Researchers from Brandon University are collaborating with one of Mexico’s most significant universities to help guide sustainable, ecologically friendly growth at a favourite tourist destination.
In February, a BU team travelled to Puerto Vallarta as part of a unique collaborative partnership with Universidad De Guadalajara, researching increased visitation to the area, including emerging opportunities and challenges for whale-watching tours and historic churches.
"Professors from BU have been working with Universidad De Guadalajara for more than a decade," said BU geography Prof. Derrek Eberts, who is studying the effects of surging tourism on the local economy and quality of life of residents in small towns and villages around Puerto Vallarta.
"The main thrust of our work is to inform public policy discussions about developing tourism in a sustainable manner."
Eberts was joined by geography department colleagues Daniel Olsen and Chris Malcolm.
"Whale-watching is a booming sector of the local tourist trade as the waters off Puerto Vallarta are an important breeding ground for humpback whales," Malcolm said.
"We are studying whether tourists are gaining a better knowledge of marine conservation through their whale-watching experience, an important take-away which has never been fully assessed."
Meanwhile, Olsen looked at several sites near Puerto Vallarta enjoying increased attention through spiritual tourism.
"One church, in particular, is only accessible by foot," he said. "The additional tourist traffic has turned the walking trail into a litter-ground, and created friction with the church’s congregation as more and more people seek time within the sacred walls."
Robert Moore, a BU geography student majoring in environmental studies, made the trip to assist in Malcolm’s research, and a student from Universidad De Guadalajara also lent a hand in surveying whale-watching tour operators and clients. As a result, Malcolm has agreed to supervise the Mexican student’s upcoming thesis project.
"We have enjoyed strong participation by Mexican students in our research there," said Eberts, who has travelled to Mexico several times through the Agreement for International Education Co-operation between BU and UDEG.
"The university professors and administrators have been extraordinarily welcoming. On this last trip, we also did interviews with Mexican radio and newspaper reporters, too."
The current research is funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Aid to Small Universities program, which enables small post-secondary institutions in Canada to develop and strengthen research capacity and collaboration in a particular area of the social sciences and humanities.
"BU’s formal exchange opportunities with Mexico, China, South Africa and Paraguay are an exciting opportunity for faculty and students," BU science dean Andrew Egan said.
"Collaboration, with people in other countries or right across the street, makes our university stronger and benefits all partners."
For more on Brandon University’s exchange agreements, visit brandonu.ca.