A career well-travelled

    Sport tourism researcher and professor Tom Hinch winds down his successful 30-year career

    By Nicole Graham on April 25, 2019

    Researcher and professor Tom Hinch is about to close the final door on an academic career that has lasted over 30 years. On December 31, 2019 the long-time leisure studies researcher and teacher will be departing the halls of the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation for the last time as Professor Hinch. As Tom prepares for retirement life, he fondly looks back on a career that is rooted in an eclectic foundation of knowledge and has taken him across the world in pursuit of answers to his research questions.

    Tom graduated from Brandon University in 1978 with a degree in economics and political science. After working at CIBC for a short time after he graduated, Tom realized that a career in finance wasn’t for him. While an undergraduate student, Tom played on the Brandon Bobcats’ men’s varsity hockey team, and was very interested in sport and recreation. This interest brought him out West to the University of Alberta for a masters’ degree in the then Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation. It was during this time, Tom’s interest in tourism took off with the catalyst coming from the least likely place.

    “While I was working on my Masters, my wife Lorraine was taking a travel consultancy course at Grant MacEwan College. I remember reading her textbooks and thoroughly enjoying the content, especially in terms of the geography of tourism. I realized that tourism fits nicely in the leisure rubric, and I decided to focus my future studies on tourism.”

    With a shared interest in travel and experiencing different places, Tom and Lorraine moved to the East Coast after graduation where Tom took a sessional lecturer position at Acadia University. A lifelong learner, Tom immediately took to teaching, and solidified his desire to pursue a career in academia. He pursued his PhD in geography at Western University, graduating in 1991. Tom returned to the University of Alberta as an assistant professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation that same year, and has spent the past 28 years learning, teaching and researching various aspects of leisure tourism.

    Over the course of his career, Tom’s research has examined tourism through a variety of lenses. His PhD research looked at the impact of financial incentive programs on the distribution of tourism. When he came back to the University of Alberta as an assistant professor, his original research track had him exploring tourism in Northern Canada. This eventually evolved into investigating tourism and Indigenous peoples, of which Tom and a colleague from Western University ended up editing a book, Tourism and Indigenous People.

    “I’ve always been interested in tourism, and was influenced by the concept of place--which is the meaning we attach to spaces. This really reflects my own leisure and travel experiences, having lived and worked in a number of different places across Canada.”

    Tom’s research focus once again evolved during a sabbatical in 1998 that saw him spend a year in New Zealand. The original plan for the sabbatical was to do more research with tourism and Indigenous peoples by working with Maori people and collaborators at the University of Otago. During this time, Tom and his family met a bright young, energetic academic named James Higham who was extremely enamoured with sport, specifically rugby.

    “James and I struck up a professional relationship, and a friendship. His enthusiasm for sport was infectious and we started to talk about how sport and tourism are related. It was a really exciting time for me professionally and we have collaborated ever since.”

    The relationship has resulted in two co-authored books between Tom and James--Sport and Tourism and Sport Tourism Development. In what Tom considers a fun line of research, the majority of his work since 1998 has looked at how sport helps tourists to better understand and connect to a place. He has looked at four different types of sport tourism--spectator event tourism, participant-based event tourism, active-sport tourism and sport heritage tourism--with outcomes resulting in a number of publications, books, presentations and, of course, content for undergraduate and graduate courses.

    During his time within the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, Tom has been actively involved with teaching and learning. He took on two administrative roles during his 28-years at UAlberta, first as the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs (2004-2007) and then two terms as the Associate Dean of Community and International Engagement (2008-2014). While his career has had its share of highlights, Tom considers his undergraduate teaching awards to be the most meaningful to him.

    “Teaching is the reason I came into academia. I enjoyed being a student, and I learned a lot from my own professors and have tremendous respect for them. So to be recognized for my own teaching is quite an honour.”

    While awards are a nice recognition for a job well-done, Tom maintains that it’s not always the awards that are the most rewarding.

    “When you bump into a former student who has enjoyed professional and personal success, that’s nice. Or when you’re teaching a class, and the students are engaged and the discussions are flowing, you also know you’re doing a good job. Sometimes, that’s a much more rewarding experience.”

    Teaching, and the learning that comes along with teaching, is what Tom will miss the most as he gets set for retirement life.

    “Our students are pretty bright people. The questions they ask in class are fantastic, and I love the way they make me think through my response. Teaching has been, for me, a way to carry on being a student throughout my career. I learn much from my students, and that is something I am going to very much miss.”

    While he will miss teaching, and the identity of being a professor, Tom moves on to the next stage of his life with no regrets.

    “I’ve got to practice what I preach and retire while I still have my health so I can have a rewarding leisure lifestyle.”

    He and Lorraine have a busy summer coming up including visits to their daughters and their families in Seattle and Ottawa. He also plans on becoming more involved with the community through hands-on volunteering in the leisure and recreation realm.

    Tom leaves the University of Alberta feeling very lucky that he has spent his career being free to pursue answers to meaningful research questions.

    “I’ve really enjoyed my career and think I’m fortunate to have been able to do what I really wanted to do. As academics, my colleagues and I have the ability to integrate our work and leisure--to travel the world in pursuit of our research interests, and it’s been a privilege to have been able to do this for over 30 years.”