Ecotourism certificate to be offered at the University

The certificate will require study abroad experience and 400 hours of interning.

by Anna Ewart

Environmental tourism has an increasing presence, and now University students can be better-equipped for work in the budding industry.

The International Ecotourism Society has given the University permission to offer the University Consortium Field Certificate, a program aimed at preparing students for work in the sustainable tourism industry.

Ingrid Schneider, director of the University Tourism Center, said the certificate is a meaningful addition.

“Now, we are able to provide an endorsement that is industry-wide and academically recognized,” she said.

The program is available at a number of universities across the nation, but last month the University became the first in the Midwest to receive the certificate.

The International Ecotourism Society requires students to study abroad, complete 400 hours at an ecotourism-related internship, and take courses related to sustainable tourism.

Most of the certificate’s required coursework is already available through the University’s Recreation and Resource Management Program in the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, Schneider said.

The international component of the program could also foster new study abroad opportunities, and Schneider said students will be able to take part in programs offered through other participating universities, which include California Polytechnic State University, North Carolina State University, the University of Florida, Pennsylvania State University and West Virginia University

Cassandra Palmer said she’ll receive the certificate as part of her University major in resource-based tourism. Although she won’t complete her degree until 2009, she said she has already completed the study abroad requirement through a month-long service-learning trip in Thailand, where she witnessed real-life ecotourism. There, she built hiking trails in an indigenous Karen community. Some people in that Karen community allow visitors to stay in their homes and experience their way of life.

“It’s considered ecotourism because there’s a huge nature component to it, but what they called it actually was community-based ecotourism,” Palmer said, adding that any kind of travel to a natural area with an educational component can be considered ecotourism.

But, she said, ecotourism can be many types of tourism.

“I think the bigger issue is the sustainability,” she said.

Palmer, however, is unsure where she will do her internship.

John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota, Minnesota’s state tourism promotion office, said he hopes University students will be able to intern at his organization, which is putting together a “travel green” program.

The tourism industry is an extremely large part of Minnesota’s economy, and people are increasingly interested in sustainable tourism, Erdman said.

“There’s ecotourism, there’s sustainable tourism, there’s green tourism,” Edman said. “They all kind of mean the same things.”