Pavlina McGrady, an assistant professor of business at SOU, has practiced what she teaches.
Sustainable tourism first caught McGrady’s attention as she worked on her master’s degree program at the University of Hawaii. “I have always loved the outdoors and traveling, but I was introduced to the field of sustainable tourism, specifically, during my studies in Hawaii,” she said.
McGrady served as a management trainee with the Fairmont Orchid Resort after graduating, then went to work for Marriott International. Her emphasis at both hotels was on the environmental or sustainability side of the business, but she eventually recognized that she wanted to sharpen her focus.
“I realized that I wanted to go even further and possibly make a bigger impact,” McGrady said. “That is when I decided to pursue a Ph.D. with a focus on sustainable tourism and found out about the (Human Dimensions of Natural Resources) program at Colorado State University.”
The degree program at CSU focuses on the social aspects of ecosystems and tourism, along with sustainability research and actions. It leans toward the understanding, stewardship and appreciation of natural resources as a means of preserving environmental health while gaining some human benefits.
McGrady worked as a teaching assistant while completing the CSU program, then joined the business administration faculty at SOU in 2016. She coordinates the business school’s tourism management concentration and its certificate program in sustainable tourism.
Her favorite course remains sustainable tourism, which features guest speakers, case studies and overnight field trips – although those have been canceled during the pandemic.
“I like teaching the class because it is exciting for students and for me – there are always so many interesting new things happening, so many opportunities and challenges,” she said “It keeps me on my toes, but it is very exciting, and I hopefully pass that excitement to students.”
McGrady focuses on preparing students to continue learning after they’ve finished at the university, which aligns with McGrady’s personal goals.
“I would be a student for the rest of my life if I could,” she said. “I love learning, and I certainly see how the more you know, the more you know how much you don’t know.
“My goal is to continue growing by learning more about the topics I am passionate about, as well as other topics, because sustainability is such a complex phenomenon and everything is connected to everything.”
McGrady has continued her research while at SOU, delving into topics including ski resort sustainability, bark beetle disturbances and cannabis tourism. While recreational marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, many states have legalized it. That has created a niche market of “cannabis tours,” where groups are shown the marijuana production process and given production samples.
“I find this new niche market in the travel industry very interesting and I think it is fascinating to see how policies will shift in upcoming years,” McGrady said. “I am collaborating with colleagues from Colorado, comparing local perceptions on cannabis tourism – it is exciting to identify similarities and differences and to stipulate how things will shift in time.”
McGrady has recently begun a new study on corporate sustainability in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Change toward sustainability in the business world is happening, but not at the level and pace that is needed,” she said. “I think that only a few companies are doing really well in terms of sustainability, while the majority are lagging…. Businesses are in ‘survival mode,’ and sustainability has moved out of the priority list.
“Nevertheless, I am still hopeful that this ‘quiet’ time, especially for the tourism industry, will allow destination leaders to rethink policies and management so that a true sustainable tourism is practiced around the world – the environment and culture is preserved, the industry is providing local economic benefits and local communities’ well-being is considered, while tourists enjoy authentic travel experiences.”
Story by Blair Selph, SOU Marketing and Communications student writer