ET: I studied the [tourism] industry but I also have work experience working in government and also the private sector in the hospitality industry, including hotels, so that actually gave me the foundation to be able to get a career path in the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, which is in a way the highest authority in the industry per se. It is great to work with some of the policy makers and some of the decision makers, we can see that things are changing and implemented in reality.
The PIE: You’re from South Korea – how did you end up in Spain?
ET: Because that is where the headquarters for the UNWTO are, so I came to work for UNWTO, location didn’t really matter to me. It is funny because I didn’t speak a word of Spanish when I landed there but now I manage.
The PIE: So tell me about your job, what does it involve?
ET: The UN is an intergovernmental organisation, so we have 156 member states, which are the ministries basically, we also have 500 affiliate members, that includes municipal governments, private sector and NGOs, even universities. Within more than 500 affiliate members, there are members that have a research competency, so the Knowledge Network is an exclusive community within the affiliate members programme.
“Students may call that host destination a second home or third home, and that value is very difficult to achieve as just regular visitors”
We can provide tangible research for the topics that we sometimes are required to develop together with the partners and mainly members, including public employer sectors. So basically I am coordinating these members; actually 68% of them are universities or higher education stakeholders.
The PIE: What sort of topics would you investigate?
ET: City tourism is really an interesting topic that many destinations are trying to engage with, but right now many city destinations are looking beyond the city destination per se, they are looking to engage neighbouring destinations. One of the tangible examples is Bilbao. Bilbao is a destination where the tourists pop in, just to see the Guggenheim Museum and they all go to San Sebastien or Barcelona to stay and contribute to the local economy. So some of the emerging destinations are looking beyond attracting the number of tourists but the quality and type of tourists who might stay there.
Also some topics like shopping tourism, gastronomic tourism, sports tourism, wellbeing tourism; there are a number of topics that each research centre specialises in, not one single research centre is equipped with everything. So we are a mediator, we are matching the right partners together to produce good quality and solution-based research so that this research can be applied or replicated in other destinations so they can learn from it.
The PIE: Do you yourself have much interaction with education tourism?
ET: StudentMarketing and also the WYSE Travel Confederation are affiliate members and now we recognise there is huge potential for destinations, it is not only quantitative growth it also can be a qualitative growth of the destinations, that these youngsters, the millennials can contribute.
The PIE: You mentioned [at an ICEF/StudentMarketing forum] there is a realisation at a high leave in tourism of community engagement to ensure tourism brings beneficial growth to a community, tell me more.
ET: I think this is always a very difficult aspect, bringing the local community into the regular communication channel. We found out ourselves a lot that it is not very regular practice for the local authority or the public sector to engage the representatives from the local community from a very early stage of active tourism development.
This type of practice is very effective especially in emerging destinations as well, because sometimes emerging destinations are very much developing countries. Communicating to leaders and local committee representatives and the public authority as well, means they sit together and they discuss their challenges in welcoming more visitors.
“Sometimes this very basic element of engaging local communities is very often omitted or neglected”
Sometimes this very basic element of engaging local communities is very often omitted or neglected, so local residents are not so much in favour of a tourism phenomenon once it becomes very big, then the public authority has to deal with it, that is the wrong order.
The PIE: I am sure education companies and various countries as well have a lot to learn from that strategy in terms of making sure international students are engaged and embedded in communities.
ET: Yes, and we heard from the Melbourne cases [of violence towards Indian students], that once an incident happens they think about how to react, but if you have this scenario already prepared, learning from the other destinations who are already one step advanced is so useful. [Study Melbourne now has action plans in place].
The PIE: Final question, you were an international student yourself, do you believe that international students and tourism are often seen as separate industries when actually they blend into each other?
ET: Exactly, it is a very accurate perspective to begin with because, for example, me as an international student, I don’t think I am a tourist, you don’t consider yourself as a tourist and yet you are an external source of income, both from an economic perspective and also intercultural.
And now I am viewing this from a different side, now I think that really clicks together. International students have much more value than just a regular tourist because they have some sentimental value to destinations, they spend certain key moments of the lives there, they may call that host destination a second home or third home, and that value is very difficult to achieve as just regular visitors.
International students become an ambassador, permanent ambassadors who have a sentimental attachment to their host destination, so I think the impact is much bigger than we actually put in the numbers.