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Professorship Sustainability in Hospitality & Tourism

Businesses and organisations of all kinds are increasingly embracing sustainability, either because of an intrinsic desire to create value beyond profit or pushed by legislation, clients’ demand, and investors’ pressure. The hospitality and tourism sectors are no exception. The professorship Sustainability in Hospitality and Tourism supports the hospitality sector to become a positive force for change toward a sustainable future for all.

The world faces pressing challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. Moreover, a significant number of people lives in poverty without access to decent jobs, food, and clean water. The hospitality sector is energy- and resource intensive. It also offers global job opportunities and, thanks to its position in the supply chain, holds the potential to influence both suppliers and guests. Therefore, the hospitality sector is crucial in addressing today’s world challenges and promoting a more environmentally sustainable and socially just future.

The professorship Sustainability in Hospitality and Tourism carries out applied research with the objective of supporting the hospitality sector, including tourism, to be a force of positive change toward a sustainable future. The professorship sees hospitality as a set of practices grounded in individuals’ values, and sustainbility as a process that begins at the individual level and extends to organisations and society as a whole.

The professorship’s mission is to advance sustainability in the hospitality and tourism industry. This involves designing, implementing, and assessing behavioural interventions to encourage hosts and guests to make sustainable choices.

Be a game changer toward sustainability

The three main research lines of the professorship are:

  • Behavioural interventions for sustainability
    Approximately 65% of actions necessary to promote sustainability depend on behavioural change. Since 2014, the professorship has been dedicated to enhancing the pro-social and pro-environmental behaviour of hosts and guest.

  • Principles and practices of Circular Economy
    To support the transition of our sector toward a more environmentally sustainable and socially equitable stance, since 2019 the professorship has been embracing and developing a line of research and interventions on Circular Economy in Hospitality and Tourism.

  • Change through tourism
    Central question in this line is how hospitality and tourism can design experiences that enhance staffs’ and guests’ sustainability values. For example, in the shift away from gain values and infinite growth, we engage with the role of altruism and friendship in hospitality and tourism.

The Team

Professor of Sustainability in Hospitality and Tourism

Dr Elena Cavagnaro

Born in Rome, Italy in 1963, Elena Cavagnaro studied Ancient Philosophy in Rome, and Naples (Italy) and later at VU University Amsterdam, where she was awarded a PhD in 1996. Her Philosophy degree turned out to serve her well in her career at NHL Stenden, where she was appointed Lecturer in Business Ethics in 1997 and UAS Professor in 2004.

Elena Cavagnaro began her research into sustainable business practices in the services industry in the late 1990s, when this phenomenon was just emerging. Sustainability for her is a moral appeal to societies, businesses, and individuals to pursue other values alongside profit.

At NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences she helped develop the master programmes, including Master of Arts in Hospitality and Service Management. In 2004 she was appointed Professor of Service Studies and then ten years later she became Professor of Sustainability in Hospitality and Tourism. In 2021 she was appointed Associate Professor of Responsible Leadership Development and Susainability in Tourism, at the University of Groningen/Campus Fryslân. Since 2023 Cavagnaro is Chair of the Graduate Committee for the Professional Doctorate in Leisure, Tourism and Hospitality. In addition, she is visiting professor at the University of Sunderland (UK) and the University of Bergamo (Italy) and she is co-founder and co-coordinator of the ATLAS SIG ‘Circular Economy and Circularity in the Space of Tourism and Hospitality’.

Cavagnaro and George Curiel co-authored the book ‘The Three Levels of Sustainability’, which was published in 2012 and became a bestseller. A second, revised edition was published in 2023. Cavagnaro also edited the book ‘Sustainable Value Creation in Hospitality, Guests on Earth’. The views on sustainability that Cavagnaro shares in both books have served as the basis for the research carried out by the Research Group.

Inauguration speech

Dr Cavagnaro delivered an inauguration speech when she was inaugurated as a Professor of Applied Sciences in 2004.

