Magazine article Newsweek International

Learning to Relax; Education Vacations: Holidaymakers Are Trading Sunscreen for Spiral Notebooks and Hoping to Gain Something More Than a Mere Tan

Magazine article Newsweek International

Learning to Relax; Education Vacations: Holidaymakers Are Trading Sunscreen for Spiral Notebooks and Hoping to Gain Something More Than a Mere Tan

Article excerpt

Byline: Sana Butler

Unlike most visitors to Jamaica, Kofi Agorsah couldn't care less if it rains. After all, the black-studies professor from Oregon comes not for the sun and surf but to trek into the rain forest and study the Maroons, descendants of escaped slaves from the 18th century. Since UNESCO put the Maroons on its list of 47 endangered cultures this year, Agorsah says he sees a lot more tourists on the trail. "[The Maroons] are difficult to get to," he says. "You really have to want to go."

Growing numbers of travelers are trading sunscreen for spiral notebooks and forgoing relaxation for mind expansion. The World Tourism Organization recently announced that cultural education makes up the fastest-growing segment of the tourism trade. To answer the demand, museums, universities and wildlife organizations are offering programs to study everything from paleontology in Mongolia and volcanology in Hawaii to bullfighting in Spain and marine life in the Mediterranean.

National governments are catching on; the tourism board in Spain is currently looking for ways to shift its focus from beaches to monuments, sites and heritage. And on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, the Polynesian Cultural Center doubled its advertising budget this year to promote local music, dance and food festivals. "Most people have done the well-traveled path of leisure," says Edan Harvey of Traveller, the British Museum tour operator, whose expert-led cultural tours have grown 200 percent in the past nine years. "Now they want to know how the world ticks."

The key to a successful education vacation is having a qualified instructor. Since the United States and Britain dropped travel restrictions to Uganda two years ago, London-based Volcanoes Safaris has seen a 25 percent increase in requests for primatologists to serve on treks as gorilla guides. …

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