Travel as an Educational Tool

educational travel - image courtesy of Saba Bibi from Pixabay
image courtesy of Saba Bibi from Pixabay

In the northern hemisphere, the months of May and June not only represent the dawn of summer but the end of the academic year and the start of tourism’s high season.

From the tourism industry’s perspective, as the academic year wanes, tourism enters into its high seasons. It is also at this time of the year that new tourism educational opportunities begin to emerge. Educational tourism is one of the fastest growing areas of travel and tourism. It is also one that is too often overlooked by tourism professionals and marketers.

Educational tourism is not only for young students. People of all ages, from the healthy retired to families looking for new and innovative travel experiences, seek new learning opportunities. It is during this time of the year that the tourism industry can offer wonderful ways to combine the fun of travel with learning adventures. Additionally, many meetings and conventions have either an educational component to them or serve their members by being educational instruments.

Often educational tourism is called by other names, such as career enhancement, job development, or self-actualization experiences. Educational tourism comes in a wide variety of formats, yet despite the differences in names, all forms of educational tourism have a number of points in common. Among these are the idea that travel is as much about self-improvement as it is about relaxation, that learning can be fun, and that learning is for people of all ages.

School Field Trips

It may pay for a community to create reasons for school children to visit. While these trips rarely translate directly into overnight stays, they can help promote tourism product in 2 ways: (1) children may bring their parents back for a longer visit, and (2) school trips can increase the local restaurant business.

Alternative “Spring Break” Travel Experiences

This form of educational travel may be the most controversial form, so much so that some argue that spring break travel has more to do with fun and recreation than learning. Despite the traditional form of a spring break where students go to snow covered mountains or beaches with palm trees, new and creative forms of spring breaks are being developed. These alternative spring breaks combine fun with learning experiences and leisure time with social action and doing for others. In either case, a community should consider the pros and cons of spring break tourism. In some cases, the traditional sun and surf spring breakers add extra tourism costs in the form of police and sanitation overtime.

Study Abroad Experiences

Many major universities around the world promote some form of foreign travel for their students. Study abroad experiences provide students with anything from 6-week intensive study sessions to a full year of cultural and linguistic emersion. US universities that have long seen themselves as student-exporters have now come to realize that non-English-speaking students seek US study abroad adventures, too. Students often travel not only within their destination country of choice but throughout that county and even to neighboring lands. The goal here is to widen the educational experience so that university students do not only know their own culture but also that of at least one other nation.

Seminar Vacations and Senior Seminars

These types of travel experience especially appeal to those who have recently retired. These new and innovative programs provide senior citizens with everything from a chance to learn about the arts to physics lectures or astronomy. Senior citizen programs might be conducted at hotels, camps, or on university campuses. Senior citizens are less restricted to specific dates and are often free when tourism entities are in “low season.” 

Doing Vacations

Closely related to seminar vacations are “hands-on enhanced experience” vacations. For example, each year thousands of people travel to Israel to learn something about an archeological dig and then pay to participate on such a dig.

Skill Enhancement Vacations

These are trips that range from learning how to build houses to how to protect the ecology. Nations such as Costa Rica have been extremely successful with eco-tourism in which they combine lessons on how to protect the world’s ecology with the travel experience.

Educational Cruises

These cruises combine all of the fun of a cruise with lectures on specific subjects. Educational cruises have the advantage that people who take them tend to have a common interest and, therefore, have a greater possibility of making new friends while acquiring new knowledge.

Educational tourism offers another major advantage. It does not need to be weather dependent; a community does not need special geography and usually most of the needed infrastructure is already in place.

•     Develop a tourism educational inventory. Work with local schools and universities to know what is of educational interest to visitors.   While historical sites are an important part of educational tourism, do not neglect other aspects.  For example, can you incorporate a local science lab into your list of educational offerings?  Is there a way to work with a local school in order to teach an athletic skill?  These skill enhancement trips are a great way for working people to de-stress while learning a new skill or perfecting an older one.

•     Find local people who would be willing to teach others a skill or impart some form of knowledge. These people become local attractions and the tourism industry can help them to earn extra money at the same time.

•     Make sure that conference planners know that you can offer local educational experiences as a way to enhance their conference. Offer local experiences to conferences and seminars that add both professional knowledge and personal growth. Indicate that you are willing to include family members who may also be attending the conference.

•     Be careful of who works in educational tourism. Often tour guides and other educational tourism staff members forget that educational tourism is based around people on vacation. These people do not want to be treated as children. Never forget that they are paying guests.

•     Establish regional tourism study groups. One of the best ways to promote educational tourism is to be involved in it yourself.  Pick a topic for the year and help hotels and other tourism establishments know that visitors are welcome to come for one or more sessions.

Educational tourism then comes in a great variety of formats, places seeking to enhance their educational tourism product, however, have to first consider who their market is and what they have to teach others that is special or unique. Educational tourism is a way to use better facilities already in place, especially during off seasons, and increase interpersonal understanding through unique and creative travel experiences.

The author, Dr. Peter E. Tarlow, is President and Co-Founder of the World Tourism Network and leads the Safer Tourism program.


About the author

Dr. Peter E. Tarlow

Dr. Peter E. Tarlow is a world-renowned speaker and expert specializing in the impact of crime and terrorism on the tourism industry, event and tourism risk management, and tourism and economic development. Since 1990, Tarlow has been aiding the tourism community with issues such as travel safety and security, economic development, creative marketing, and creative thought.

As a well-known author in the field of tourism security, Tarlow is a contributing author to multiple books on tourism security, and publishes numerous academic and applied research articles regarding issues of security including articles published in The Futurist, the Journal of Travel Research and Security Management. Tarlow’s wide range of professional and scholarly articles includes articles on subjects such as: “dark tourism”, theories of terrorism, and economic development through tourism, religion and terrorism and cruise tourism. Tarlow also writes and publishes the popular on-line tourism newsletter Tourism Tidbits read by thousands of tourism and travel professionals around the world in its English, Spanish, and Portuguese language editions.

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