Alumni Spotlights

Hugh Cresser, ’75: Promoting Sustainability in Tourism

  • on February 26, 2015
  • by Lisa McMahon, M.A.'09

Hugh Cresser, ’75, is an expert in sustainable tourism and rural enterprise development in his native Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean. Now, he is sharing his considerable expertise with students in Niagara University’s College of Hospitality and Tourism Management, via a distance-learning course he conducts through Skype.

The course, Sustainable Tourism: Caribbean Perspective, which is offered during the spring semester, addresses the topic with a strong focus on the Caribbean region. Students learn about sustainable tourism best practices through case studies and hands-on opportunities to assist local hotels in developing environmental management systems to reduce their environmental impact and increase their operating efficiency.

This is the second semester that the course has been offered, and Hugh hopes to incorporate a field trip to a Caribbean destination where the students can see, first hand, sustainable tourism practices as they are incorporated into the tourist experience.

Hugh came upon his career in environmental sustainability “by accident,” he says. After earning both a bachelor’s degree (from Niagara University) and a master’s degree (from George Washington University) in tourism –– the first Jamaican to have done so – Hugh returned to his home country. There, he worked in a variety of tourism areas, including community tourism enterprise and product development, hotel and tourism management, and marketing. He also served as general manager of the Runaway Bay HEART Hotel and Training Institute, and launched the hospitality and tourism degree program at the University of Technology, Jamaica.

In 1998, Hugh was recruited by PA Consulting (formerly Hagler Bailley) for the position of project coordinator for the USAID-funded Environmental Audits for Sustainable Tourism (EAST) Project. Although he had little prior experience with the field, he developed both knowledge and experience as he worked within the hotel industry in Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean on numerous sustainable tourism development projects. He remained with the organization for 15 years, also holding the title of deputy chief of party for the USAID’s Rural Enterprise, Agriculture and Community Tourism Project.

Hugh’s experience with PA Consulting in managing the USAID-funded projects gave him unique insight into the crucial role the environment plays in tourism and instilled in him a passion to assist the Caribbean region to preserve its natural resources. “The environment is what we sell, and if we don’t preserve that, then we won’t have anything to sell,” he says. “Climate change is a reality and most Caribbean countries are being threatened by it. We have always looked at tourism as a glitz and glamour type of thing, but we need to change our focus and take a very scientific approach to planning and developing tourism.”

To that end, Hugh established Hugh Cresser and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in sustainable tourism, planning and development, and rural enterprise. Some of his most recent projects include the development of a national policy in Jamaica for community tourism, and the implementation of the British Virgin Islands Sustainable Tourism Program. He was recognized by the Jamaican government in 2005, when he received the Jamaica Tourist Board’s 50th Anniversary Award in appreciation for his exemplary work in the development and promotion of sustainable tourism in Jamaica.

Hugh would also like to see Niagara Falls-area hotels, and the College of Hospitality itself, become more environmentally sustainable. A class project he has assigned will help in that regard: his students are developing a document on environmental best practices that will serve as a guide for incoming students. In addition, the university has collaborated with the Giacomo Hotel in Niagara Falls, which will serve as the case study for the implementation of environmental “best practices.” Doug Ujeski, the hotel’s general manager, has endorsed the program and will be working with the students on this assignment. Hugh also hopes to expand the college’s program to include more courses in sustainable tourism, with additional opportunities for students to connect with local hotels and help them move toward greener operating practices.

“Sustainable development is one of the key areas of education in most universities right now,” he says. “It’s no longer just a buzzword. It’s reality.”