Teaching for strong sustainability in university tourism courses

Document Type

Book chapter

Publication details

Cotterell, D, Arcordia, C & Ferreira, J 2017, 'Teaching for strong sustainability in university tourism courses', in P Benckendorff & A Zehrer (eds), Handbook of teaching and learning in tourism, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, United Kingdom. ISBN: 9781784714796


An important outcome of a university business education is shaping individuals who are capable of working in and operating businesses that deliver economically profitable, socially responsible and ecologically viable services. In preparing future sustainable tourism workers, universities also need to design curricula that develop the learners’ skills in critical thinking and foreseeing the implications of their actions, along with a sense of ethics and empathy. Research evidence indicates, however, that learners often graduate without these skills. A possible reason for this may be that the design of tourism curricula is based on a weak conceptualization of sustainability (e.g. triple bottom line) as opposed to a strong conceptualization of sustainability. Another possible reason could be that educators are not successfully cultivating the learners’ capabilities to think in more complex ways about sustainability nor do they adequately engage with the ways in which learners make sense of the concept. This chapter discusses the strength of the conceptualizations of sustainability currently underpinning university undergraduate tourism courses. The aim is to outline how learners might acquire knowledge about sustainability and to examine the potential of current pedagogy within Education for Sustainability (EfS) for teaching more complex understandings of sustainability. Novel teaching and learning approaches are discussed including systems thinking, which enables a strong conceptualization of sustainability, and variation theory, which uses the learners’ understandings as the starting point for learning. Future directions for EfS in tourism are also reflected upon. This chapter argues that universities are capable of ensuring that graduates are prepared for working in the sustainable tourism industry if they become more mindful of the ways in which they teach – and the ways in which learners learn – about sustainability.