Researcher Profile: Niloufar Arabi


Innovative research methods to understand the future of tourism

By MacEachen Institute Staff | Nov. 24, 2023
University of Strathclyde PhD researcher Niloufar Arabi

In 2020, the MacEachen Institute and the University of Strathclyde in Glasglow, Scotland began a SSHRC-funded project that uses innovative research methods to examine the accessibility of the tourism industry for people with disabilities. A comparative project investigating the sectors in Nova Scotia and in Glasgow, this research is international in scope and includes eight researchers from five academic institutions in Canada and Scotland. One of these researchers, PhD candidate Niloufar Arabi (Nilou), brings an additional international element to the project. Originally from Iran, the MacEachen Institute has been pleased to host Nilou for the last two months as the project conducts its first round of scenario planning sessions in Halifax.

After earning her Bachelor’s degree in statistics and Master’s in mathematical statistics, Nilou worked for eight years as a data analyst and market researcher in the medical, oil and chemical industries.

Throughout her career, she was often faced with situations where a lack of reliable data was a roadblock to solving the problem at hand. Without reliable data, researchers rely on forecasting methods with varying degrees of accuracy to make decisions when dealing with uncertainties. 

Her interest in solving these complex problems led her to the PhD program in Management Science at the University of Strathclyde. Management science involves developing tools to more accurately make decisions and solve problems in situations where the future is uncertain. This is especially useful in certain sectors where there are many variables that affect the sector’s stability, such as the tourism industry. 

Nilou’s research involves finding comparable scenarios from different contexts and past events, and finding similarities and connections that can also be applied to the tourism sector. These similarities can then be used to more accurately predict what the future of the sector may look like, allowing businesses to plan for those potential futures with less uncertainty. While this is an innovative method, it comes from a cognitive process that people do every day: analogical reasoning.

Analogical reasoning is the process of identifying the similarities between two different situations. “People use analogies daily without realizing it,” says Nilou. An important part of her PhD is studying how people identify these analogies, and how they use them to understand and solve problems. “We can use these related concepts to create structures to solve messy problems,” says Nilou. In the case of this research project, the ‘messy problem’ in question is the recovery of the tourism industry in the wake of COVID-19, and how the sector can be made more accessible for people with disabilities. 

People with disabilities face additional barriers that increase the uncertainty of their ability to fully participate in tourism, such as inaccessible booking services and limited availability of accessible accommodations. Through a series of scenario planning sessions and individual interviews with research participants, Nilou is hoping to identify analogies that can improve the predictability of the future of tourism for people with disabilities. “This is a completely new method in the social sciences,” says Nilou. “By quantifying this qualitative information, we can solve problems that we don’t have the data to solve otherwise.” This innovative method has endless applications in the tourism industry and beyond.