The Educational Tourist

By Gibson, Heather | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, April 1998 | Go to article overview

The Educational Tourist


Gibson, Heather, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


The stereotypical images of tourists still prevail. They are the camera-toting individuals visiting well-known attractions or the beach lovers working on their tan. However, in recent years the options available to tourists have expanded significantly. One popular type of leisure-based travel is educational tourism. "To a growing number of people, a vacation is a chance to stimulate not disconnect the brain" ("Many take vacations," 1997).

The concept of education through travel is not new. In the past, the Grand Tour was the culminating experience in the education of the young aristocratic male. By traveling through different countries, he was exposed to different cultures, arts, languages, and politics (Nash, 1979). In the nineteenth century, there is evidence that some women were also engaging in Grand Tours. The writings of Isabelle Eberhardt (1988) traveling in North Africa at the turn of the century is one such example. However, the structured educational study-tours are a more recent phenomenon.

Educational tourism is the tourism trend of the future, and not just for the senior population. University alumni associations, community organizations, and even Walt Disney World now offer educationally oriented vacations for all age groups. But who are these educational tourists? How popular is educational tourism when compared to other, more traditional forms of vacation travel?

Identifying the Educational Tourist

A sample of 1,277 New England residents, ranging in age from 17 to 91 years (mean age 46.3 years), was surveyed about vacation activities. Educational tourists were identified as those respondents who indicated that they took part in study tours or who attended workshops to learn new skills or improve existing ones while on vacation (Gibson, 1994).

The results indicated that preference for educational travel is lower than for more traditional vacation styles. More than 20 percent of the men and 25.8 percent of the women in the sample reported that they took educationally oriented vacations. However, when the preference for educational tourism is analyzed over the adult life course, interest in this sort of vacation increases significantly, especially among women. Cohen (1984) suggested that motivation for travel is increasingly understood in terms of how it relates to the individual's long-term psychological needs and life plans. Furthermore, Gibson and Yiannakis suggest that tourist role preference is not only related to social and psychological needs, but also to one's stage in life (Gibson, 1989; 1994; Gibson & Yiannakis, 1993; Yiannakis & Gibson, 1988). Indeed, travel professionals attribute much of the growth in educational tourism to aging baby boomers. "The baby boomers seem to want to learn something when they travel" ("Many take vacations," 1997).

Why does interest in educational tourism increase with age? To help answer this question, it is useful to interpret the trend using Levinson's developmental model of the adult life course (Levinson, 1996; Levinson, Darrow, Klein, Levinson, & McKee 1978). Levinson found that the life course goes through a sequence of 10 periods. Each period is associated with a number of developmental tasks. While these developmental tasks are common to everyone, the actual character of an individual's life is shaped by her or his relationship to society, including occupation, marriage and family, and personal needs.

Levinson (1996) suggested that individuals in their early twenties are busy experimenting with new identities, establishing their independence, and generally searching for adventure. Thus, although some men and women aged 17 to 22 years took educationally oriented vacations, most of this age group seemed to prefer thrills, excitement, sun, and fun while on vacation. Many individuals in this age group are students; therefore, spending a vacation on a study tour is too much like their everyday routine. Also, educational vacations may not fulfill the need for adventure and excitement associated with this life stage. …

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