Scientific Tourism, a tool to enhance research, education and scientific dissemination

Participants in Scientific Tourism can become involved with research projects across various scientific disciplines, at different stages of the methodological research process, and in a range of locations.
Scientific Tourism, a tool to enhance research, education and scientific dissemination

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The evolution of tourists' motivations and behaviors has promoted the emergence of new approaches to tourism, diverging from the traditional sun and beach, and mass tourism. A market niche whose main motivation for travel is scientific knowledge and, above all, the interest in participating or collaborating in scientific studies of various disciplines, has shaped what is currently known as Scientific Tourism (ST) (Bourlon and Mao 2011; Kosiewicz 2014; West 2008, Bourlon et al. 2021).

Successful ST contains all the attributes of ecotourism in addition to human capital as a key factor and, in some cases, high-level technical equipment (Laing 2010). Opportunities for ST have emerged across diverse disciplines and in the different stages of the methodological process of research, creating tourism experiences that attract a variety of interests.

There are four main categories of ST:

  • Cultural Trips, which contain a scientific element and focus mainly on the transmission of knowledge.
  • Scientific Expeditions, such as adventure travel, expeditions and sport trips with a scientific purpose.
  • Eco-Volunteering, which focuses on the participation of non-scientists or trainees in ongoing research processes.
  • Scientific Research, where the approach is purely scientific production but with a component of knowledge transmission and research processes by members or participants associated with the project.
Photo of project Atelier éducatif Parque Patagonia
Field educational activities of CIEP in Patagonia Park, Scientific Tourism project in the Patagonian Archipelagos

A broad network with shared goals

The International Network for Research and Development in Scientific Tourism (ISTN) brings together institutions and actors in the fields of university education, scientific research and tourism management. The aim of the network is to promote links, collaboration and support between researchers, trainers, entrepreneurs, public managers and local communities in order to analyze and promote this form of tourism based on science. The members of the network seek to promote participatory research and citizen science, strengthen spaces for social inclusion in research projects, and improve the dissemination of relevant scientific results for tourism spaces.

ST has evolved significantly over the last decade driven by public policies and the interest of various academic and private actors. Involving travelers in ongoing research initiatives of developing tourism destinations allows the creation of connections with the heritage and cultural institutions of these territories.

Participants of the “Station Meteo Patagonia Explorer” project, at the Laguna San Rafael National Park ecosystem
Patagonia UC, Scientific Station in the Outskirts of Laguna San Rafael National Park

Identifying and developing opportunities

The potential of ST in nature-based destinations depends on key stakeholder and factors of selected thematical issues, research and academic structures, logistics and demand. This potential can be assessed weighing four criteria: scientific research possibilities; supply of services to support scientific travel; value chain articulation; and current demand for ST in the destination. In each destination it is possible to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for the sustainable development of ST services and programs in the destination (Veloso, Bourlon & Szmulewicz, in print 2023).

For example, the Aysén Region of Chilean Patagonia (where several network members are based) has explored since 2008 a range of opportunities, such as the development of tourism in the Patagonian Archipelagos that benefits the socio-economic growth of local communities and the conservation of ecosystems; the linking of local tourism operators to museums and cultural/national landmarks; the development of a Community Cetacean Census for citizen scientists; and the multidisciplinary exploration and study of the Laguna San Rafael National Park ecosystem. The Aysén Region continues to strengthen local capacities (Bourlon, Vialette & Mao, 2022), for example with a project that aims to consolidate the link between the scientific community and the tourism enterprises in marine protected areas, through the incorporation of technologies such as hydrophones.

Photo of scientific project RMB Area Marina participants on a zodiac
Piti Palena Marine Protected Area and Fjords of Norther Aysén, Community Cetacean Census Project

You can watch videos of some of the ST projects on the International Scientific Tourism Network YouTube channel, as well as the examples embedded below.

