USM offers several options for students interested in pursuing coursework related to nature-based tourism including:
- Nature-based tourism minor
- Sustainable tourism certificate
- Tourism and hospitality degree with concentration in nature-based tourism and eco-tourism or sustainable tourism and hospitality
Maine’s scenic rocky coast, rugged mountains, lakes, rivers and forests have long attracted tourists and Maine’s traditional way of life has long been of interest for “people from away.” Tourists flock to Maine not only during the summer months, but also to view the autumn foliage and enjoy Maine’s storied winters. Less understood by many Mainers is that tourism is one of the state’s largest industries. In fact, the State Planning Office reports that in 2006, tourism generated $10 billion in sales, goods and services, as well as 140,000 jobs and $3 billion in earnings. Tourism supports 16.7% of jobs in Maine, and makes up 28% of Maine’s Gross Domestic Product.
Based on the above facts, the state, under Governor Baldacci, requested that the University of Maine System institute programs of study in tourism, specifically nature-based tourism. As such, in 2005 the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at USM in conjunction with the Department of Environmental Sciences developed a Minor in Nature-based Tourism. While this Minor has proved appealing, students desired something more marketable. Therefore, in 2010 Dr. David B. Jones established a certification program in Sustainable Tourism. The University Consortium Field Certificate (UCFC) is offered by the International Ecotourism Society (TIES), the premiere international professional organization in ecotourism, which collaborates with universities to administer a sustainable tourism certification. According to TIES “the UCFC program offers the opportunities to develop relevant skills through a flexible curriculum, gain credible professional credentials, and prepare for a career in ecotourism and sustainable tourism.”
At USM, in order to become certified students must successfully complete Nature-based Tourism REC 223/ESP 223, offered both in class and online, two courses that address sustainability, an international travel course and a 400 hour internship. The international travel courses include REC 373 Belize: Planning and Leading Sustainable/Cultural Tourism Trips and REC 374 Newfoundland: Planning and Leading Sustainable Adventure Tourism Experiences.
During the 2011/2012 Winter Session 10 students, enrolled in REC 373, explored Belize and Tikal’s Maya ruins in Guatemala. The course provided students with an understanding of Belize’s cultural, historical, geological, and geographical attributes that included exploring the MesoAmerican Reef, the Cockscomb Jaguar Reserve, Barton Creek Limestone Caves, and the Maya and Garifuna cultures, among others. This summer students will have the opportunity to explore Western Newfoundland, with special focus on Gros Morne National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The course, which is open to all students in addition to those seeking the Certificate in Sustainable Tourism, involves wilderness camping, moderately strenuous hiking and backpacking. Other than personal gear, hiking boots and clothing, all camping equipment will be supplied by the outfitter/guide in Newfoundland.
The 400 hour internship permits students to work closely with professionals in the ecotourism/ sustainable tourism field. Students will be able to select from sites that are located locally, nationally or internationally. Possible internship placements might be leading sea kayaking trips along the Maine coast, hosting backcountry travel at the Maine Huts and Trails or Appalachian Mountain Club lodges/huts, leading wilderness excursions in Nepal and Tibet or guiding ecotourists through the rainforest of Costa Rica and Belize. Correspondingly, each one of the above, among many others, might be employment opportunities for certified sustainable tourism providers.