A Down Under experience

A day of snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef in Australia was among the many activities for a “Sustainable Tourism in New Zealand & Australia” class during winter break in January. The students saw coral, a variety of fish and sharks. “The best part of the day was jumping off the top of the boat into the water,” says sophomore Brianna Colton, therapeutic recreation major.

J-Term trip to New Zealand, Australia provides unique look at tourism

La Crosse, Wis. – UW-La Crosse students are giving a trip down under a thumbs up. They were able to experience a new culture while studying sustainable tourism.

UWL Assistant Professor of Recreation Management and Director of the UWL Tourism Research Institute Dan Plunkett helped lead a three-week program, “Sustainability Tourism in New Zealand & Australia” during winter break in January. Assistant Professor of Management Danny Franklin co-led the program of 30 that included recreation management, therapeutic recreation and business management majors.

Plunkett says New Zealand and Australia were a perfect spot to teach sustainable tourism. The two countries offer unique opportunities related to a broader focus on all aspects of travel and tourism. 

“This program to New Zealand and Australia provided a great mix of travel to big cities and nature-based areas, which could highlight a diverse set of tourism sustainability practices,” says Plunkett. “It also included several activities where culture was intertwined with tourism excursions and businesses, something that is not as commonly seen here in the U.S.”

Brianna Colton, a sophomore from Fond du Lac who traveled with the group, says the differences from the U.S. she experienced provided a stark contrast. “Overall, New Zealand and Australia are far more sustainable than the U.S.,” explains the therapeutic recreation major. “The people who live there also seem to be more educated and motivated to preserve their land.”

The Abel Tasman National Park in New Zealand was the favorite day of the trip for UWL sophomore Brianna Colton. “We spent the day kayaking and hiking inside the park and ended the day with New Zealand fruit ice cream,” she says. The future certified therapeutic recreation specialist says the J-Term trip helped her to envision using sustainable practices in the future, as well as having more of an open mind when approaching situations.

Colton, who hopes to become a certified therapeutic recreation specialist, says the experience helped her to envision using sustainable practices in the future, as well as having more of an open mind when approaching a situation.

“I can see myself being mindful of the environment by reusing materials and thinking of innovative ideas for client programs,” she says. “Inclusion will be a large part of my work as a recreational therapist. I will work to keep an open mind when working with someone of a different culture. It is beneficial to understand a variety of different cultures in order to effectively serve participants.”

The 30 UWL students traveling to New Zealand and Australia during J-Term spent a day hiking the rainforest and hearing about the sustainable practices of Hidden Valley Cabins at Paluma Range National Park in Australia. They enjoyed a steak lunch at the cabin and stopped for ice cream at the Frosty Mango.

Recreation management major Jill Toth had a similar experience. She discovered the importance of taking pride in cultures around the world. “Wherever my life takes me I hope to uphold the beauty of new cultures and regard them as equals,” she says.

The Waukesha senior agrees sustainability was exhibited in many of their travels. “Being conscious of what you are doing and what the consequences are reiterates the concept of being sustainably literate,” Toth notes. “This concept is vital in creating a better future, not only for ourselves, but for future generations.”

She also discovered how economics, environmental issues and social sustainability can make or break a country. “Keeping these takeaways in mind will shape me into an advocate for sustainability,” Toth explains. “Hopefully, I will make an impact in my company, if not the world.”

Both students are glad they took the step to take a J-term class overseas. “Coming into college I knew I wanted to study abroad, but I did not want to go for the entire semester,” says Colton. “I liked that this program was faculty led because it allowed me to travel with other students from UWL and be able to hang out with them upon returning from the trip.”

Toth says while a trip like this is more expensive than a regular class, the experience is invaluable. “You are going to be seeing and doing so many incredible things that some people only dream of,” she notes. “The experiences you have, the things you learn, and the friendships you make during this program will be some of the most cherished in your life.”

The class traveling to Australia and New Zealand included 30 students majoring in recreation management, therapeutic recreation and business management

Professor Plunkett says the experience will have a definite impact in the variety of tourism classes he teaches at UWL. “Being able to share my experiences from New Zealand and Australia allows me to interject different perspectives related to visitor travel behaviors, the importance of local cultural, tourism marketing strategies, and many other strategies and best practices I observed,” he says.