Recent publications

• Cavagnaro, E. (2024), “Looking at Tourists Through the Lens of Aristotelian Friendship – On Altruism in Tourism 1 “, Pechlaner, H., Olbrich, N. and Isetti, G. (Ed.) Destination Conscience (New Perspectives in Tourism and Hospitality Management), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 37-50.
• Cavagnaro, E., Altan, M., Jonker, E. & Reinders, M. (2024) What is not known is not aimed for — Understanding staff knowledge and readiness to embrace sustainable and healthy food, Research in Hospitality Management, 13:3, 135-142, DOI: 10.1080/22243534.2024.2322224
• Cavagnaro, E. and G.H. Curiel (2023) The Three Levels of Sustainability, second edition, Routledge.
• Tomassini, L., Cavagnaro, E. (2023). Circular Oikonomia, Posthumanism, and local space to socialise tourism. In (eds.) Higgins-Desbiolles, F., Bigby, B.C. (2023). The local turn in tourism: empowering communities. Chapter 2, Channel View.
• Jonker, E. and Cavagnaro E. (2023) Food and beverage Sustainability Criteria, in Legrand, W., Kuokkanen, H. and Day, J.(eds.) Critical Questions in Sustainability and Hospitality, Routledge, Part II, Chapter 7, pp.77-86.

Best Paper Award

At the end of May 2015 the annual CHME research conference found place in Manchester (UK). Theme of the conference was ‘The future in our hands’. During this conference Dr Elena Cavagnaro was honoured with the Award for Best Paper of their track.

In 2018 the case on Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort that she co-authored with Femke Vrenegoor and Sarah Seidel won the CHRIE case study competition.

Senior Lecturer and Researcher Behavioural Interventions for Sustainability & CELTH

Ernst Jonker, MBA

Ernst Jonker (Edam, NL, 1959). He studied French and Sociology at the Teacher Training College in Leeuwarden and the University of Groningen, specialising in global issues (including supranational environmental-, development- and safety challenges). Started working as a teacher of French and Sociology at the Friesland College (now Firda).

After that, he worked as educational consultant at the Polemological Institute of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen and for COBO (Association for Vocational Education), developing curricula about international issues for vocational education in different sectors. Later on he facilitated the implementation of environmental management systems in education and health care for CPB (Central Project management Vocational Education).

He earned an MBA from the Universities of Twente (NL) and Cardiff (UK), specialising in sustainability. Following this, he worked with various consultancy firms, helping companies across sectors implement environmental, quality, and safety management systems. Drawing on this expertise, he began teaching Operations Management at Hotel Management School Leeuwarden in 1997. From 1999 to 2004, he (co)developed, implemented, and coordinated the part-time bachelor’s course in Hotel Management in the Netherlands and Aruba. Between 2006 and 2011, he was a member of the Sustainability research group at NHL Stenden, focusing on integrating sustainability into hotel management curricula. Collaborating with Elena Cavagnaro, he authored papers on effective sustainability implementation in universities of applied sciences, presenting these findings at conferences.

From 2011 onwards he (co)developed, implemented and executed the Work & Study (flexible) AD- and BA-programmes Hotel Management. He followed an in-depth course in coaching at the School voor Coaching, leading to the status of certified coach.

Since November 2020 he is back in the research group, with a focus on sustainable food in hospitality. Moreover, he currently is theme manager within the Agenda Conscious Destinations at the Centre of Expertise in Leisure, Hospitality and Tourism (CELTH).

Senior Researcher Sustainability

Femke Vrenegoor, PhD

Dr Femke Vrenegoor, M.A., has a keen interest in understanding and nudging sustainable behaviour amongst different groups of stakeholders. She has a background in hospitality and tourism, and has developed her research skills via multiple collaborations with both partners from the work field as well as students.

She is currently working as a lecturer at NHL Stenden Hotel Management School Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. She teaches sustainability in hospitality and supervises graduation research. Furthermore, she is part of the Research Group Sustainability in Hospitality in Tourism.

She completed her PhD in 2023 with Groningen University. Her research focused on understanding the antecedents to sustainable behaviour amongst SME tourism entrepreneurs. This work underscored that the relative strength of an entrepreneur determined how much and what kind of sustainable behaviour they demonstrate in their organisations. This knowledge offers interesting avenues for further exploration on behavioural interventions.

