Institute News Main Headline

Study should be fun to be effective: IFTM scholar John Ap

中文摘要 / Summary in Chinese

How to put the fun into study is an ongoing focus for IFTM Visiting Professor Dr. John Ap. He has a distinguished academic career in tourism education, and is a firm believer in the need to complement textbook teaching with field trips and activities that can stimulate assimilation of knowledge.

“Teaching and learning shouldn’t be boring,” says Dr. Ap. “As educators, we should make learning fun.” That starts, he says, by scholars ensuring they also have fun in the teaching process.

Dr. Ap is an internationally recognised academic in the field of tourism management, known particularly for his research on community perceptions of tourism. One of his most prominent pieces of academic work, “Residents’ perceptions on tourism impacts” stands among the all-time top-20 of the most frequently cited papers in tourism, leisure and hospitality journals, according to a 2018 ranking by the Journal of Business Research.

Notwithstanding an academic career spanning almost 3 decades, Dr. Ap continues to get great enjoyment from teaching. At IFTM, he leads courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. His philosophy and approach to teaching focuses on promoting reflection as an essential part of the educational process.

Dr. Ap regularly organises field trips for IFTM students as part of the courses he teaches. There have been excursions to theme parks, including Disneyland and Ocean Park in Hong Kong, and Chimelong Ocean Kingdom on Henqgin Island. There have also been field trips to Thailand and Malaysia. The underlying goal of such approach is to go beyond textbook-based teaching, to enable students to understand how the tourism industry actually operates.

“We can teach the knowledge and the theory, but we must relate what we teach to the real world,” Dr. Ap says. “People learn more by seeing and doing. That’s a fundamental premise upon which I do my teaching.”

Typically, the field trips are linked to student project assignments. The trips include presentations by industry professionals and enable students to collect information for their projects. “After the official parts of the field trips are done, students can go and explore, have fun and learn,” Dr. Ap says.

From town planning to academia

Dr. Ap’s approach to teaching and study has been influenced by his professional experience prior to entering academia. He worked for more than 11 years as a certified town planner in his native Australia where he specialised in planning for recreation and tourism. His professional experience included a stint as project manager in the Tourism Commission of New South Wales (now called Destination NSW), the lead government agency for the tourism sector in the Australian state.

Dr. Ap has also been involved in a range of consultancy projects related to tourism and recreation planning, theme parks, and market research surveys.

His career as a scholar started at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, in 1992. Prior to that, he completed a Ph.D. in Natural Resource Recreation and Tourism at the Texas A&M University, in the United States.

At The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Dr. Ap played a role in consolidating and advancing the reputation of its School of Hotel and Tourism Management as one of the best in the world. There he held positions including Associate Head of Department and Undergraduate Programmes Director. In 2013, the School recognised his contribution via a Teaching Excellence Award for his proactive and student-centred philosophy, one that involves using a wide range of active study methods.

After 21 years in Hong Kong, Dr. Ap moved to Stenden University Qatar, in September 2013, as Professor of Tourism Management and Associate Dean. He joined IFTM in January 2016, and recently agreed to extend his formal link with the Institute up to the end of academic year 2021/2022.

The seasoned scholar has been providing his expertise in tourism education to IFTM, as the Institute expands its programme offering and upgrades its academic governance system. Dr. Ap was involved in the preparatory work for IFTM’s first group of postgraduate programmes – at diploma, master’s degree and Ph.D. level – launched in academic year 2019/20. He is also engaged in the Institute’s internal staff development programme, to help enhance the skills and capabilities of faculty members.

Promoting IFTM as a global training base

In addition, Dr. Ap has played a seminal part in the establishment of the IFTM Global Centre for Tourism Education and Training. He has led the Centre since it was officially set up in 2016 following a memorandum of understanding signed between the Macao SAR Government and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

The Centre, unique in the world, is part of IFTM’s efforts to strengthen its position as an international hub for tourism and hospitality education. It provides training programmes in cooperation with UNWTO and other parties, to help tourism officials and professionals from around the world to enhance their knowledge and skills.

Since its inception, the Centre has hosted 33 programmes, attended by an aggregate of more than 400 participants drawn from a total of 34 countries and regions.

Dr. Ap explains that programmes are delivered by “a mixture of educators and industry professionals”. The aim of this is to provide programme participants with theoretical knowledge and hands-on perspectives from the industry.

The programmes typically include technical visits to tourism-related sites in Macao and other places in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

“What I’ve found as an educator is that you can talk within the walls of a classroom, and what you say might go in and out of the ears of your participants,” Dr. Ap says. “But when you’ve given them the knowledge and the theory, and then you take them on a technical visit, and you point out the things you have been talking about, it’s easy for them to remember and to learn.”

The travel restrictions linked to measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 did not stop the Centre from continuing to provide training programmes in 2020. The Centre did so by reviewing its training model and making use of videoconferencing, Dr. Ap explains.

The most recent programme was conducted in December in collaboration with UNWTO. It comprised 4 webinars on “Capacity Building for Sustainable Tourism and Reviving Tourism”. A total of 19 tourism officials from Cambodia, Lao P.D.R., Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China – including participants from the Greater Bay Area – took part in the programme.

Despite his busy academic career, Dr. Ap makes a point of enjoying what Macao has to offer, including concerts and other cultural performances. “You need to get life-work balance,” he says.

“We’ve got some major tourism industry players here by way of the casino resorts but also the UNESCO heritage, things that are truly unique and that you can find in a very small and confined area,” he says. “Life is interesting here.”