New interim associate dean, colleagues examine ways Arizona’s tourism industry can best respond to COVID-19 pandemic

By

Mark J. Scarp

A professor in the School of Community Resources and Development (SCRD) who is a senior sustainability scientist at ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability has been named interim associate dean of research in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions for the 2020-2021 academic year.

A prolific researcher, presenter and author, Gyan Nyaupane is known for his ability to garner external funding to support his research focused on public lands and sustainable tourism.

Case in point: In March, the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions presented Nyaupane with the Anne Larason Schneider Community Research Award. Building upon previous scholarship, Nyaupane will use funding associated with the award to support his research using a case study approach to analyze community resilience among Indigenous communities.

Another area of interest to Nyaupane is Arizonans’ most important health and economic concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nyaupane and several SCRD colleagues in June released a summary of a scenario planning session in which participants examined ways the Arizona tourism industry – a vital part of the state’s economy – can best respond to the effects of the pandemic.

Scenario planning is a tool designed to dig further into many scenarios that may occur in the future for the industry, said SCRD Director Christine Buzinde.

“Most businesses utilize forecasting as a tool to predict future trends. However, researchers have indicated that during uncertainty, scenario planning is a tool that is better equipped to delve deeper into the multiple scenarios that may unfold,” she said. “The results indicate that key factors to consider as we examine tourism industry recovery efforts are: availability of public policy of health and safety; health of the economy; consumer confidence; clarity of communication to the public; and destination receptivity to tourism resumption.”

Read on to learn more about Nyaupane, his latest research about tourism and his new duties as part of the college’s leadership team.

Q.       Tell us a little about yourself.

A.       I have been a faculty member at Arizona State University since 2004. Trained in both natural and social sciences from three different continents, my research is truly interdisciplinary and international. I received my doctoral degree from Penn State University, my master's degree from Lincoln University in New Zealand and my bachelor's degree from Tribhuvan University in Nepal. 

I have research interests in understanding the human-environment interactions, particularly connecting communities and public lands using non-traditional and sustainable approaches. I am interested in sustainable development, natural resource management and sustainable tourism.

I recently led an international research project on Indigenous peoples’ changing relationships with the natural environment. Drawing on the insights of political ecology, the study explored implications of persistent and widespread marginalization of Indigenous communities in three different continents, including a Navajo Tribal community in Arizona; an Aboriginal community in Australia; and a Tharu/Mushahar community in Nepal.

My research projects have been instrumental to envisioning and planning policies for federal, state, tribal and local land management agencies in Asia, Africa and the United States. I have been successful in bringing external funding to support my research and graduate students.

I have served the school as the graduate program director for 10 years until 2018 and have served on the University Graduate Council, and I have played a key role in developing and expanding the graduate programs within the school and university. I have taken on leadership roles within the Travel and Tourism Research Association (TTRA) International, a premier professional organization, as a board member for three years (2016-2018).

I serve as the editor-in-chief of Tourism Review International and associate editor/editorial board member of many leading tourism journals, including Annals of Tourism Research and Journal of Travel Research. I regularly teach graduate and undergraduate courses on Sustainable Tourism, Critical Issues in Community Development, and Tourism Planning.

Prior to academia, I worked for governmental and non-governmental organizations.

Q.       Tell us about your recent research dealing with how the Arizona tourism industry can best respond to effects from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A.       I was joined by four of my colleagues in the SCRD’s Center for Sustainable Tourism and a doctoral student in conducting this research. The world is experiencing unprecedented challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic that will likely reshape the global tourism landscape. There is much uncertainty about reopening the tourism industry during COVID-19, particularly in the absence of a vaccine.

The post-COVID tourism environment is also currently ambiguous given the absence of comparable scenarios. To reduce uncertainty, society is anxiously awaiting greater levels of testing and an effective vaccine. Given the level of uncertainty related to multiple dimensions, the future outlook for tourism in Arizona, like most states, is still unknown.

We conducted a virtual scenario planning session that was attended by 24 participants representing various stakeholders. During focus group sessions, participants engaged in brainstorming to decipher the essential factors that will determine the recovery and future of tourism in Arizona.

Then through a guided process, we organized the factors into six critical drivers, including public health status, the performance of the economy, destination availability, government policy, consumer confidence and leadership communication.

The participants ultimately agreed that the two most important and most uncertain critical drivers were public health status and performance of the economy. Using these two critical drivers, four possible scenarios were developed to describe what tourism might look like under such circumstances. The four included a best-case scenario where both performance of the economy and public health status were high, two mid-level scenarios where performance of the economy is high and public health status is low or economic performance is low and public health status is high, and a worst-case scenario where both critical drivers are low.

In the best-case scenario, people would want to travel again and feel positive about their health, while businesses are open but operate with new health and safety protocols to encourage tourists’ confidence, among other factors. In the worst-case scenario, public health does not improve, no vaccine is available, second waves of COVID-19 cases occur and tourist visitation is vastly reduced, while destinations struggle, some businesses permanently close and face legal liabilities.

A summary report of the research is available here.

Q.       You have just been named interim associate dean of Watts College. Tell us a bit about your duties and what you’re most looking forward to doing in this important position.

A.       I have three major duties in this position: 1.) Serve as a primary research lead for the college and represent the college for research related matters at the university level, 2.) Communication, co-ordination and collaboration within and outside the college to promote and advance interdisciplinary and collaborative research projects. 3.) Provide college level review and approval of all grants.

I look forward to learning about the research faculty and research centers in our college.  

Q.       What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you now teach?

A.       I grew up in rural Nepal and I’ve been studying how vulnerable and disadvantaged communities can be empowered and their livelihoods can be improved by the sustainable use of natural resources they have. When I was a park ranger at Nepal’s Sagarmatha (Mount Everest) National Park, I noticed that unstainable use of natural resources, such as forest and parks, could have negative spiraling effect on people’s livelihood. I realized communities and conservation can be better connected through sustainable tourism, which led me to purse my higher education.

Q.       What is it about ASU that made it where you wanted to take your career?

A.       ASU’s mission of inclusiveness, accessibility and excellence drew my attention. Furthermore, the School of Community Resources and Development’s focus on communities and sustainable tourism matched very well with what I was interested in terms of research and teaching.

Q.       What’s something you learned — either as a student yourself or since becoming a faculty member — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A.       I never thought about the relationship between faculty mentors and students after they graduate. After being a faculty member, I realized the relationship goes beyond graduation. There has never been a week without having communication with a former student; whether it is for a collaborative research project, publication, book project, professional advice, recommendation letters or just catching up.

Q.       Which professor(s) – current colleagues or your own teachers -- taught you the most important lessons? What were those lessons?

A.       I have several colleagues, mentors and my own professors who taught me many important lessons. 1.) When you have a problem, you are not alone, so share with your colleagues and get advice. 2). Real networking and collaboration takes place outside of formal networking and meeting events, so meet colleagues in an informal setting, such as for tea/coffee and lunch, etc.

Q.       What’s your proudest academic or professional accomplishment to date?

A.       When I receive emails from students and they remind me of a moment I’ve forgotten but that has changed their views and helped them grow as a person.

Another moment was when I received a call from one of the federal agencies from Washington, D.C. She said she read one my papers that was just published in a journal, and she said she wanted me to apply the framework I developed. That resulted in a $74,000 grant.  It was during my early academic career; until then I had an impression that no one reads journal articles outside of academia.

Q.       What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

A.       I like doing yoga, kitchen gardening and hiking.

Mark J. Scarp, mark.scarp@asu.edu, is media relations officer for Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.