Researcher Circular Plastics and Behavioural Interventions for Sustainability

Judith Ogink, PD candidate

Judith Ogink studied Industrial Design Engineering at Technical University of Delft and has over ten years of experience as a product development engineer in the commercial sector. As a member of multidisciplinary product development teams she developed products from the initial concept through to the engineering phase. Since the end of 2018, she has been a researcher at NHL Stenden, highly motivated to contribute to practice-oriented developments for a sustainable society now and in the future through applied research.

At the intersection of design, technology, and behaviour, she works on themes such as circular design of products, and the application of circular plastics in circular products. She employs various design strategies that reduce the impact of products, optimise the use of materials, and also calculates this impact using Life Cycle Assessments. She involves students in her projects and gives lectures. Examples of projects include circular plastics in the hospitality industry on Terschelling, the application of litter in a climate-adaptive product, the processing and application of waste streams in the north of the Netherlands, and network formation with a view to the circular economy in the Northern Netherlands.

Since 2023, Judith has been a candidate in the pilot for the professor doctorate trajectory for the university of applied sciences of The Netherlands. In this role, she brings together her accumulated knowledge and experience to reflect on solutions for the problem of global plastic pollution. Her research focuses on nudging the behaviour regarding plastic use in the hospitality sector with the help of a circular product made from ocean plastic.

PhD candidate Change through Tourism

Konstantin Gridnevskiy, MA and PhD candidate

Senior Research Lecturer Principles and Practices of the Circular Economy

Lucia Tomassini, PhD

Dr Lucia Tomassini is a Senior Research Lecturer at Hotel Management School Leeuwarden of NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences, Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. 

Equipped with a background on Architecture and Urban Planning, and a MSc in Urban Development and Reconstruction in Developing Countries, complemented by a PhD in Events, Tourism, and Hospitality from Leeds Beckett University (UK) under the supervision of Prof. Rhodri Thomas and Prof. Xavier Font, her research focuses on cutting-edge areas within a more-than-human society.

Her research embraces circular economy and circularity in the physical and sociological space of tourism, leisure, and hospitality; posthuman approaches to animals, animal mobility, and the animal gaze within human societies; the role of alternative accommodations, food and culinary traditions for meaningful experiences and social inclusiveness; the interplay between mobility trends, spatial theories, and cultural geographies with regards to hospitality, tourism, and leisure.

Lucia has secured projects and funding through national and European grant programmes and published in highly regarded journals such as Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Tourism Geographies, Tourism Recreation Research, Current Issues in Tourism, and Journal of Tourism Futures among others. She has established and is co-organising the two ATLAS Special Interest Groups “Circular Economy and circularity in the space of tourism and hospitality” and “Animals in Tourism, Hospitality and Leisure”.

Founder and Co-coordinator of
Jr. Researcher Behavioural Interventions for Sustainability

Marie Hartmann, MSc

Marie Hartmann is German and came to Leeuwarden in 2017 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in International Hospitality Management. During her studies, she went on a Minor to South Africa, where she focused on the social aspect of sustainability, taking minors in Social Entrepreneurship and Food Security, albeit the latter online.

Upon returning to Leeuwarden, Marie began her internship in the back-of-house department of what was then Stenden Hotel. For her thesis, she continued her focus on sustainability, specifically addressing food waste at Stenden Hotel.

After graduating in July 2021, Marie decided to delve deeper into sustainability. She applied for the pre-master’s programme at the University of Groningen for MSc Sustainable Entrepreneurship and completed the half-year pre-master while still working for the back-of-house department of Stenden/Notiz Hotel (NHL Stenden Hospitality Group, NHG).

In September 2022, she commenced her master’s degree at Campus Fryslân. While studying, Marie continued to work for the back-of-house department of NHG, transitioning from a Junior Practical Facilitator (PF) in purchasing to being responsible for the stewarding department.

