Sheldon, 2021; Sheldon, 2022a).
My next project is co-editing (with Irena Ateljevic) a special issue of Journal of Tourism Futures on the topic of ‘Transformation and Regenerative Futures for Tourism’. This feels like the perfect next step in my career – weaving together my passion for personal transformation with the future of tourism. If I have moved the needle just a fraction towards a more equitable and regenerative future for the world through tourism, I will feel very satisfied. May you find equal or greater satisfaction in your exploration of our complex field.
Written by Pauline Sheldon, University of Hawaii
Read Pauline’s letter to future generations of tourism researchers
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