Course description

Travel and tourism (T&T) was growing at pace and scale before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the T&T sector contributed 10.3 percent to global gross domestic product (GDP), over US $8.9 trillion, supporting one in ten jobs (330 million) worldwide, and one in five new jobs over the last five years, with 3.5 percent growth in 2019 compared to the global economy at 2.5 percent. The sector had seen six decades of consistent growth, with tourism outpacing the United Nations (UN) growth projections over the period 2010-2019 and 45 percent of international travel arrivals to emerging economies in 2017. Late 2019 forecasts predicted that these trends would continue, with tourism arrivals forecast to grow 3-4 percent globally in 2020, despite a number of expected economic, political, and health disruptions. For many countries, T&T is the dominant sector generating income, tax revenues, and economic security for millions of individuals and their families. The health and economic crises of the pandemic threw the disruptive forces acting on T&T into sharp relief, drawing attention to the interconnected and hyper-dependent nature of sustainability, health, and business. It is clear that the negative impacts of T&T on people and the planet cannot continue as the sector recovers and seeks to build back better. This means that sustainability needs to be positioned as a strategic driver within the industry. Indeed, this global sector has enormous potential to drive fulfilment of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs). The unique interdependency of T&T with many other sectors, such as energy, transportation, buildings, and food systems create challenges and opportunities for advancing sustainability systemically. This course presents innovative case studies and expert speakers from the sector and challenges students to surface the tensions and dilemmas inherent in driving growth and recognize the technical, economic, and political dimension in scaling sustainability solutions. It widens the view of sustainability beyond immediate operational impacts to consider the broader systems in which T&T operates, and the sustainability leadership practices that drive innovation. It pays attention to the trade-offs and dilemmas presented by T&T activities and the enormous potential of the sector to educate the traveler and drive conservation. This course encourages student to re-imagine the sector and pursue more sustainable T&T, focused on attenuating its negative impacts and advancing the contribution T&T makes to global citizenship and a more balanced economy and equitable society. For complete and current details about this Harvard Extension course, see the description in the DCE Course Search.


Research Scholar, Responsible Tourism Research Project, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

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