• José-Carlos García-Rosell

The future of tourism education in a post-pandemic world

Updated: Feb 12

In 2010, John Urry presented a range of possible futures for the middle of this century assuming that global warming continued to escalate. In his scenarios, Urry described the substantial breakdown of the multiple mobilities, energy, and communication connections that continue to straddle our globalized market society. This snapshot of possible futures seemed unrealistic in terms of tourism; nothing could slow the steady growth of the tourism industry. At least not until COVID-19 began to spread around the world, bringing the engines of tourism, and the entire global economy, to a standstill. The coronavirus pandemic has caused the kinds of disruption to mobility and to production and consumption practices only imagined by Urry.

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While tourism’s impact on the natural world is evident, it is also clear that tourism cannot be sustained without it. However, despite the significant role that tourism plays in climate change and environmental degradation, ecological questions have remained at the periphery of tourism education. Although a number of publications exist around tourism education for sustainability, they tend to be framed by anthropocentric thinking and thus fail to provide the paradigm shift that is needed to respond to the contemporary environmental crisis (Taylor, 2017).

Towards more reflexive ways of knowing with nature

Tourism education, and the knowledge that is produced in its curricula, can be held partially accountable for the conflicting and fragile relationship between tourism and Earth systems. By emphasizing the management and domination of nature for the sake of hedonistic experiences, tourism education and the idea of sustainable development have contributed to the artificial division between culture and nature, human and environment (Rantala et al., 2020). It is therefore timely to discuss new ways in which tourism education could produce knowledge that is better connected to the natural world.

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There is an urgent need for tourism educators to explore new avenues for more reflexive and collaborative ways of knowing with nature. The notion of “knowing with” not only highlights our relationships with the natural world but also helps us recognize our individual entanglements with a much wider range of creatures (Rantala et al., 2019). By focusing on collective learning with nature rather than just providing knowledge about it, tourism educators can encourage students to imagine ways of crafting their relationship to the world anew (Grimwood et al., 2018). Indeed, we need more reflexive pedagogies that help learners develop the capacity to question prevailing practices in the production and consumption of tourism and critically evaluate its planning to foster more caring tourism practices (Caton & Grimwood, 2018; Fullagar & Wilson, 2012; García-Rosell, 2014; Wilson & von der Heidt, 2013).

This blog post is based on the editorial of the special issue, “Knowing with Nature: The future of tourism education in the Anthropocene” (2020) co-authored with Emily Höckert, Outi Rantala, and Minni Haanpää and published in the Journal of Teaching in Travel & Tourism.

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