Shortly before her graduation in July 2023, Marie returned to working full-time as a Practical Facilitator in purchasing while still being responsible for the stewarding department of Notiz Hotel. During this time, she also began working with Elena Cavagnaro and joined the research group as a Junior Researcher for Sustainability in Hospitality and Tourism. In this role, she focuses on projects connected to NHG. Marie develops projects based on findings by existing academic research, tests them in NHG outlets to see their practicality, and writes summaries of the outcomes along with practical guidelines for practitioners. These are labelled “Tested by NHG” and are intended to be replicable in other hotels. She also involves students in these projects to raise awareness of sustainability practices among future hoteliers.

Marie’s specialty lies in circular economy and circular business model innovation, which was the topic of her master’s thesis. She collaborated with Circular Fryslân and CIRCO (circularity training) for her research.

Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Change through Hospitality

Sake Jan Velthuis, PhD candidate

Sake Jan Velthuis, MSc. has been intrigued with human decision-making ever since he discovered that people make irrational decisions in a predictable way. He graduated cum laude from the University of Amsterdam in 2015 with a specialty in consumer behaviour. After a slight detour, he resumed his academic career and started a PhD research project, trying to discover how friendships between bartenders and their guests develop. For the rest of the week, he teaches a minor in neuromarketing.

Before embarking on his academic pursuits, Sake Jan gained valuable practical experience as a bartender during his studies at Hotel Management School Leeuwarden. This hands-on experience enriched his understanding of the hospitality industry and provided him with unique insights into bartender-guest relationships. The place where he worked had many regulars with whom he still has a lot of contact, even after 20 years. This became the seed of his PhD project, where he investigated how bartender-guest relationships could grow. In collaboration with researchers from the Experience Lab at BUAS, he is working towards his doctoral title at Tilburg University. With his first research, he received the award for best paper in the Game Changer category at the CHME 2023 conference.

In his minor, neuromarketing, he teaches students to use psychophysiological measurements to better measure, explain, and predict consumer behaviour. Students utilise hardware and software to track eye movement, facial expression, brain waves, skin conductance, and more. This is done in combination with surveys. Research is not the goal but a means to better design marketing solutions for real-life clients. He is a member of the academic committee of the Neuro Marketing Science and Business Association and a member of the programme committee of the Neuromarketing World Forum.

Senior Researcher & Lecturer Behavioural Interventions for Sustainability

Sarah Seidel, MA

Senior Researcher at ISTAT (Rome, Italy) in Change through Tourism

Simona Staffieri, PhD

Simona Staffieri was born in 1975 in Rome (Italy). In 2001 she obtained a MA in Statistics and Economics from the University of Rome “La Sapienza”. After completing the degree, in 2004 she attained the Master in Sources, Tools and Methods for Social Research and in 2005 the Master in Statistics for Management of Information Systems. 

In 2013, she earned a PhD in “Research Methods for the Analysis of Socio-Economic Change” from “La Sapienza,” with her doctoral thesis focusing on youth tourism in Italy. She has been a researcher at the Italian National Statistical Institute since 2002, specialising in health and disability statistics. From 2015 to 2017, she served as an adjunct professor of Statistics for Tourism. Then, from 2017 to 2019, she was an adjunct professor of Economics of Tourism. In the academic year 2019-2020, she held a position as an adjunct professor of Statistics at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Sapienza University in Rome. Since 2018, she has been teaching Statistics and Data Analysis at the Master in Languages of Tourism and Intercultural Communication at the University of Studies “Roma Tre”.

Since 2012, she is an external member of the Research Group Sustainability in Hospitality and Tourism, at the Academy of International Hospitality Research at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences. In recent years she has participated in various research projects on the subject culture and well-being.

