By David W. Knight
For Colorado State University(CSU) Assistant Professor David Knight, Ph.D., a recent, four-day visit with 20 Master of Tourism Management (MTM) students to China’s picturesque southern city of Guilin might be summed up in a single word: exposure.
During the 12th annual international tourism forum in Guilin – hosted by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), Hong Kong Polytechnic Institute, and Guilin Tourism Office – Knight and CSU students were exposed to new trends in tourism, to exquisite foods and other-worldly riverscapes, and to substantial networking opportunities with global leaders in tourism business, education, and planning.
Such a trip to Guilin on other side of the world would be exceedingly difficult to make for traditional students based at CSU in Fort Collins. However, these are not traditional students. They are members of a first-of-its-kind graduate program in which Chinese students can earn a MTM degree entirely in Chinese, and without leaving China. The groundbreaking “MTM-China” program, housed under CSU’s Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources (HDNR), is currently in its third year and offered in partnership with Central China Normal University (CCNU), located in Wuhan, China. Gong Jian, Ph.D., a tourism professor from CCNU, helped lead the trip, as well.
This recent excursion marks the third time MTM-China students have had the opportunity to attend the UNWTO / PATA forum in Guilin. Previous trips were led by HDNR Assistant Professor Lina Xiong, Ph.D., providing students with similarly meaningful opportunities for travel, networking, and experiential learning.
Between October 25-27, 2018, the forum took place on the banks of the Li River at Guilin’s five-star Shangri-La Resort. While the group from CSU paid for their own lodging and transportation to/from the site, the conference fees, meals, shows, and tours were covered by the forum hosts (e.g., the Guilin Tourism Office).
Global tourism leaders – referred to in Chinese as “da lao ban”, or big bosses – presented during the first two days of the conference. These included talks by the Executive Director of the UNWTO, by futurologist Dr. Ian Yeoman of New Zealand, by 82-yr old Berkeley Anthropologist Nelson Graburn (who has studied Chinese ethnic tourism for 30 years), and many others. Knight was particularly drawn to a talk on women’s leadership / empowerment by his good friend and CSU graduate, Charitha Abeyratne, who described the severe gender inequality she has overcome in Sri Lanka to open, improve, and expand her international award-winning Saraii Village Ecolodge.
The third and final day of the forum involved a four-hour Li River tour through karst mountains – an image of beauty that many of us envision when thinking of the Chinese countryside (an image also found on the back of the 20-yuan note). On the cruise, the idea of exposure again came to the fore, as Knight was encouraged to bring his bald head below decks and out of the sun for a brief interview. A english captioned version of the news interview will be published shortly (link added here).
The fantastic river cruise was only topped, perhaps, by student commentary before the start of a music and water show later that night. As the CSU cohort sat down in a giant outdoor theater between the mountains, along the river’s edge, several MTM-China students pointed up into the sky and shouted simultaneously with delight, “Xing xing!” (“Stars, stars!”).
Coming from cities with varying degrees of light and air pollution, students were undoubtedly getting something out of the trip – in addition to extensive learning and networking opportunities – that Knight and others at CSU in Fort Collins may not have expected: exposure indeed.
Plans are justifiably in place for MTM-China faculty and students to continue attending the conference in the coming years.
Knight is a faculty member in the Warner College of Natural Resources, helps direct MTM-China, and teaches tourism courses for the MTM program on campus and online.