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Tourism Studies Expanding Rapidly

Last year Afghanistan's Ministry of Information and Culture announced the government's decision to establish a new teaching center for the promotion of tourism. As part of that effort, students will receive training in fields such as travel marketing, hotel management, and tourist services. As VOA's George Dwyer reports, the field of Tourism Studies in the United States has been on the ascent for years, particularly at one prestigious university in Washington, D.C.

Stephanie Smith recently graduated from Washington, D.C.'s George Washington University and found work with the U.S. Travel Industry Association.

"It is an umbrella organization for all of the U.S. travel industry, and I am currently doing communications and public relations for them," Smith said.

Stephanie is just one of thousands of young people now working in the travel industry who found their jobs with the help of a university degree in the rapidly expanding field of Tourism Studies.

Smith explains why she chose the Travel and Tourism program, "And it is really interesting to be behind the scenes, and I chose the program because of that, and I wanted to really focus my previous work in marketing into a specific industry."

Today travel and tourism is a trillion-dollar industry in the United States alone. Worldwide that figure is believed to be $6 trillion (U.S.). And in many developing countries, stimulating growth in the tourism sector is seen as an effective tool for lifting entire economies.

"Politicians in particular have become very sensitive to how important tourism is to local economies," says Dr. Sheryl Elliott, who is an associate professor of Tourism Studies at George Washington University. "Tourism can start on a very small scale without tremendously huge investments. There are special forms of ecotourism and cultural tourism that fit many developing countries. So developing countries can get on board, can get involved with the tourism sector and realize very, very good economic benefits in a very, very short term," she said.

That is certainly the hope for nations like Afghanistan, which boasts world heritage sites such as Bamiyan as well as many other spectacular scenic treasures. Though they once drew as many as two million visitors a year, the industry collapsed during the nation's 30 years of conflict.

Elliott believes that success can be recreated, and that the benefits are not just financial. She adds, "In a way I think that tourism actually - if planned correctly, if done correctly - can actually protect and promote cultural identity and cultural heritage."

One lesson these students are learning is that enhancing the experience of visitors today can not only help preserve the past but also serve as an engine for future economic growth.