Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 14, 2009

The Culture and Heritage Institute: Diversity and an Engaging Sense of Place

Travel: the most experiential form of learning

Living as we do in an increasingly borderless world — technologically, economically (for better or for worse) and socio-politically — it comes as no surprise that the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry is considered to be the largest on the planet. When you consider all the sectors in the global economy that contribute to this tripartite trade, it becomes even more clear that our species’ tendency to migrate hither and yon for an infinite and exponential number of reasons, is quite simply “the way of the world.”

“The way of the world is to make laws, but follow customs.” — Montaigne

And customs, traditions, and historical precedents are the stuff of human culture. What goes around, comes around. However, whereas happenstance, serendipity, or fate may determine who travels where and why, the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry is the principal engine that drives this protean global business.

Although we may be genetically predisposed to travel, especially in terms of our tendency to evolve culturally and to desire to preserve our cultural heritage, it still requires a skill set to facilitate this uniquely human process. And it bears pointing out that those in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry who expedite our wanderlust have acquired an equally important skill set. Whether by nature or nurture (or both), they have learned to do what they do.

And this is what was reinforced to me when I paid a visit to the Cultural and Heritage Institute at Toronto’s Centennial College.

Change is underway in the tourism industry…”

In the Year of Obama, it seems that “change” is the leitmotif of the decade, if not of the century. Quite frankly, once again I think it is the way of the world; and those who resist or fear innovation may find themselves with warehouses full of buggy whips or hoola hoops.

On the “About” page of the Cultural and Heritage Institute’s website, there is a profound but simple message:

“According to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), global cultural and heritage tourism is growing by an unprecedented 15 per cent per year as a growing segment of travel consumer moves toward a more engaging genre of travel experience: the Cultural And Heritage motivated traveler wants a distinct and authentic sense of place while connecting with the endemic tapestry of human endeavour.”

Whereas leisure travel may still generate at least 50 per cent of the travel business — there’s a logical reason why most tourism authorities today are called Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs) — it is the nature of that increasingly diversified travel-for-pleasure business that is scrutinized, studied, and profited from. Travel is, after all, fun. But “fun” is not always just a ride on a roller coaster; it can also be the kind of exhilarating awareness that results from really getting a sense of what “the other” is all about.

This is integral to the ethos, culture, and curriculum of The Cultural and Heritage Institute. And it may seem self-evident but those who have achieved success in the business of travel have developed specialized skills not easily acquired, although many of them may indeed be comprehensive and transferrable.

The Institute’s Mission Statement

Any human community or structured organization that lacks an understanding of where they have been and consequently where they are going, will more than likely wander aimlessly like lost souls. But don’t get me wrong; while meandering is a mode of travel that I personally heartily endorse, I would hasten to add that the unstructured “itinerary” does not necessarily mean the journey lacks purpose. And this, I believe, is reflected in the Institute’s Mission Statement.

“We will meet the diverse needs of our communities. CHI’s mission is to serve as an educational centre for teaching and learning the management of Ontario‘s and Canada‘s cultural heritage resources and expanding understanding of the world‘s cultures and heritage by exploring, and meeting the needs of students, tourism and cultural industry partners and our diverse community through high-quality programming and relevant services….

Consistent with Canada’s Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Sustainable Tourism… the development and promotion of all programs, services and facilities of the Heritage Institute will be guided by the values of respect, integrity and empathy and an appreciation of the stewardship of our natural, cultural and historic resources…. Cultural and heritage tourism is growing in every facet and form. Travellers do not travel aimlessly anymore; instead they seek more meaningful vacations that allow them to explore, experience and enjoy indigenous cultures and heritages across the globe.”

The global curriculum

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

… when in doubt, cite The Bard.

In today’s global economy, all the world is indeed a stage. However, although we may be merely players (or so says the resident cynic in Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden) we are part of a highly interconnected world in which success and excellence are achieved through a fundamental understanding of the nitty gritty workings of the industry and the global concepts implicit in it.

