Transformational tourism: extraordinary experiences and learning
Conference contribution, 2016
Transformational tourism deals with how travel and tourism can change human behaviour and impact the world in positive ways. The transformation occurs when people get so deeply involved in experiences that they reflect on their own situation, expand their con¬sciousness, and ultimately alter their future behaviour and worldview. This progressive process is closely related to how learning is described in literature, but although learning theories are significantly applicable to and important to tourism, they have been more or less neglected in tourism studies.
The purpose with the paper is to explore the relationship between experiences, learning and transformation. It highlights the capabilities of extraordinary tourism experiences to transform people and societies. A study of the small ecotourism destination of Dunga located by the shores of Lake Victoria in Western Kenya implies that students get a good connection to the place and its ecological challenges when the knowledge comes from the interaction with fishmongers and fishermen. These local entrepreneurs have first-hand experience on how pollution, over-fishing and the invasion water hyacinths affect their work: in the decreasing number and species of fish, and the long hours spent with cutting off the hyacinths’ roots from their fishing nets. The type of learning students get through such experience would not be obtainable in the confinement of a classroom. However, extraordinary experiences are defined as intense, joyful and temporal, while transformational learning is about what matters in the long run. Does this mean that extraordinary experiences cannot be transformational? And what role does immersion play in this context? The paper identifies immersion as an important dimension of the extraordinary experience in order for the experience to be transformational. However, immersion may not necessarily be entirely positive. Anger, fear and other ‘negative’ emotions enhance critical reflection, and difficult issues are important for changes in values and behaviour.