Overview of the Patagonia Archipelago Project, an international destination for Scientific Tourism (Spanish language video)

Scientific expedition to the Isthmus of Ofqui, on the region of the  Laguna San Rafael, Golfo San Esteban, 2014 - Scientific Tourism, CIEP (Spanish language video)

Scientific Tourism all over the world

The International Scientific Tourism Network has projects and initiatives in other regions, including:

The botanical gardens of Lautaret, Université Grenoble Alpes

This project’s mission is the development of research platforms, the maintenance of botanical collections, the training of students and the dissemination of science among the general public.

Serra Gaúcha Protected Areas and New Geopark, Universidad Caxias do Sul

On this project, University activities, scientific congresses and explorations with local and tourism actors seeks to coordinate the enhancement of the Serra Gaucha and the creation of a UNESCO Geopark in the Campos de Cima da Serra.

Algarve’s Mediterranean landscape and flora, Universidad de Algarve LabEx Item and Université Grenoble Alpes

A scientific eco-volunteer tourism project as part of university programs that aims to offer free guided tours to tourists throughout the Algarve region.

Mont Blanc Participatory Science, Ecology and Knowledge Sharing, Centre de Recherches sur les Ecosystèmes d’Altitude

CREA Mont-Blanc is a research organization specializing in the study of natural mountain environments. As part of this project, it organizes scientific seminars and field activities open to the public such as the “Science Sandwich” program at the Mont Blanc Observatory, which invites people to meet researchers who study the mountain.

Project RefLab - Sentinel Shelters, LabEx Item, Université Grenoble Alpes

This project develops an experimental system of observation of changes in high mountains based on the refuge as a place of measurement, observation, work and exchange between the natural and social sciences. Interdisciplinary, the system studies geophysical, climatic and biological processes, as well as tourism and sports practices.

LACOS – Coastal Lagoons of Rio Grande do Sul, Universidad Caxias do Sul

The objective of the Coastal Lagoons project was to assess the situation of the coastal lagoons of Rio Grande do Sul in terms of water characteristics, biodiversity and the various environmental services provided by these ecosystems.

The Scientific Tourism Network website has details on these and more initiatives, as well as links to resources, projects and plans for new initiatives. For more information on the objectives of the ISTN, please contact Fabien Bourlon [email protected]International Scientific Tourism Network logoReferences:

  • Scientific Tourism Definition:
  • Bourlon, F., Gale, T., Adiego, A., Álvarez-Barra, V., & Salazar, A. (2021). Grounding sustainable tourism in science — A geographic approach. Sustainability, 13(7455),
  • Bourlon, F., & Mao, P. (2011). Las formas del turismo científico en Aysén, Chile. Gestión Turística, (15), 74–98.
  • Bourlon, F., Vialette, Y, & Mao, P. (2022). “Science as a resource for territorial and tourism development of mountainous areas of Chilean Patagonia”. Journal of Alpine Research, 110-1, .
  • Kosiewicz, J. (2014). Scientific Tourism, Aspects, Religious and Ethics Values. Physical Culture and Sport. Studies and Research, 62(1), 83–93.
  • Laing, J. (2010). Science Tourism: exploring the potencial for astrobiology funding and outreach. Astrobiology Science Conference, 2–3.
  • Veloso, K., Bourlon, F. & Szmulewicz P. (In print 2023) "Assessing the potential of Scientific Tourism in a nature destination with an abundance of protected wilderness areas: the case of Patagonia, Aysén region" In Gale & al. "Tourism and conservation-based development in the periphery: Lessons from Patagonia for a rapidly changing world", Springer - Natural and Social Sciences of Patagonia.
  • West, P. (2008). Tourism as Science and Science as Tourism. Current Anthropology, 49(4), 597–626.

Photo by Hans-Jürgen Weinhardt on Unsplash 

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Go to the profile of Fernán Gizzi
over 1 year ago

This is great! I didn't know that a network like this existed. Recently I've trying to unite scuba diving with my science formation and maybe this is the place!

Go to the profile of Fiona Veira-McTiernan
over 1 year ago

That sounds brilliant! I hope you can make it work out.