HTM Professor Leads Global Trend in Advancing Sustainable Tourism

Story by Phillip Fiorini, photos courtesy of Jonathon Day

Above: HTM Professor Jonathon Day is leading several global sustainable tourism projects. Day (center) participated in a welcome ceremony in Nepal with villagers and Purdue HTM graduate student Filza Armadita (fifth from left) in May.

The vast Orinoquia region of Colombia, home to incredible biodiversity, the cowboys of the Los Llanos and unexplored national parks, is awakening after 50 years of conflict and preparing to welcome new visitors.

Jonathon Day, an associate professor of hospitality and tourism management, and a team of Purdue HTM undergraduate and graduate students are working with the people of the Orinoquia to ensure the benefits of tourism are spread across the region — especially to small towns and microbusinesses — where people are building new, post-conflict lives. The Purdue team also is advising how to avoid the potential negative impacts that tourism can bring to small communities.

“Consumers are asking for authentic experiences. And by good fortune, those are the same sorts of experiences that often have the most benefit for the destination as well” — Jonathan Day, professor of hospitality and tourism management

“In working with the people of the Orinoquia, we are applying principles of ‘sustainable tourism’ to ensure the best possible outcomes from the growing opportunity,” says Day, who teaches Purdue’s Sustainable Tourism and Responsible Travel (START) class each spring and is leading a host of global research and development projects focused on sustainable tourism. “Sustainable tourism is about making sure we look after the environment and our societies and people, while we are growing the economy.”

Day and his students are a part of a global effort. The United Nations General Assembly declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, citing the potential of tourism to advance the universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Day also has authored the 2016 book An Introduction to Sustainable Tourism and Responsible Travel.

“The work we do in sustainable tourism is designed to increase the economic side of things and also ensure a location is as appealing tomorrow as it is today,” says Day, whose students also are supporting similar sustainable tourism projects in Nepal and Malaysia. “Consumers are asking for authentic experiences. And by good fortune, those are the same sorts of experiences that often have the most benefit for the destination as well.”

Every day, more than 3 million tourists cross international borders, and every year, almost 1.2 billion people travel abroad, according to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. “Tourism has become a pillar of economies, a passport to prosperity and a transformative force for improving millions of lives,” Guterres said in a January 2017 news release.

Filza Armadita Filza Armadita visiting Bumburi, Bupsa and Kharikhola

Filza Armadita, an HTM graduate student from Indonesia, spent 10 days with Professor Day in Nepal in May as part of a program supported by the Moving Mountains Trust, visiting the villages of Bumburi, Bupsa and Kharikhola where tourism visits have advanced their economic prosperity and assisted in the development of a hydropower plant, a monastery and eco-friendly stoves. In a different part of Nepal, the Purdue HTM teams have partnered with the Hands-On Institute and its Homestay Program. The Dalit community near the Pokhara region has welcomed visitors from all around the world, and runs this homestay program together with the institute.

Purdue HTM alum Shawn Johnson, director of national account sales at luxury travel firm Abercrombie & Kent (A&K), says his company has been a part of the sustainable tourism movement, in effect, since its launch as a small safari operator in 1962, offering “authentic experiences.” Currently, A&K supports 20 global projects — the majority in Africa, Antarctica and Southeast Asia — that range from supporting schools and health clinics and helping locals to start a business to providing scientific research equipment to Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula studying climate change. 

Colombia Image from Day’s tourism efforts in Colombia.

“Our small groups and tailor-made itineraries allow us to ‘be a part’ of local events, versus being on the outside as a large group often might be,” Johnson says. “We have an entire philanthropy division that focuses on education, conservation, health care and enterprise development with our partner communities. Guest visits to our philanthropy project investments have become an integral part of an A&K journey — and often, one of the most memorable parts.”

Of course, while tourism providers must plan for sustainability — travelers themselves must choose to travel more responsibly. Day is spearheading a national program to encourage better travel behavior. The Travel Care Code project works with a network of universities and travel industry companies. More information about the project can be found at 

“Tourists must make the decision to choose the option that is less harmful to the environment, helps preserve the culture of the community and contributes to the economy of the community,” HTM graduate student Armadita says. “Choosing activities that have a community approach — such as the homestay program — can contribute a substantial impact for all stakeholders both socially and economically.”

Johnson at A&K echoes that sentiment, saying A&K Philanthropy focuses on having an impact at the “household level,” with projects that deliver clean water, maternal health or literacy. 

“We believe for tourism to be truly sustainable, the communities who host international travelers need to benefit from improved lives and livelihoods in tangible ways,” he says. “Very often a photo from a guest’s visit to a school or health clinic becomes a favorite memento, and the photo will hang on their refrigerator next to one of the kids’ report cards.”

More Life 360 Stories