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Internship with United Nations World Tourism Organization: Sustainable Tourism Observatories in China

Geneva, SwitzerlandWhen I received the news that I was selected to be an International Intern for the United Nations World Tourism Organization in China, I couldn’t believe it. Almost a half year after I applied, the thought of hearing back was a distant idea and lodged somewhere in the back of my mind buried under the stress of school and final exams. So when I heard back, I was in shock and it was like someone had surprised me with this incredible gift.

In 2014, I spent the summer traveling Europe on my own. On my 21st birthday I visited the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. I took a tour and I became interested in exploring International Relations. I made the realization that the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) was a specialized agency I could foresee my future in (or to work for a company/organization with similar values of realizing the need to progress hospitality and tourism in sustainable way).


In the future I want to contribute to sustainably developing tourism, study more about culture and languages, and incorporating nature into everything I do. I also believe there is immense value in studying and trying to understand what makes every single person unique, different than other cultures, and studying how people continuously changes throughout history to adapt and live. And nature is a passion because along my journey (somewhere between going on canoe trips at camp as a kid and living in Jasper National Park in Alberta), I discovered a love for being outdoors. The more time you spend outside, in nature, you realize everyone should be a steward of the planet.

What is United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)?

whytourism_en_web_15_aprilThe UNWTO is a international organization seeking to promote tourism as a driver of economic growth, inclusive of development and environmental sustainability.

As in, tourism can benefit a community and families through new jobs and provide an opportunity to educate visitors. And in being ‘sustainable’ there is a consideration of the environment, economics and socio-cultural aspects that are sometime overlooked.

Why China? 

In 2004, UNWTO reached an agreement to collaborate on promoting sustainable tourism in different regions of China. Sun Yat-Sen University (SYSU), based out of Guangzhou, was entrusted to take charge of the sustainable development.

The Great Wall – courtesy of Amar Grover

The Great Wall – courtesy of Amar Grover


Over the past decade China has been, and still is, by far the fastest-growing tourism market in the world.

The Monitoring Centre for UNWTO has enabled students (undergraduate, masters and phd candidates) to participate in field work. I think internships, especially like this one, are mutually beneficial and can foster positive knowledge sharing and relationships.

Receiving my placement as an International Intern: 

Once I received the news that I was chosen an as International Intern I was asked if I had a preference of an “observatories” (term for the unique destinations the Monitoring Centre for UNWTO manages – whether significant because of heritage, culture, or natural landscapes).

While each observatory destination was compelling in a different way, I have/and will always be inclined to work in natural landscapes. So I expressed that desire and I will be going to…

Zhangjiajie National Forest Park


I’ve only ever dream of going to a place like this.

In 2011, the third observatory in China under the UNWTO was established at the entrance of the National Park of Zhangjiajie in the Hunan province. This park is the first National Forest Park in China. It has also be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; however the mountains maybe also known for being the inspiration for the Hallelujah Mountains in the movie Avatar.

There are more than 3,000 such peaks in the Hunan Province park. Its diverse landscape—dense forest, gullies, cliffs, and valleys—shelter macaque and rhesus monkeys, pangolins, and Chinese giant salamanders, as well as rare birds and trees.


I am immensely grateful for this upcoming opportunity – to be challenged mentally, physically, and grow by learning from other students, professors and researchers. There is an allure to these mountains which I already feel drawn to. I hope to share personal photos and stories once I return.

Sources: WTO, 2000, & 2002, UNWTO, 2014