An ecotourism curriculum for higher education institutions
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Ecotourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors of the tourism industry worldwide. Sustained development and success of the industry depends on the availability of suitably trained manpower. Formal educational programmes to service the ecotourism industry are, like the term ecotourism, a relatively new phenomenon and higher education programmes to educate and train human resources for this important sector are relatively rare. Although a number of higher education institutions in South Africa are offering specialisation courses in ecotourism, these do not seem to be altogether successful in meeting the needs of industry. The aim of this study was to design an ecotourism curriculum for higher education institutions in South Africa, with special reference to Technicon, which could also be used as a basis for developing programmes in other institutions and countries. A two-pronged approach was followed: a literature study as well as a survey. The survey included focus group meetings, workshops, questionnaires and interviews. The Delphi technique was used, consisting of 4 rounds of electronic questionnaires that were sent to 80 selected panel members. The study endeavoured to differentiate ecotourism from other forms of tourism as a base on which to justify the development of formal educational programmes. Jobs and career-paths within the ecotourism sector were identified, followed by an identification of the knowledge, skills and attributes required for the career paths and the levels within each career path. This resulted in a comprehensive database of the desired outcomes for an ecotourism programme. This was consequently compared with the curriculum of the existing 4-year B Tech: Ecotourism Management programme offered by 3 Technicons in South Africa, which highlighted the deficiencies in the existing programme. Additional educational themes were identified, including the following: Tourism Anthropology and Cultural and Heritage Tourism, as ecotourism is not only the interpretation of the natural environment but also of all the cultural manifestations of the particular destination; English Communication, as employees in the tourism industry need to be confident and expert in the skills of speaking and writing; a foreign and an indigenous language; Information Management; Leisure Appreciation; and IT applications focusing on the ecotourism industry, such as e-commerce and on-line marketing. Subject themes with too high a credit value in the existing programme were found to be Biology, Wildlife Management and Interpretation. On the basis of the above an ecotourism curriculum was developed, based on jobs and career-paths identified by stakeholders in the ecotourism sector of the tourism industry and designed by academics, knowledgeable in the field of both tourism/ecotourism education and curriculum design.