Project puts science at the heart of tourism

Science tourism could be at the heart of Arctic and Scottish Highlands travel experience, according to two research centres at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

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Expedition cruise ship passengers on a guided hike on Baffin Island, Canada.

Researchers are calling for tourism businesses interested in developing products in remote destinations across a range of subjects such as marine science, geology, climate change, archaeology and local ecosystems to take part in the EU-funded project worth over €1 million. 

An international consortium led by the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland hope that the two-year scientific tourism (SCITOUR) project will help small businesses and start-ups based in remote northern regions to create, promote and sell new products offering tourists an educational experience, and help to diversify local economies.

The SCITOUR project has grown out of recent patterns whereby once remote destinations have become more accessible. Though many Arctic destinations are closed to visitors this year, given fears about the spread of Covid-19 in small and vulnerable communities with little medical infrastructure, over the last decades Arctic and peri-Arctic regions have seen an increasing number of visitors. The growth of the expedition cruise industry, cheaper accommodation and an increase in flights have all contributed to this trend. Visitors to these regions are often curious, drawn to less-visited parts of the world to experience and learn about somewhere that is off the beaten track. The project partners believe that this demand will remain strong and contribute to the recovery of the tourism sector.

Project manager Ari Laakso from the University of Lapland said “Travellers want to understand and learn about what they see and experience. Often, tourists will visit a museum, a science centre or a culturally interesting venue to learn more about natural phenomena, but why not take this a step further? This new tourism concept would focus on utilising and communicating science in a fun and hands-on fashion, exploring a certain topic or place.”

“Scientists have always travelled to remote places for study and research. In the same way, tourists travel to remote destinations to experience something different.”

The project is part-funded by the Northern Periphery and Arctic (NPA) Programme of the European Union. It draws on the expertise of Perth College UHI’s Centre for Mountain Studies and the Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research at West Highland College UHI, research bodies with experience of managing similar projects on slow adventure and ecotourism. They will work with international partners at the University of Lapland, University of Iceland and Greenland National Museum, as well as tourism entrepreneurs and tourism marketing associations.

Dr Rosalind Bryce, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Mountain Studies, said: “We look forward to being part of this international collaboration on scientific tourism. Developing tourism products based on scientific knowledge has the potential to provide fulfilling experiences both for visitors and for the businesses and host communities involved in providing them.”

The goal is to create an umbrella organisation that gives businesses a package of benefits including access to an established scientific tourism brand and identity, a website where they can market and sell their products, access to transnational promotional campaigns, a supportive network of businesses offering similar products, as well as access to guidelines reflecting all the expertise gained throughout the course of the project. This will be launched at a conference to be held in February 2022.

Dr Steve Taylor, Head of the Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research, explained: “In Scotland, we will be working closely with tourism entrepreneurs in remote areas to help them develop and market scientific tourism products. Influenced by the idea of the academic field trip, where students are taken out into the field for an extended period of time to learn in the environment, this embraces a range of subjects such as marine science, climate change, geology, archaeology, astronomy, traditional knowledge, and local ecosystems. We invite tourism businesses throughout the Highlands and Islands to get in touch with us if you are interested in being involved.”

For further details please contact:

Dr Steve Taylor, Head of the Centre for Recreation and Tourism Research at West Highland College UHI:

Dr Andy Ruck, Research Associate at the Centre for Mountain Studies, Perth College UHI: