go to top pageECOCLUB.com > ECOCLUB Magazine > The Interview

ECOCLUB Interviews are a true who is who of the ecotourism movement

Find the complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here

123 Flash Menu Placeholder.

Graham Miller:"I don't believe that mass tourism can be sustainable, but then I don't believe that any form of tourism can be truly sustainable."

The ECOCLUB Interview with Graham Miller
Senior Lecturer in Management, University of Surrey

Index of Interviews

Graham MillerDr Graham Miller is a Senior Lecturer in Management at the University of Surrey, England, where he teaches issues relating to business ethics, sustainability and the tourism industry. He has a PhD and Masters degree from the University of Surrey, UK and his undergraduate degree from the University of Salford.
Dr Miller’s main research interest is in the forces that enable and prevent the drive towards a more sustainable tourism industry, publishing the first book to address the monitoring of sustainable tourism in 2005. He has just completed a major study for the UK government Department for the Environment on public awareness of sustainable tourism and leisure. Other recent clients have included the European Union, the UK Department of Trade and Industry, the Association of British Insurers, the UK National Audit Office, TUI-AG and Ipsos-Mori.

Dr Miller is also a consultant and qualified accreditation officer for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation and their Tourism Education Quality Programme, while the University of Surrey currently holds the chair of the Education Council of the UNWTO. He is a judge for the World Travel and Tourism Council’s prestigious Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, which seek to establish the tourism company making the greatest contribution to sustainable tourism each year. Graham Miller sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, and is the Tourism editor of the journal Tourism and Hospitality Research. Dr Miller is vice-chair for the Research Ethics Committee of Hammersmith Hospital, and a member of the Faculty of Management Ethics Committee at the University of Surrey.

(The Interview follows:)

ECOCLUB.com: As a UNWTO accreditation officer for tourism education, how satisfied are you with the quality of tourism education around the world? Has tourism attained social science status, or is it still considered a new, soft, option in academic circles? What more needs to be done in that respect?

Graham Miller: Tourism education continues to improve and there are some fantastic examples of innovative programmes delivering good quality education to students around the world. I have seen the subject taught by some of the most enthusiastic people and this has enthused students with a desire to work in the industry and to make a positive contribution to the world. Yet, tourism undoubtedly still suffers from the image of being a purely vocational subject with little academic value. I believe it is the value of tourism research that needs to improve for the subject to gain further recognition amongst its peers. As the standard of research improves and the value of tourism research for government policy is demonstrated, so tourism will be taken more seriously as an academic subject.

ECOCLUB.com: In relation to the UK, which you know best, how satisfied are teachers and students with the content & form of tourism studies. Is it relevant and hands-on or too abstract? Are UK tourism graduates really useful for tourism companies in the UK and overseas, judging from their current employment prospects?

Graham Miller: Increasingly students are becoming focused on questioning the 'worth' of their degree. This can be assessed in a number of ways, but more and more, this is interpreted in terms of whether students can get good jobs quickly after graduation. This makes universities focus more on teaching the kinds of skills industry finds desirable. This presents a challenge to universities to deliver educational programmes that develop key intellectual skills, encourage deep lifelong learning whilst also ensuring students are able to impress an employer with the things they will be able to do. Such a situation also challenges employers to be more ready to engage with universities, to invest and co-operate in order to help produce the kinds of graduates they want. If industry does not co-operate, then the graduates will be less likely to be the kind the industry wants!

ECOCLUB.com: Is remote, on-line training & life-long learning the future for Tourism education, a discipline that after all is very applied and geographically dispersed? If so, what should Universities do so as not to miss the training train?

Graham Miller: Virtual learning has many potential positives for lifelong learning, but it risks missing the essential communication and interactivity of tutorials and seminars. Increasingly, technology can overcome many of these problems to allow remote participants to engage with a seminar. Many universities now offer remote learning versions of their programmes and for short training programmes, the remote learning environments can be very effective. As with many aspects of life, the challenge is to be able to offer the core product in as many formations as the customer finds desirable.

ECOCLUB.com: As an expert on business ethics, what is your position on the relation of academia & business. Is it ok for professors to act as consultants for companies and vice versa? Who should be entrusted to steer (through funding) academic research: the government, the 3rd sector, or the market? All of them, or should universities be self-sustained islands/oases of integrity and ethics, even at the risk of producing abstract/irrelevant research?

