New Professor puts focus on Houston as Medical tourism destinationTimely Arrival: New UH Tourism Prof Brings global perspective to classroom new research to focus on Houston as medical tourism destination

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Getting from here to there is more than just a question of transportation. It’s a question of psychology, culture, luxury and finances. Understanding those factors is part of the foundation of two new classes on tourism at the University of Houston Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management.

The classes – one designed for undergraduates and the other open to graduate students – are taught by a new UH faculty member who brings her global experiences to a campus renowned for the international dimension of its educational offerings. Students from more than 130 countries are enrolled at UH.

“Tourism is the umbrella for any field of study in the hospitality industry,” said Joanne Yoo, assistant professor at the college. “Tourism doesn’t exist in a vacuum. To be a good hotelier, restaurateur or chef you need to know what brings your guests there.”

Yoo’s passion for tourism began when she worked as an in-flight interpreter for the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Overseas leisure travel was restricted for South Koreans until 1989, so her involvement in the industry was limited to helping business and leisure travelers on the plane. It was during the early 1990s, when the restrictions were lifted, that Yoo felt the call of the road. No longer were the stories of worldly travels bound to the airline passengers she assisted. She could go and find her own stories – and she did.

“The idea of traveling to another country to work or to play was both exotic and exciting,” Yoo said. “When I witnessed overwhelming outbound travel demand in my home country, I knew I wanted to study tourism.”

She traveled to Australia for graduate school and to Hong Kong for her doctorate. Tourism was bourgeoning in Asia during this period, Yoo said. She joined the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) as assistant director of the Strategic Intelligence Center. PATA promotes travel and tourism to Asia. She knew her travels would eventually send her to the United States, and was hopeful it would be in a university setting.

“It was a great experience to work in the industry like that,” Yoo said. “It really broadened my horizons. I’m hopeful these experiences can be conveyed to my students who will need a global perspective about tourism, even if their careers stay in the U.S.”

Her classes will emphasize the service-oriented aspect of tourism and the attitude needed to serve guests from around the world.

“Students may understand how to serve a guest from the West, but cultural differences may bring different expectations from a guest from the East,” Yoo said. “The world is very small. Students need more than an appreciation for other cultures. They need to have knowledge of how to serve guests from various cultural backgrounds.”

In addition to teaching, Yoo will continue researching trends in the industry. She says there are two current tourism trends – gaming and medical tourism. Gaming refers to the multi-billion-dollar industry that includes casinos, while medical tourism is a relatively new idea that describes travel for the purpose of getting health care. Yoo believes it also is a term that describes Houston.

“The medical industry should be service oriented,” she said. “Patients will be staying here for treatments, and they will also be living here, buying things here, looking for places to eat. There is good infrastructure for making Houston a medical tourism destination.”

Yoo will pursue research on building Houston as a destination for medical tourists, and she hopes to partner with marketing colleagues in the world-renowned Texas Medical Center. She plans to focus her research on the image of the city of Houston and community perceptions about becoming a medical tourist destination.

For more information on the UH Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management, visit www.hrm.uh.edu/.

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

For more information about UH visit the university’s ‘Newsroom’ at www.uh.edu/admin/media/newsroom.

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