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James Higham - image
Across his illustrious career, Professor James Higham has shown his commitment to active transport, from daily commuting to exploring some of Aotearoa’s most remote and beautiful landscapes on his mountain bike. Image background digitally extended.

Internationally acclaimed scholar and Distinguished Chair, Professor James Higham continues his outstanding and influential career focused on climate change and sustainable tourism in a new professorial role at Griffith University in Queensland.

“I am enormously grateful to the University of Otago for the wonderful opportunities and support that I have been given to pursue an academic career. The people I have worked with across the University over three decades have made every day enriching and enjoyable,” Professor Higham says.

Professor Higham’s long and impressive association with Otago began in 1992 as a PhD student in Geography, and continued as he began lecturing in the then Centre for Tourism.

He was instrumental in the establishment of Otago’s Department of Tourism, was appointed as a Professor in 2006 and served as Head of Department from 2006 to 2011.

In 2022, Professor Higham was appointed a Distinguished Chair which, then Vice-Chancellor Professor David Murdoch said, “acknowledges highly distinguished professors who have maintained an extraordinary level of activity across their scholastic work and have achieved pre-eminence in their fields.”

Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Commerce Maree Thyne says, “James was instrumental in getting the Department of Tourism onto the global academic stage – indeed instrumental in getting the interdisciplinary study of tourism recognised across academia.

“He was a founding member of the Department, working with Professor Geoff Kearsley to move the then centre with postgraduate diplomas and certificates to a department with a strong undergraduate programme and an enviable master’s and PhD programme.”

“In 2022, the Department of Tourism ranked 23rd worldwide in the Shanghai Ranking of World Universities. Undoubtedly James’ research expertise, teaching and supervision contributed to this impressive global ranking,” Professor Thyne says.

Professor Higham’s work attracted significant amounts of research funding over the course of his career at Otago, and his wide-ranging research portfolio includes 15 published books, 72 book chapters and 111 journal articles, as well as numerous invited keynote lectures.

His reputation and expertise are further recognised through his involvement in the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) as a member of the Business and Economics PBRF assessment panel for two terms in 2012 and 2018.

Professor Higham co-edited the highly ranked Journal of Sustainable Tourism for eight years from 2014-2021 and has served on the editorial boards of many other top-ranking journals.

He has also dedicated much time and energy to supervision, which he considers an enormous privilege. His supervision includes 38 PhD students, 36 masters’ students, and 92 post graduate dissertation students.

“James has been hugely influential for all of us and will be sorely missed. He really played an important role in putting the Department of Tourism on the map and keeping it there as one of the University’s top-ranked departments, as New Zealand’s leading tourism programme and within the top three tourism programmes in Australasia,” says Head of the Department of Tourism Professor Brent Lovelock.

“He has also been the driving force behind the University’s annual Tourism Policy School and has always been an advocate for making our research relevant to industry and society.

“He has played an important role in fostering a great post-graduate culture in the department – realising the importance of creating a welcoming, safe and enjoyable environment for our postgraduate students.”

Professor Higham has also put energy into combining his academic and personal interests.

In October 2019, he rode his mountain bike to Wānaka to speak at a conference on sustainable transportation. The following year, he completed a 3000km unsupported mountain bike ride from Cape Reinga to Bluff, and in March 2023 a 1500km ride from Meretoto (Queen Charlotte Track) to Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) via the Awatere River, Molesworth Station, Omarama Saddle and Nevis Valley, raising $10,000 for the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital.

He also combined the delivery of his Master’s course in Tourism and Global Environmental Change with field trips that involved his students in volunteer kanuka planting at the Future Forest, Otago Peninsula.

These activities combined his passions for climate action and wildlife conservation, and demonstrated his commitment to active transport ranging from daily commuting to exploring some of Aotearoa’s most remote and beautiful landscapes on his mountain bike.

“While I am excited about the new challenges and opportunities ahead at Griffith University, I will be returning regularly to Otago. It will always be my tūrangawaewae,” says Professor Higham.

Kōrero by Communications Adviser, Sally Knox

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