Graham Miller: Tough questions! I think that the more co-operation there is between academia and business the better. Universities are often keen to have industry representatives on their boards and as advisors, but there are fewer examples of companies with academic advisors. However, I do not believe that it is the job of academics to provide consultancy services for business, or to provide the answers for industry needs. If industry has a problem, then it needs to find the solution. That might be by working with a university, but it is not the job of a university to provide solutions for business. I see academic research as being equivalent to cat walk fashion designers. This is an odd comparison given the way many academics dress, but when we see the extreme fashion on display in Milan, London and New York we often think how abstract and removed those designs seem from the things we wear in our day to day lives. Yet, undoubtedly, those designs do influence the clothes that are for sale in high street shops, and thus the clothes we wear. In the same way, academics need to feel justified in thinking abstract thoughts that may have no immediate relevance, but which can influence the direction of the industry. If academia becomes too pre-occupied with trying to solve the practical problems of today, it will not be able to look at the big problems facing us tomorrow.

ECOCLUB.com: Also related to business ethics is the issue of Tourism Awards. Beyond the major, quality, award-giving bodies, of which you have first-hand experience, how satisfied are you with their overall level of transparency. Are there perhaps conflicts of interest, with judges awarding former clients / sponsors? To the experienced, cynical even, eye of the academic, how credible are all those awards?

Graham Miller: I have been a judge for the Tourism for Tomorrow awards for the last few years, and believe these awards have credibility because all the finalists are visited by people with vast experience of sustainable tourism. There is a large investment of resources into the process, and the people involved have strong personal reputations. Where the procedures are not as rigorous, then there is cause for concern. PR driven awards have their place in helping to sell magazines and perhaps even encouraging readers to ask a few more questions about the places they travel to, or the companies they travel with. Accreditation is going to be an important area in the near future as sustainable tourism becomes more relevant to us all, but we find ourselves without the time or expertise to assess destinations and companies, so we will need to rely on external verification and accreditation bodies.

ECOCLUB.com: You are editing for various academic tourism journals. What is your evaluation of the current trend for free, electronic, open-access academic journals? Academics are not paid to write these articles, so why should readers pay? Is it a matter of upsetting cherished 'gentleman's agreements' between universities & a few publishing houses which also influence the composition of editorial boards?

Graham Miller: I would love to be paid for the material I write, but I don't see the system changing any time soon. There is a large administrative element to running a journal, and I am not keen to take on that task - hence someone needs to perform that role, and that person needs to be paid! The amount of work just necessitates the readers need to pay in order to keep the business running. There is a movement to make more content free for readers, and many journals now make content freely available after a number of years, but unless someone pays for it initially and it is left to academics to disseminate the material, there is going to be a long delay before publication!!

ECOCLUB.com: The sustainable tourism consultant dilemma: By assisting previously unsustainable mega-resort developments become (or at least look) more sustainable, sustainable tourism consultants become on the one hand part of the solution, and of the other, part of the problem, painting the Trojan horse green so that it can reach the parts it could previously not. There are plenty of examples with 'green' golf developments on arid Mediterranean (is)lands. What is your evaluation?

Graham Miller: The only way in which tourism can be a responsible industry is for mass tourism to become more sustainable. I don't believe that mass tourism can be sustainable, but then I don't believe that any form of tourism can be truly sustainable. The challenge is to do as much as we can and behave as responsibly as possible. Then, we need to hope that this is enough to keep the world turning. If not, then we are going to have to really change our behaviour and start doing different things. If we don't do different things voluntarily, then changes are going to have to be imposed either by legislation or through a market system of pricing certain activities out of our reach. Hence, it is going to be a lot easier to change our behaviour now in favour of more sustainable options.

As consumers, we need to ask more searching questions of the places we visit.  If we are golfers, then we need to recognise that our hobby can have a large impact on the local environment, ask questions about the places we go and try to avoid those courses with the wildest claims. The market will punish those businesses that are least sustainable, but we need more information in order to be able to make the right decision. Journalists have a role to play here in investigating what is actually happening at destinations and exposing those that make the most unfounded claims.

ECOCLUB.com: There is criticism that academics, but also businesses, have a tendency to create niches, so as to monopolise them and excel in them. Does the constant creation of tourism niches obstruct and fragment quality academic discourse and research, or is it a natural path of competition and evolution?

