Understanding and implementing the balance between sustainability, ethics and community-based ecotourism Faculty Spark - View, reflect and apply

Last updated on 09/10/2019

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This field trip to India enabled participants to develop a greater understanding of sustainability and ethics in community-based ecotourism. The tour presented an upfront view of challenges faced by tour operators.


The Griffith Business School (GBS) prides itself on its values of:

  • Responsible leadership
  • Sustainable business practices
  • Respect for others
  • Global orientation

Yet we know that teaching sustainability and the practice and ethics of sustainability can be a challenge in an applied business context

A good analogy is juggling with 3 balls - where each ball represents one pillar of sustainability.

Unless you have some coordination skills AND you practice AND you focus, you are going to drop at least one of the balls.


This was a New Columbo Plan (NCP) funded course, where 11 students went to Northern India for 3 weeks to study community-based ecotourism. NCP funding means covering both tourism related course content and aiming to get young Australians more familiar with business practices in Asia.

The idea behind the course was to develop the values that GBS has around responsible leadership, making a change in society, going global, respecting others - these are all admirable values which align with many of the Griffith Graduate Attributes, and programme learning objectives.

Community-based ecotourism was chosen because it captures those 3 pillars of sustainability really well. The course was divided into 3 parts:

  • Classes
  • Guest lectures
  • Cultural activities hosted by the Wildlife Institute of Asia

There were also a couple of days of touring and seeing concepts in practice. Students were then divided into small groups and worked alongside community-based ecotourism providers as part of their placement.

After their placements, the group gathered at the Wildlife Institute of Asia to unpack what they had observed and work on the assignments

Five threshold concepts were used as a framework for the course:

  • Integrative, holistic (systems) thinking
  • Empowerment and governance
  • Value creation
  • Benchmarking and indicators
  • Structural change

Assessment was linked closely to these concepts:

  • Assessment 1
    Pre-departure prep (why did you pick that placement, what do you expect to get out of it, what do you bring to it, what challenges do you expect to encounter and how will it build your skills and Griffith Graduate Attributes.
  • Assessment 2
    A quiz to make sure students understood the concepts
  • Assessment 3
    A vlog that demonstrated that they could identify the concepts in practice, GOOD, BAD or ABSENT
  • Assessment 4
    Recommendations back to the placement sites on how they could further develop sustainability in their practices. This was based on a APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY approach where students captured high point stories, their own, other students on the course, the staff or other stakeholders, e.g. local community.

Students practiced asking questions - how to frame the concepts in a way that would make sense to stakeholders, how to ask questions in a respectful manner and what to be looking for in general


Here is Josie Wiesinger's perpective of the trip.


  • Taking students out of their usual routine allowed them to focus with no distractions. They were able to immerse themselves into the culture of India. This gave them insight which is difficult to achieve in a classroom-centred approach.
  • Very structured approach - used Kolb's experiential learning cycle
  • Didn't overload them with course content.
  • Small groups during the placement - so nowhere to hide and also encouraged discussion and team work
  • Took the time to work through their ideas in the workshops
  • Peer evaluation - so we watched all the vlogs together
  • Feedback to realworld stakeholders



Meticulous planning was key to the success of this field trip.

Griffith Graduate Attributes

Elements of this activity align with the following Griffith Graduate Attributes: 

  • Knowledgeable and skilled with critical judgement
  • Effective communicators and collaborators
  • Innovative, creative and entrepreneurial
  • Socially responsible and engaged in their communities
  • Effective in culturally diverse and international environments

This trip required students to draw upon their discipline knowledge, and to communicate and collaborate with key stakeholders in the local tourism industry in a culturally appropriate manner.

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Preferred Citation

Coghlan, A. and Learning Futures (2019). Understanding and implementing the balance between sustainability, ethics and community-based ecotourism. Retrieved from https://app.secure.griffith.edu.au/exlnt/entry/6225/view