Alumni Main Headline

How a year at IFTM helped Koen Ruisch thrive in Asia

中文摘要 / Summary in Chinese

While Mr. Koen Ruisch was finishing an internship in Bali in 2011, a chance to study at IFTM came his way. “I decided it was a great way to expose myself to a different culture, to learn a little bit about China,” says the Dutch national.

To come to Macao, Mr. Ruisch made use of a dual recognition degree scheme jointly offered by IFTM and the Breda University of Applied Sciences (NHTV) in the Netherlands, where he was studying. It allowed him to spend a year of study at the Institute, before being awarded 2 bachelor’s degrees, one by IFTM and one by NHTV.

Mr. Ruisch says the quality of the education he received at IFTM “was excellent” compared with his European experience. “It actually took me by surprise,” he admits.

“Lecturers at IFTM were very supportive, took much more interest and did much more to engage with their students” than in European universities, he says. “They took the time and also showed interest in what you were interested in.”

Classes at IFTM “went much deeper into the materials, about how to practice the things you were learning, which meant you got more out of the experience,” says Mr. Ruisch. Human resources management and statistics were subjects where “Macao lecturers went into much more detail” which was something that he benefits from to this day.

After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Tourism Business Management from IFTM in 2012, Mr. Ruisch decided to further his studies at Bournemouth University in Britain. His time at IFTM helped him foster one ability that was truly exceptional, “working interculturally”. Mr. Ruisch says it was a skill that “became very handy in the United Kingdom because my class consisted of 14 nationalities of which about 80 percent were Asians”.

Mr. Ruisch has since built a successful career at Happy Trails! Asia and is now the company’s Chief Executive Officer. The firm is a destination management company (DMC) that offers sustainable experiences and develops community-based tourism in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.

“It’s a massively challenging topic because tourism is a beautiful industry but not for the long run if we destroy destinations altogether,” he explains.

Mr. Ruisch is considered an expert on sustainable tourism in Indonesia, and together with his team has led Happy Trails! Asia to be the first Indonesia-based DMC certified by Travelife, an independently audited programme for sustainable tour operators that is supported by the European Union.

Knowledge sharing at IFTM

The passion for sustainable tourism drew Mr. Ruisch back to Macao in December last year, albeit from a distance. He spoke at an online training programme hosted by IFTM’s Global Centre for Tourism Education and Training, and held with the support of the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), on “Solutions for Sustainable Tourism Development and Destination Branding in Times of Crisis and Beyond”.

Looking back at his time as a student at IFTM, Mr. Ruisch admits Macao’s integrated resorts may seem unsustainable at first glance. “But even there, some things can be done and are being done at some resorts to improve” the operational green footprint of these venues, he adds.

In the Mainland, Macao’s biggest source of visitors, Mr. Ruisch believes “sustainable tourism is going to be a basic demand, especially among the higher-end segment of those educated abroad, who want to travel but without creating a negative impact”.

However, he says “you need local communities” to be engaged in efforts to promote sustainable tourism. That includes the drafting of development plans “in synergy between communities, government and the industry, to come to a mutually beneficial and sustainable future”.

Mr. Ruisch says Macao is moving in the right direction. The local community is “getting a stronger voice” and advocating for a balance between development and being a “very popular destination” that is sustainable.