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Travel and Learn

Travel as education is a time-honoured tradition. In some cultures, it has even assumed the status of initiation into adulthood.

Right now, it’s holiday season and that means – whether through a rite of passage or a holiday vacation – people all over the world are traveling near and far. Whether you’re beaching it on Queensland’s Gold Coast or off for a weekend in Lake Tahoe, Paris or Istanbul – whenever we travel, we participate in tourism, one of the world’s largest industries.

We also have the opportunity to participate in learning and action that can help save the world!

But first, let’s get a sense of the size of this industry.

According to the World Tourism Organisation (2005), every year, more than 800 million tourists arrive at international destinations. Almost 10% of all jobs are directly or indirectly linked to travel and tourism. “The World Travel and Tourism Council calculates that the sector accounts for $6.4 trillion of economic activity, over 10 percent of the world total – meaning that a massive number of people the world over count on tourism revenues for their survival.

In fact, for many countries, tourism is among the top three sources of foreign exchange” (cited by Zoe Chafe in World-Changing, 2006, p.363).

From a sustainability education perspective, travel and tourism provide an interesting context for us to consider the following:

  • Will we spend our money wisely? Does our “conscientious dollar” make a healthy contribution to the sustainability of the communities we visit?
  • Is our mode of travel the best option? Should we fly? Drive? And if so, will we carbon off-set? Or can we rail or sail and take our time to get there?
  • What are the sustainable tourism options for our travel program? How will we ensure we minimize the impacts of our journey?
  • What do we hope to learn? Is a “learning journey” part of our agenda?
  • Have we considered voluntourism (volunteering-focused travel)? As many people have discovered, volunteering is a great way to travel and give back to the communities we visit.

We also have the opportunity (irrespective of our destination) to experience learning that may potentially transform our lives. Through different environments and cultures, the benefits of a “change of scene” are widely known. In addition to other factors, this might explain why many tourists visit a particular community only once in their lifetime.

This once in a lifetime opportunity provides us with unique and memorable experiences that shape us as human beings. As Zoe Chafe outlines in World Changing (2006), the growing “Traveler’s Philantrhopy” movement enables tourists (and tour operators) to give back to their host communities. “For some, giving back is just the right thing to do; for others, it is a way to enhance their image and make it easier to continue working within the community. Whatever the reason, their contributions of time, talent, and treasure are changing the face of tourism”.

So whether you’re planning a holiday this season or next, remember to think twice before jumping aboard the travel bug.

Read about responsible travel, ask questions like the ones listed above. And consider how you might be able to give – as well as receive – from the people and places you aim to visit.


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