Featured Author: Megan Epler Wood

Megan Epler Wood, author of Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet: Environmental, Business and Policy Solutions is Routledge Environment & Sustainability's latest Featured Author. Read our interview to discover more about about her new book and view an excerpt from her book here: Read Excerpt.

"You do not need a PhD to begin work in this field. I sincerely hope others will be inspired to follow up on the many questions this book opens up for more inquiry and publications."

I began my academic work as a field ecologist working in Chile and Colombia, and as a result I have always taken a strong interest in reviewing scientific data on local ecosystems and cultures. My whole career has been dedicated to working in remote natural areas in over 25 countries, first on biodiversity conservation and later on ecotourism.

When I joined the faculty at Harvard Extension in 2010, they invited me to design a course on sustainable tourism, Environmental Management of International Tourism Development, which was a quantum leap into the world of large scale global tourism development. This course structured student research on the environmental impacts of tourism from around the world using only objective data analysis. What the students revealed is that the growing footprint of tourism is causing escalating impacts on fragile ecosystems, human health, and social systems. After 5 years of teaching the course, I proposed to write a book based on these unpublished investigations, as it was evident that there is a vast pool of unreported data on the worldwide biophysical impacts of tourism which indicates that valuable destinations are on the verge of being irreparably harmed.

It took me 3 years to write the book. During this time, I continued the course at Harvard-- which continues to reveal important data on the growth of the tourism which is now 9.8% of the global economy and growing at roughly 4% annually.

The book was laid out to inspire and help develop the talent to do more replicable data analysis on the operations of this industry. To achieve this I concluded that the unique footprint and business model for each subsector of the tourism economy- hotels, tour operators, cruise lines, aviation and airports and destinations-- had to be investigated separately. As a result each chapter of the book looks at these subsectors, and then reviews how data can be measured to lower impacts. 

The tourism industry is one of the most dynamic industries on the planet with a global footprint that is largely unmanaged. While tourism brings wealth and benefits to wide range of residents in economies worldwide, much stronger systems are required to lower escalating impacts on some of the most beautiful landscapes, watersheds, natural, socio-cultural and historical treasures in the world. At present, there are no coordinated research programs to measure the cumulative impacts on these resources. This book hopes to bring the field of tourism to a wider range of academic programs worldwide to integrate tourism studies and research into the larger field of sustainable business and governmental management to alleviate this research and data gap.

Read a short excerpt from Megan’s new book > Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet

This book is written to clarify how tourism industry business models function for each subsector of the industry. Non-specialists often assume that the tourism industry has vertical supply chains which own most of their assets worldwide. This is not the case. The other misconception is that tourism is largely managed by big multinational businesses, and that these businesses are less sustainable than small businesses. In fact, approximately 80% of the industry is small and medium sized businesses, which by and large have been much slower to adopt sustainability measures than big business.

There is a misconception that tourism operates in a manner that allows for certification of product, similar to the effective systems that have evolved to certify coffee, timber and agriculture. This book helps to demonstrate that because tourism is sold as a series of connected experiences through a spider web of increasingly digital marketing agents, it will be nearly impossible to certify products through tourism supply chains. For this reason, this book focuses its readers on managing the impacts of tourism through consistent, quantifiable data management systems with boundaries that include the life support systems of local people, such as water and the proper management of solid waste and waste water.

My book is an introduction to using science based management principles for the environmental management of tourism worldwide. It is not an advanced text for specialists. The methods for collecting data and analyzing data can easily be taught to students, professionals and members of local government. Some of my favorite topics are questions of how airports and cruise ports can be managed more sustainably, and how destinations can develop locally based systems for measuring impacts on local watersheds, which are increasingly threatened by climate change and lack of enlightened management of vital irreplaceable fresh water resources. Global professionals and students could easily begin to undertake research and work locally to follow through with simple systems to introduce more efficiencies. You do not need a PhD to begin work in this field. I sincerely hope others will be inspired to follow up on the many questions this book opens up for more inquiry and publications.

In terms of new projects, I just completed my first course at Harvard Extension on Ecotourism and Sustainable Development, which investigates distinct regional approaches to ecotourism and sustainable development in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. My first batch of students wrote inspiring business plans for Turkey, Kenya, Iceland, Florida, Bosnia Herzegovina, the Philippines and Bali, Indonesia. I was very interested in helping them to develop these plans, and we have also begun creating case studies on existing ecotourism businesses.

Next year I will collaborate with Jim Austin, the Eliot I. Snider and Family Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus and Co-Founder Social Enterprise Initiative at Harvard Business School (HBS) to do a HBS case study on the business Wilderness Safaris. I see this as the beginning of an important process to bring cutting edge business school research and teaching techniques to train the ecotourism entrepreneurs of the future. I think a book will come out of this. But I am in no hurry right now! 

A new book by Megan Epler Wood

  • Sustainable Tourism on a Finite Planet

    Environmental, Business and Policy Solutions, 1st Edition

    By Megan Epler Wood

    This book helps all those involved in international tourism develop the new skills, tools and investments required to protect irreplaceable global resources from the impacts of escalating tourism demand over the next 50 years. It documents how technology and the growing global middle class are…

    Paperback – 2017-01-23

Megan Epler Wood

About the Author

Megan Epler Wood founded and led The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) from 1990 to 2002. She is the Director of the International Sustainable Tourism Initiative at the Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, an instructor of online courses in sustainable tourism at Harvard Extension’s Graduate School of Sustainability, and a Senior Project Associate at the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. Her consulting practice EplerWood International fosters sustainable tourism development in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

More from Megan Epler Wood

Why Don’t We Ever Discuss the Carbon Impacts of Flying? Click here to read the full article

The Decision in Montreal – Can Tourism Be Sustainable? Click here to read the full article