Dinesha Senarathna

Dinesha Senarathna

Doctor of Philosophy candidate

There’s a lack of understanding of the local community experience of tourism development and its impact on national parks, says PhD student Dinesha Senarathna who came to AUT as an international student from Sri Lanka.

“Wildlife tourism is one of the fastest-growing tourism sectors in Sri Lanka, especially in areas like Ruhuna National Park (Yala). My doctoral research explores how protected area tourism can support the sustainable development of local communities and, in return, how these communities are willing to support conservation.

“My research will provide practical insights that can enable the development of evidence-based tourism approaches for national park conservation policy and the development of protected area-related sustainable community benefits in Sri Lanka and other developing country settings.”

A passion for tourism geography
She aims to specialise in tourism geography, says Dinesha who is a geography lecturer at the University of Kelaniya in her native Sri Lanka.

“When I decided to pursue a doctoral degree, I was looking for a supervisor with a geography background to supervise my PhD. I found a perfect fit at the New Zealand Tourism Research Institute (NZTRI) at AUT. My PhD supervisors are Professor Simon Milne and Dr Carolyn Deuchar, both from NZTRI.”

Expecting to complete her PhD in 2021, Dinesha already has a clear idea what she will do next.

“Once I finish my studies, I’m planning to return to Sri Lanka and continue my academic career with the confidence and pride gained from the AUT PhD.”

Supported to thrive
Dinesha appreciates the friendly and supportive environment AUT offers.

“The friendliness and the supportive attitude of the academic staff and the other PhD students have been a highlight for me. You feel comfortable as an international student at AUT. There’s a strong bond among the PhD students in the School of Hospitality and Tourism, and you know that you’re not alone in your PhD journey even though you’re working on your own individual research project.”

She has had many opportunities to network and develop her skills, Dinesha says.

“I’m a member of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) student chapter, which brings together students and tourism industry representatives in the Asia-Pacific region to share their experiences and thoughts. Joining the AUT Toastmasters Club has also been really helpful to develop my public speaking and leadership skills, and I’m now serving as the secretary of this club. I’m also working part-time at AUT as a casual lecturer, a research assistant and an invigilator.”