By Georgia Jackson, University Communications and Marketing
An associate professor of instruction in the University of South Florida’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management and the university’s resident sustainability expert, Brooke Hansen is a leader in the growing field of sustainable tourism. Everyone — from her colleagues in the USF Muma College of Business to industry leaders across the state — wants her perspective on what it means for tourism to be sustainable and what tools are required to make it happen.
It was these questions that Hansen addressed at the United Nations Development Programme in Belgrade, Serbia, earlier this year.
“We see businesses, more and more, doing corporate social responsibility reports; doing environmental, social and governance reporting; and aligning with the U.N. sustainable development goals,” Hansen said. “This is the future.”
Established in 2015, the United Nation’s 17 sustainable development goals aim to improve health and education, reduce inequality and spur economic growth — all while tacking climate change and working to preserve the world’s oceans and forests.
For Hansen, establishing a sustainable tourism practice means harnessing tourism as a force for good to support “the triple bottom line” — people, planet and prosperity.
When she isn’t speaking at one of the biggest regional business forums in Eastern Europe — or championing a U.S. Embassy University Partnership grant between USF and Serbia’s University of Novi Sad — Hansen is hard at work breaking down the “alphabet soup” of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility reports), ESG (environmental, social and governance reporting), and SDGs (sustainable development goals) for her students and colleagues at USF — where she is also an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies — and preparing the next generation of USF graduates to tackle the challenges of sustainability in the tourism industry at home and abroad.
During a recent expedition aboard Tampa Bay Watch’s Coast-Guard-certified eco-vessel, Hansen’s students expressed their desires to go into fields ranging from food sustainability and eco-tourism to climate mitigation and coral restoration.
“Dr. Hansen has had such an influence on me,” said Kate Koenig, a master’s student in Hansen’s ecotourism course who has accepted a summer internship with the Ocean Rescue Alliance. “One of the projects that the alliance is working on is the 1,000 Mermaids Artificial Reef Project. I’m super excited.”
Former student, Raphael Ibarcena, has since gone on to serve as a corporate sustainability analyst at McKibbon Hospitality — a first for the Tampa-based hotel management firm, where Ibarcena initially served as an intern. Another student, Winnie Mulamba, is the executive director for Florida for Good, a network of socially minded organizations and entrepreneurs committed to corporate responsibility and the reduction of single-use plastic and carbon emissions.
Hansen’s community engagement has also led her to partner with Keep Pinellas Beautiful, where she is developing a hospitality eco-partnership program in an effort to put local hotels and restaurants on a pathway to sustainable tourism. The nonprofit organization and certified affiliate of Keep America Beautiful named Hansen the 2022 Outstanding Environmental Educator.
At the core of Hansen’s mission is a deep love of the natural environment and the knowledge that Florida’s top industries — agriculture, followed by tourism — are often at odds with one another. According to Hansen, unsustainable agricultural practices, microplastics and land-based pollutants are to blame for statewide algae blooms (red tide), which threaten the local environment and cost the Florida tourism industry millions of dollars each year.
“Why would we let our No. 2 industry destroy our No. 1?” said Hansen, who advocates for the development of a sustainable agritourism industry that enhances the state’s tourism offerings and agricultural resilience. “This does not make sense.”
“We’re in a desperate attempt here to use tourism as a force for good and not as a destroyer of our state,” said Hansen. “What if we use tourism to make our environment better?”
For Hansen, there is no alternative.