Tourism, tourist learning and sustainability: an exploratory discussion of complexities, problems and opportunities

Journal of sustainable tourism

I: Journal of sustainable tourism

Learning is often a central element of tourism. Tourists can learn actively, i.e. with a specific purpose, as well as passively through the comparison of values, norms and customs. It has been argued that travel supports active learning that has positive outcomes for sustainability, for instance, in the context of conservation. Yet, the complexity of active and passive learning processes and their outcomes for environmental sustainability and sustainable lifestyles remain insufficiently understood. Against this background, the paper discusses selected learning outcomes for transportation (air travel), accommodation (hotels) and activities (theme park visits).

Findings suggest that “desirable” learning (defined as pro-sustainable development learning) in tourism may be very limited, while in particular, passive learning processes which redefine social norms frequently have outcomes that are largely detrimental to sustainable lifestyles. They include forms of moral licensing, the diffusion of responsibilities as well as the attenuation of the negative consequences of travel. Given the economic, social and cultural importance of tourism vís-a-vís its global implications for environmental sustainability, learning outcomes in tourism deserve to be studied in greater detail, while strategies need to be devised to enhance sustainable learning effects.