CAUTHE 2017: Time for a bridge to industry

With more than 250 tourism academics in Dunedin for CAUTHE, the Ticker’s Bridget O’Connell gauges the state of research into one of the world’s booming industries.

Bridget O’Connell

This year’s Council for Australasian Tourism and Hospitality Education (CAUTHE) conference in Dunedin was both inspiring and worrying in equal measure.

Inspiring for the vast opening keynote speech by Professor Pauline Sheldon that called for a shift of focus to the greater good in an era of new realities, new norms and new shocks.

It was also heartening to learn of successful sustainable tourism projects or prospering companies built around alternative socio-economic structures such as the generosity economy.

And it was moving to hear of future applications of virtual reality that could see seriously ill patients being soothed via a virtual scuba dive at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

But there were worrying moments too.

Hearing about the rise of casino-capitalism through the development of integrated resorts in Asia Pacific in Thursday’s thought-provoking keynote delivered by Professor Brian King was one of those moments.

Describing himself as the villain to Sheldon’s hero, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University academic did not shy away from an analysis of how geopolitics, corporate interests and super-profits are interacting with the industry.

Separately, consideration of the “dark side” of developments such as big data, the sharing economy, or even virtual reality, which one delegate suggested may lead to the eradication of tourism and travel altogether, was also concerning.

A diverse programme of more than 200 papers within the overarching theme of a ‘Time for big ideas – re-thinking the field for tomorrow’ could not help but be thought-provoking and, at times, paradoxical.

That, I suspect, was the point.

However, what good are all these thoughts, discoveries and learnings if they are not being communicated to those at the frontline of the industry for consideration and, perhaps, even adoption?

It is unrealistic to expect operators to immediately eschew financial imperatives in pursuit of the greater good, but unless the gulf between academia and industry is bridged, many will not even get the chance.

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