Siamak Seyfi: Tourism is a powerful social force that can help foster multicultural and inter-faith tolerance
The French language and tourism as Seyfi’s research inspirations
Siamak Seyfi, who is now an assistant professor in Tourism Geography at the University of Oulu, originally completed his bachelor's degree in French language and literature. Before deciding to move to Paris in 2013, Seyfi worked as a tour guide for French tourists in Iran.
At the University of Montpellier III in France, Seyfi studied Sustainable Tourism and obtained a master’s degree in it. Seyfi eventually transferred to the University of Pantheon-Sorbonne, where he defended his doctoral thesis on Tourism Geography, and ended up working as a lecturer in Tourism Management.
Seyfi says that his original interest in the French language turned out to be useful in guiding him forward and helping him discover tourism as a more inspiring research interest.
Unraveling the potential of Tourism through research
Seyfi says that his research seeks to understand how tourism may help progress sustainability efforts, and how a more just, inclusive and sustainable future for tourism could be developed.
Although Seyfi examines tourism through critical and diverse disciplinary lenses, his focus is on the potential of tourism as a generator of positive change. Seyfi is particularly interested in the role of tourists themselves in shaping the development tourism towards a more sustainable and inclusive direction.
“Despite what is commonly perceived of tourism as a business sector, tourism is far more than just travelling to a holiday destination, for example. Tourism is a multilayered and complicated social phenomenon, shaped by a dynamic relationship between tourists, tourist destinations, and the local populations living in these areas,” Seyfi explains.
“The generation Z cohort are the emerging consumers and the producers of new experiences of tourism. My research aims to provide insights into generation Z behavior, mobilities, and sustainable consumption practices. Tourist activism, strategies adopted by tourist destinations, businesses, NGOs, and tourists themselves are equally important in my work. I want to understand the roles taken on by these actors in developing more responsible tourism practices and upstream social marketing,” he adds.
The presence of many different actors in the tourist industry, as outlined by Seyfi, already speaks of the extent of encounters and co-operation between people within the industry. Seyfi views this sociable character of tourism as one of the factors revealing its potential in advancing sustainable development.
“Tourism can be a driver for peace and a catalyst for development, peace, and reconciliation. Tourism revolves around billions of encounters between people of diverse cultural backgrounds. Therefore, tourism can foster multicultural and inter-faith tolerance and understanding, laying the foundation for more peaceful societies,” Seyfi says, reiterating the statement given by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
Tourism as a resilient industry
Besides the focus on the generation Z cohort, Seyfi defines resilience as his other stream of work. More specifically, he is interested in the resilient mechanisms of tourist destinations and businesses facing crises in the form of sanctions and boycotts. According to Seyfi, sanctions and boycotts are the prominent features of the global tourism system, and these features are linked to the emerging ethics and geopolitics of tourism.
In fact, Seyfi’s recent research examined drivers and barriers affecting tourists’ engagement in digitally mediated pro-sustainability boycotts. He also attempted to gain an understanding of the role that digital technologies play in fostering young generations’ engagement with ethical and sustainable tourism.
In the GenZ project, resilience is defined as the ability to adapt to and anticipate change. Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the tourism industry majorly, requiring it to adapt to the changes brought by the rise of the pandemic.
In another recent study, Seyfi and his colleagues from New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia conducted an online study to understand how media-framed destination images of countries dealing with COVID-19 affected the post-pandemic behavioral intent of tourists. They discovered that tourists’ perception of trust, crisis management, healthcare system, and solidarity with countries handling COVID-19 were the significant factors shaping post pandemic travel behavior.
Research on the future of tourism continues
In the University of Oulu, Seyfi co-supervises two doctoral students, Adel Nikjoo and Pezhman Hatamifar. He also supervises students in other universities in Finland and Iran.
Nikjoo’s research reflects the development of tourism in Iran, its complexities, sustainability issues, and the role of younger generations in the communities’ adaption to changes.
Hatamifar, in turn, investigates how carbon-neutral tourism can be achieved – his research seeks to provide a new approach to tourists’ decision-making towards carbon emissions, and how to respond to these decisions.
As for Seyfi himself: in the future, he wants to continue with his research on the resilience theme, and particularly, the resilience of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in times of crisis.
“In developing countries, SMEs are the key contributors in terms of employment and livelihood generation. SMEs hold the potential to enhance resilience against crises, even though they are subject to elevated levels of vulnerability. SMEs also play a significant role in the growth of tourism. SMEs represent around 80% of the tourism sector in some destinations. This accounts for a significant share of economic activity within the private sector as well as employment generation in both developed and developing countries,” Seyfi points out.
With a framework of resilience thinking, Seyfi envisions to contribute to the research on digital technologies and tourism. According to Seyfi, aspects such as smart border management, cross-border cooperation and border security, in relation to technological resilience, have become increasingly important in the post COVID-19 world.
Seyfi names the interplay between political consumerism and digital technologies as another point of interest for future research. Boycotts of certain travel destinations, for instance, are an example of political consumerism, which in turn is connected to resilience in diverse ways.
Ultimately through research, Seyfi hopes to find ways to restructure and develop the contemporary landscape of tourism into a more sustainable direction.