International Handbook on Ecotourism
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International Handbook on Ecotourism

Edited by Roy Ballantyne and Jan Packer

This Handbook brings together contributions from over forty international experts in the field of ecotourism. It provides a critical review and discussion of current issues and concepts – it challenges readers to consider the boundaries of what ecotourism is, and could be. The Handbook provides practical information regarding the business of ecotourism; insights into ecotourist behaviour and visitor experiences; and reflections on the practice of ecotourism in a range of different contexts.
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Chapter 13: Free-choice learning and ecotourism

John H. Falk and Nancy L. Staus


The early origins of Western tourism were associated with a desire for learning experiences, but were mostly restricted to the wealthy. The advent of mass tourism in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries provided opportunities in Western societies for the middle classes to participate in leisure travel – increasingly leisure and tourism were seen as mechanisms for escaping from the physical and sometimes mental exhaustion of work. Classic “supply” responses to tourists’ needs for diversion and relaxation at this time were the growth of European and UK seaside resorts, the development and worldwide proliferation of tropical resort hotels and in the USA the invention by Disney of the theme park. By the mid twentieth century, the vast majority of tourism experiences were designed to be passive, hedonistic experiences. Today, tourism has matured into an industry with many different specialized experiences, including many that are primarily active and educationally oriented – ecotourism experiences being the fastest growing of these. Edwards, McLaughlin and Ham (2003, p. 293) note that one of ecotourism’s “essential and defining characteristics . . . is that it raises awareness of the environment and its natural and cultural values; that is, that it has an educational or learning component.” Accordingly, it is expected that ecotourism operators need to be able to conceptualize and measure their public educational impact.

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