Eco-Tourism was offered during the summer semester for the first time. Mr. Vaz selected this course for business students because it is a hot topic in the tourism industry, and Florida, due to the ample beaches and national parks, is one of the leading states in the country when it comes to ecotours. The longer class periods permitted students to take several field trips over the summer, exploring the state and considering what types of ccotours could be established in different parts of it. The hands on component of this course, coupled with the ability to get out of the classroom and into the outdoors and using their critical thinking skills, made this an excellent class for Beacon College students.
So what exactly is eco-tourism? According to the course textbook, it can be defined as:
Nature based tourism that involves education and interpretation of the natural environment and is managed to be ecologically sustainable. This definition recognizes that “natural environment” includes cultural components and that “ecologically sustainable” involves an appropriate return to the local community and long term conservation of the resource (Allcock, 1994).
The concept of eco-tourism started in Australia and New Zealand, with the desire to protect natural resources and give back to the communities that depend on them. Costa Rica, Belize, Dominica, the Cayman Islands, and parts of the Bahamas are now leaders in this industry. In the United States, Florida is a prime location for Eco tours. There are lots of beaches and national parks, not to mention the Everglades. These types of tours are becoming more popular as people want to experience the natural environment, and they appreciate the fact that locals benefit from, and are often involved with, the tours.
Students explored different areas of Florida throughout May. On one trip, for instance, they visited St. Augustine Beach. Each time, they had to use critical thinking skills to consider what types of ecotours would work well in that particular setting. After the trip, students would write a reflective piece to express their tour ideas. For their final project, the class was split into two groups, with the task of creating a business plan for an ecotour. Using ideas previously generated, a collective decision was made to determine which to pursue for the project. One group used the idea of horseback riding tours on Anna Maria Island. The other decided on a barefoot sailing cruise that would leave from Key Largo and head out to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama. The students first learned about the components of an effective business plan and then used a template provided by Mr. Vaz to guide them and help complete their own. The groups also had to decide on marketing strategies as well as financial and organizational plans. Mr. Vaz was pleased because he was able to see the students’ skills evolve as they went from knowing nothing about establishing a business to actually presenting a finished business plan.
Mr. Vaz says, “Teaching this class was interesting because we got to see what we were talking about in class, and the students got to develop an ecologically friendly business.” Student Alicia Minirth concurs, saying, “I am taking the class because I am always trying to find different ways of doing things that are environmentally friendly. I have already learned a lot by the research that I have done in the class.” Regardless of whether they plan to get involved with eco-tours in the future, students in this course learned to appreciate the beauty and value of nature, and they also honed their business skills that will serve them well no matter which field they end up working in.