International Institute of Tourism Studies Flagship Initiatives

COVID-19 Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted tourism more than any other industry. Because one in ten jobs globally is tourism-dependent, the industry's collapse is profoundly impacting communities and economies everywhere. The International Institute of Tourism Studies is working in partnership with a number of responsible tourism entities - Tourism Cares, the Center for Responsible Travel (CREST), and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) - to develop a publication on the industry's response to COVID-19, particularly as it relates to sustainability. The research has involved a survey, focus groups and interviews to determine:

  • The challenges faced by businesses;
  • How COVID-19 has impacted their focus on sustainability and support to communities; and
  • The key opportunities stemming from this global crisis.

The publication will also highlight case studies to illustrate how certain destinations and businesses have been performing well across a range of key topics since the pandemic began. The publication is expected to be released in February 2021. 

In collaboration with the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the International Institute of Tourism Studies conducted a study on the effects of COVID-19 on Caribbean destination management and marketing organizations. We reviewed a variety of websites, databases, and social media channels and implemented a survey among CTO's member countries to collect information on the Caribbean tourism industry's early responses to the pandemic. Our team inventoried tourism destination actions from March–May 2020 on mobility, economic relief, destination management and community support, crisis communication and destination marketing. The Destination Organization Responses to COVID-19 Report presents these findings to help organizations prepare for sustainable recovery and adapt lessons learned to potential future crises.

Destination Management

We provide guidance and support to destinations around the world eager to sustainably develop their tourism sectors. For example, we’ve been working with Belize, the Cayman Islands, Honduras and Jamaica — we're helping them figure out the best ways of hosting travelers in order to support local economies without compromising cultural and natural resources. We also offer an online certificate program designed to equip destination organization staff throughout the world with the information they need to be more effective around their management efforts. Click here for more information on our professional certificate program in destination management.

Indigenous Tourism

From their rugged natural beauty to their rich history and culture, North America’s indigenous communities offer tourists the potential for rewarding and authentic visitor experiences. For tribes eager to find a viable means of maintaining their traditions and resources, tourism can provide a lucrative and sustainable source of income. The International Institute of Tourism Studies works with tribal communities to develop their tourism potential, helping them to take stock of and develop their potential assets, plan and build their capacity and promote their offerings to tour operators and other audiences. Areas of focus include tribal tourism governance, capacity building and product development. Select past projects have included:

  • Indigenous People and the Travel Industry, comprehensive guidelines for travel companies intended to promote responsible indigenous tourism;
  • Economic plan for tourism development for the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians;
  • Strategic plan for job creation and tourism investment and development for the Choctaw Nation;
  • Establishment of a tourism office for the Crow Tribe;
  • Partnership-building for communities in the North Coast and Bay Islands of Honduras;
  • Regional assessment of tourism potential for five tribal communities in North Dakota and helping them to set up a regional tourism alliance.

In collaboration with the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association, we offer the only online professional certificate program in cultural heritage tourism for Indian Country.

Adventure Travel

In collaboration with the Adventure Travel and Trade Association, the International Institute of Tourism Studies produces The Adventure Tourism Development Index (ATDI), an annual report that ranks the readiness of tourism destinations to host adventure travelers. The ATDI is intended to help destinations, tourism ministries, and entrepreneurs evaluate their assets within a larger geographic context.

  • The 2016 report reviewed country-level and regional trends over a six-year period, focusing on ten categories including government policy, safety & security, health, natural resources, adventure activities, entrepreneurship, tourism infrastructure and brand.
  • The 2018 report marked a decade since the launch of the ATDI. In addition to assessing countries’ potential and readiness to compete in the global adventure tourism market, the report included a social media listening component for the first time: a study about what travelers are saying about hiking, the world’s most popular adventure activity.
  • The 2020 report covered the updated rankings and was expanded to consider what makes an adventure destination competitive in changing times. It also included the companion GSTC Global Destination Sustainability Report, a product of a partnership with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC). The companion report was designed to more deeply explore the sustainability dimension of adventure tourism competitiveness worldwide by analyzing 24 destinations that have applied the GSTC Destination Criteria and Indicators.

Urban Walkability & Tourism

Cities around the world are witnessing a shift from low-density, segregated planning patterns to higher-density, integrated walkable areas that provide new opportunities for tourism development and management. The George Washington University Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis in partnership with the International Institute of Tourism Studies have been conducting research on urban walkability and tourism, developing research methodologies along with practical strategies and tools designed to enhance a city’s appeal and quality of life. This work is particularly geared for real estate developers, government officials, nonprofits and place-based institutions, such as business improvement districts, neighborhood associations, historic preservation districts and cultural heritage routes. Among the destinations that the team has analyzed is Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit our blog.

Thought Leadership

We’re partnering with academic and nongovernmental organizations to convene and lead conferences and other key events that elevate the conversation around tourism and engage the development community, governments, donors and local communities around efforts to help solve critical challenges.

We’re also engaging universities around the world in our T-Lab Challenge, designed to support community-based tourism enterprises. And we’re compiling research from various studies and initiatives that reflect the health of destinations based on internationally recognized indicators.