At The Cultural and Heritage Institute, which is part of the larger School of Hospitality, Tourism, and Culture of Centennial College, the internalization of the notion of “global” as meaning worldwide, all-inclusive, and sustainable is clearly articulated.

Students take such meat and potatoes courses as Wholesale Tour Operators, Airline Automation, and Business Management for Tourism; but they also take courses such as World Geographic Patterns and the school’s required “signature learning experience” of Global Citizenship: From Social Analysis to Social Action.

And in the latter course, here is what they learn:

“This course presents a foundational and unique look at the history, roots, and impact of inequality and discrimination related to issues of social justice, energy, the environment, and technology both in Canada and globally. Students will explore personal and social responsibility to be good citizens, in their communities, personal lives, and work environments, hence preparing themselves to work in multicultural, diverse and global work environments. Emphasis will be on the impact and responsibility shared by individuals and societal systems to ensure equality and justice, and inclusion. Students will develop a portfolio that highlights program-related learning, and that reflects their experience of diversity in college life.”

The blending of the practical and the conceptual is at the core of this very innovative curriculum.

The nature and definition of culture and heritage

The Cultural and Heritage Institute also takes a strong stand on what I would refer to as ethical tourism; or better yet — ethical education. In articulating the key concepts of culture and heritage, the course designers emphasize the universal values in all cultures and subcultures, as well as the simple but profound notion that heritage “belongs to all the people.” At the heart of this curriculum is also the notion that culture and heritage are inseparable, and “the essence of diverse national, regional, indigenous, and local identities.”

But the statement of intent and sense of purpose that I found most enlightening was the following:

“[Culture and heritage are] a dynamic reference point and positive instrument to growth and change.”

This is one those moments that travel journalists refer to as the “Zen aha!” moment. The experience of such an instantaneous consciousness-raising may not be particularly “brand new” — in fact it may be a reaffirmation of something we have known all along but just haven’t reflected on lately. And in a world where narcissism can run rampant — the “What’s in it for me?” insular mindset — encountering a public institution (especially an educational one) that actually practises as well as “preaches” the gospel of the interdependence of all things is refreshing to say the least.

Diversity and inclusion

Situated in Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in North America (if not the most), The Culture and Heritage Institute is also the embodiment of the 21st-century travel and tourism industry in that the concept of diversity and inclusion is not only its maxim but also a socio-cultural reality at the college itself. As recent studies have indicated, the world of travel and tourism is witnessing a renewed emphasis on in-depth, content-rich, and meaningful travel.

In part, this is a result of a boom in travel almost everywhere on the planet (especially in previously unexplored regions or in emerging nations) and of a changing “culture” of travel itself: a shift from exclusivity to inclusiveness. The latter is the result of the exponential global awareness of cultural diversity; and this in turn is the result of the technological revolution that has permitted the peoples of the world to become members of unlimited virtual communities. In so doing, we engage in intercultural dialogues not only as individuals — to wit the proliferation of multiple forms of electronic social media — but also through an increasing number of non-governmental national and international institutions.

As National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis, the keynote speaker at the Centennial College Symposium on Heritage Tourism Strategies in 2008, has said:

“Maintaining the integrity of culture is not an act of sentimentality; it’s not an act of nostalgia, it’s much more than an act of human rights. It’s about maintaining the integrity of civilization itself.”

As we all know only too well, human civilization is a process and not an event; sometimes two steps forward and one step back. However the global role model and new way of thinking inherent in Centennial College’s Culture and Heritage Institute, is a beacon of hope for the largest industry on the planet.


The Culture and Heritage Institute of Centennial College

“Culture is ordinary: that is the first fact. Every human society has its own shape, its own purposes, its own meanings. Every human society expresses these, in institutions, and in arts and learning. The making of a society is the finding of common meanings and directions, and its growth is an active debate and amendment under the pressures of experience, contact, and discovery, writing themselves into the land.” — Raymond Williams

See also…

“Cultural Emergency Response: Preserving Human Heritage”

…  in the Commentaries section

First three photographs courtesy of Centennial College’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culture and the Culture and Tourism Institute.


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