Graham Miller: Tourism is a new subject, so we are exploring all its facets and features. I don't think that anyone really studies golf tourism for example, without seeing the whole picture of tourism as part of leisure. If we look at academic disciplines like medicine and law, researchers will study the most minute aspect of their discipline for their entire careers, so I don't think that the identification of small niche areas of study is a problem for tourism. What is a problem is the relatively small number of tourism researchers and large number of tourism journals means getting published is perhaps too easy now, which has led to the risk of a reduction in quality of papers being published. There are several key journals which have really been at the forefront of attempts to drive up the quality of tourism research, but the increasing numbers of tourism journals is creating a quality problem.

ECOCLUB.com: Especially in the UK, there appears to be a growing hostility against airline companies (and airports), and their role in greenhouse gas emissions. Some feel this is justified (forgetting of course to blame the heavily subsidised aircraft manufacturers oligopoly), others suspect it is a ruse for assisting well-meaning travellers to part with their money through unregulated click and offset schemes. In the light of air disasters and arduous flight connections, it has been argued that instead of being penalised, the world and especially parts thereof like Africa actually needs a network of subsidised, safe air routes, that could support greater tourism & trade. What is your view?

Graham Miller: A very difficult question to answer, and one that I do not have an answer for. Certainly the world benefits from a tourism industry. 80% of the world's poorest 50 countries have tourism as their chief income earner, yet these very same countries are least equipped to deal with the effects of climate change, with aviation as a significant contributor to climate change. I do believe that in the future we will look back on this period of history and be amazed at the amount people travel. I feel an increase in domestic tourism would be a positive development and a re-focusing of our vision on local opportunities. Of course, this would mean many of the poorest countries would be denied a chief source of income, threatening the reasons cultures and environments are preserved at the moment, and this would need to be addressed through development income, although this is not satisfactory. However, the risk of continuing this incredible expansion of aviation seems to be too great.

ECOCLUB.com: Despite all the pro-environment rhetoric most tourism administrations carry on with maximising travellers numbers and revenue, constantly comparing themselves to the Jones's, neighbouring and distant 'competing destinations'. In your teaching and research you have covered many countries. Which of these countries or destinations, has (or have) in your view developed a tourism model that approaches sustainability ideals, and which was its key to success?

Graham Miller: I am impressed by the work Australia and New Zealand are doing at present. They have recognised that in a resource constrained world there could be a lot fewer tourists to their part of the world and so they have to derive as much of the current benefits from tourism as possible from fewer tourists. This will make them assess actually which groups of tourists are most beneficial to the country. Is it the backpackers, the package tourists, the retirees? As ever with necessity, it will be the mother of invention and we will see the best answers emerging from those places with the most pressing need to find the answers.

ECOCLUB.com: You have just completed a major study for public views & perceptions of sustainable tourism and leisure in the UK. So, please tell us, should someone be doing a better job, and who?

Graham Miller: As I said above, we should all be doing a better job. Consumers need to ask more questions, industry needs to find more solutions, governments need to show more leadership and investment in solutions, academia needs to be more creative, NGOs and journalists need to be more investigative and keep the pressure on.

ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much for your time; one last question - you are young, however already very accomplished on many levels. What are your future aspirations? Do you believe politics is the answer for someone who wants to bring about change in Tourism, or can everyone (academics, practitioners, travellers) play a key part?

Graham Miller: I derive huge pleasure from teaching and I also enjoy the investment the university is prepared to make in my development in order to help me to be a better teacher and researcher. This is a privileged position, but I do believe that unless we have people thinking about big problems, then the day to day nature of business means that we are going to miss the really important things. The challenge for academia is to make sure business and government is listening when we do have something important to say. Tourism faces a political challenge in that some bits of government want it to expand in order to develop the economy, others want it to contract to protect the environment, while other bits still want it to shift overseas in order to help with international development. However, this reflects the complexities of life, there are no single or simple answers - and that is what makes my job interesting!
ECOCLUB.com: Thank you very much!

Readers' Views - ECOCLUB welcomes your views.
View all comments View all comments Reader's Views What is your view?

Find the complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here


Copyright © 1999-2008 ECOCLUB S.A. All Rights Reserved. Terms of use
Home Ecolodges News Shop Community Chat Library Events Advertise Join Recommend