|Passengers from Aurora Expeditions in the Arctic (Roderick Eime)|
The collaborative study by The University of Queensland (UQ) and Oregon State University found a major shift as people viewed their holidays as ways to explore new ideas and cultures, art, science and history.
UQ School of Tourism researchers Professor Roy Ballantyne, Dr Jan Packer and Dr Pierre Benckendorff say that increasingly affluent and educated people around the world are ready to see travel in less conventional ways, and that lifelong learning and personal enrichment can compete favorably with sandy beaches or thrill rides.
"It is expected that tourism will become ever more centred upon a quest for something larger and something more personally fulfilling," Professor Ballantyne said.
"Our study predicts that the quest for knowledge and understanding, enacted through travel, will continue to be a dominant theme of the new century."
In the 1700s and 1800s, a "Grand Tour" of Europe was considered an educational rite of passage for upper-class citizens of the gentry or nobility, in which months of travel throughout the continent offered education about art, culture, language, and everything from history to science and fencing to dancing.
In the 20th century, the expansion of tourism was often focused on amusement parks and tropical resorts and towards the end of the century, more leisure time and lower relative cost of travel opened the door for people to consider different types of recreation focused on intellectual engagement.
"There is already an increase in tour operators and travel agencies offering educational opportunities like whale, dolphin and turtle watching as well as other specialised ecotourism experiences that have visitor environmental learning as a major focus and outcome," Professor Ballantyne said.
Professor John Falk of Oregon State University said "The National Park Service (USA) already does a great job with its resources, teaching people about science, geology and history. The push for more international travel experiences as a part of formal education for students is an outgrowth of this concept."
The researchers are convinced that a focus on visitor free-choice learning in tourism experiences is just the beginning of a major shift reflecting how people want to spend their leisure time, and one that could have important implications for intellectual and cultural growth around the world.
The paper reporting on the research has recently been accepted for publication in the top ranked international journal Annals of Tourism Research.