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At ASU, Brazilian student gains global perspective on sustainable tourism

December 18, 2013

For a while it seemed that João Paulo Faria Tasso would be a professional soccer player.

The Brazilian doctoral student from the University of Brasília (UnB), who is studying sustainable tourism at Arizona State University as part of the year-long Brazilian Scientific Mobility Program scholarship, played for local and state clubs and teams, and stayed away from home beginning at age 13 for soccer.

“Then, at the age of 18, I sustained a leg and ankle injury, and my soccer days came to an end,” Tasso says. “It was disappointing, but not heartbreaking. My family had always encouraged me to focus on my education, so I just shifted 100 percent of my attention to sustainable tourism studies.”

Tasso’s doctoral dissertation research, the majority of which has been conducted at the Laboratory for Tourism and Sustainability at UnB, is focused on sustainable tourism. More specifically, he studies how the phenomena of social inclusion and exclusion affect the economic status of natives living in regions with tourism potential.

“Brazil is one of world’s leading destinations for ecotourism,” he says. “As a sustainable tourism researcher, I look for opportunities that can further develop the tourism industry and, at the same time, benefit native populations, most of which remain mired in poverty.”

To learn and understand their lives and needs, Tasso once spent a month with local farmers and fishermen families that have no access to sewer and others basic facilities.

“It changed my perspective on life,” he says. “They were very happy with what they had. Their only need was to be acknowledged and recognized for the role they play in sustaining the fragile ecosystems they reside in. Their traditional activities, products and workforce need to be protected by the tourism market and included systematically.”

To gain an outlook on global sustainable tourism and ways in which it can benefit poverty-ridden natives, Tasso decided to apply for the BSMP scholarship program, launched by the Brazilian government to boost international education and collaborative research. He arrived at ASU six months ago.

“ASU has proved to be a great experience for me in terms of education and campus life,” he says. “I am working under Kathleen Andereck, director of the School of Community Resources and Development, to understand topics such as sustainable communities and livelihoods, community resilience, sustainability and equity, structural cohesion and embeddedness, community-based tourism, etc.”

In terms of campus experience, Tasso appreciates the discussion-oriented classes and the sense of family offered by the ASU community. He has made a number of friends from all over the world with whom he plays soccer and, sometimes, the guitar. The Brazilian native has even cheered on the Sun Devils at football games.

“It’s not easy to live a year in a country that is culturally different,” he says. “I have moments when I miss home or Brazilian food or speaking Portuguese, but the friendliness and warmth of people at ASU has been a great support system.”

In the long term, Tasso sees himself educating people on the advantages of sustainable tourism. He also hopes to demonstrate that a fair-trade agreement between the poverty-stricken native population and hospitality industry can enhance job opportunities, maintain or enhance the price of local products, and provide financial stability for locals.

“The challenge of doing something for someone drives me,” Tasso says. “It would be an honor for me to improve the lives of thousands of Brazilians through my work.”