International Sustainable Tourism Initiative

The International Sustainable Tourism Initiative (ISTI) made history as the first research unit at Harvard University devoted entirely to sustainable tourism. While its research efforts have now come to an end, updates on the final publications and resources will be posted on the site.

From 2014 to 2018, ISTI teamed up with various Harvard schools to study sustainable tourism's aspects. The Harvard Kennedy School explored policy, the Harvard Business School delved into ecotourism business models and ESG metrics, resulting in 3 case studies, while the Harvard Graduate School of Design studied participatory planning for smart destinations using Geodesign.

ISTI's research on Smart Destinations paved the way for advanced resource management, including water, coastal landscapes, ecosystems, and cultural and social capital, using GIS systems. The Tourism & Climate Change study led to the creation of the HEAT-D Framework to monitor the cost of destinations and manage the impact of climate change. And the Governance research resulted in collaboration with policy experts on sustainable financing and public-private partnerships.

The research program, crafted by Megan Epler Wood, was led by Dr. Jack Spengler, the Director of the Center for Global Health and the Environment at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, and was presented at COP 22 in 2016. It received funding from the German Government through GIZ from 2017 to 2018.

Through ISTI, Harvard researchers and students worked with various experts to address current challenges and themes in sustainable tourism on a global scale.

Sustainable Tourism

The International Sustainable Tourism Initiative (ISTI) has launched a project called "Regional Planning and Geodesign for Tourism" to bring together different professionals in the tourism industry and create plans for sustainable growth. Geodesign, a simplified version of geographic information systems, helps local communities measure the impact of tourism and make informed decisions on social, cultural, and environmental health issues. This system can help communities anticipate the effects of climate change, identify areas for resource protection, and prioritize investments in alternative energy and clean development. The project was launched in 2015 and continues to work with governments, researchers, communities, and planners to develop dynamic tourism planning systems.

A case study in the Westfjords region of Iceland was conducted in 2020-2021 to incorporate Geodesign into the region's tourism planning. A workshop was held with Harvard Extension students and Icelandic stakeholders to further the project and engage in discussions and evaluations. One student participant praised the workshop as an "eye-opening and inspiring experience." Josh Weiland, a graduate of the Geodesign and tourism course, was awarded a research manager position for the project at Harvard Chan School of Public Health.

In the next phase of the project, pilot projects will be launched in collaboration with local governments, civil society, and businesses. The goal is to create a dynamic approach to tourism planning that prioritizes human health, well-being, and preservation of ecological and socio-cultural systems, and replaces outdated master planning systems.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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