Recent publications
  • CICERCHIA, S. STAFFIERI (2023) Cultural Welfare Theatre in the Limelight. In Theater(s) and Public Sphere in a Global and Digital Society. Theoretical Explorations, Volume 1, Leiden, Boston a cura di Ilaria Riccioni – Brill, ISBN: 978-90-04-52654-9
  • TOMASSINI, S. STAFFIERI, E. CAVAGNARO (2021) Local food consumption and practice theory: a case study on guests’ motivations and understanding. Research in Hospitality Management volume 11 – Issue 2 – ISSN (PRINT): 2224-3534 – SSN (ONLINE): 2415-5152
  • BOLOGNA, S. STAFFIERI (2021) Women and leisure in the Italian context. Women & Leisure Book. CABI (International Academic publisher in the life sciences)
  • CAVAGNARO, S. STAFFIERI, A. CARRIERI, K. BURNS, N. CHEN, A. FERMANI (2021) Profiling for sustainable tourism: young travellers’ self- transcendence values and motivations. European Journal of Tourism Research, 28, 2810
  • CAVAGNARO, S. STAFFIERI, A. POSTMA (2018) Understanding millennials’ tourism experience: values and meaning to travel as a key for identifying target clusters for youth (sustainable) tourism. In Journal of Tourism Futures 4(1), 31-42, DOI:10.1108/JTF-12-2017-0058
Best Paper Award

At the end of May 2015, the annual CHME research conference found place in Manchester (UK). Theme of the conference was ‘The future in our hands’. During this conference Simona Staffieri and Dr Elena Cavagnaro were honoured with the Award for Best Paper of their track.

Editor in Chief - Research in Hospitality Management

Dr Rodney Westerlaken

Dr Rodney Westerlaken, M.A., M.Si., M.Ed., is a versatile professional with a passion for driving positive change across various domains. With a rich background encompassing philanthropy, activism, research, lecturing, and disaster management expertise, he brings a holistic approach to his research.

Currently serving as a lecturer at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, his commitment to education and academia extends to his role as the Editor in Chief of the Research in Hospitality Management journal, where he leads the charge in advancing scholarly discourse within the field.

Having earned his PhD in Cultural Studies from Universitas Udayana in 2020, Dr Westerlaken has conducted impactful research focused on cultural modification concerning children placed in child welfare institutions in Denpasar. This work underscores his dedication to addressing complex societal issues and advocating for vulnerable populations.

Beyond academia, Dr Westerlaken is the founder of the Westerlaken Foundation and serves as a Patron at Yayasan Westerlaken Alliance Indonesia, demonstrating his commitment to philanthropy and community development.

His academic journey includes acquiring master’s degrees in humanities, environmental studies, and education, reflecting his interdisciplinary approach to learning and problem-solving.

Dr Westerlaken’s research contributions span a diverse range of topics, from hospitality volunteer engagement and consumer behaviour to the impact of tourism on local communities and environmental sustainability. Notable publications include studies on volunteer engagement in residential care facilities, the ethical implications of wildlife tourism, and the relationship between sustainability initiatives and employee motivation in the hospitality industry.

With a keen focus on social responsibility and ethical practices, Dr Westerlaken continues to make significant strides in his academic pursuits, leveraging his expertise to effect positive change and inspire future generations. Currently, Dr Westerlaken is involved in a research project in volunteerism in hospitality, together with Breda University of Applied Science (BUas).

Research Lecturer in Change through Tourism

Roxana Mitroi-Korthof, PhD candidate

Roxana Mitroi-Korthof, MSc., is a dedicated tourism professional with significant industry experience and a strong background in research and education. Her areas of expertise include value-based sustainable behaviour, host-tourist interactions, policy, governance, and research methodologies.

Originally from Bucharest, Roxana holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Tourism Management from NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences and a Master’s degree in Tourism, Society and Environment from Wageningen University and Research. Her professional journey began in the MICE industry, followed by a research-based advisory role at the Dutch provincial government level. Her growing passion for education and research led her to become a lecturer at HZ University of Applied Sciences. In 2021, she joined the Academy of Leisure & Tourism at NHL Stenden as a Lecturer in Research within Tourism Management.

Since February 2024, Roxana has been part of the Sustainability in Hospitality & Tourism Research group, developing a research line on altruism within tourism. She is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Groningen, focusing on the role of altruism in host-tourist interactions and its influence on sustainable practices. In so doing, her work challenges the notion that tourists are primarily self-interested and proposes instead that altruism can underpin ethical tourism practices and sustainable behaviours.

Learn more about this professorship