The History of Geotourism

Appreciating Physical Landscapes: Three Hundred Years of Geotourism, edited by T. A. Hose. Geological Society, London.
This article appeared in Vol. 13, No. 3 - 2016


Having, with pleasure, both read and written many geotourism articles for the pages of GEO ExPro Magazine, it still came as a surprise to me that the topic is now a recognized strand of scientific study. Thanks to this Geological Society Special Publication, I am now much more knowledgeable both on the origins and history of geotourism and also on how the discipline has developed and been studied in recent years. 

The book originates from a conference entitled ‘Appreciating Physical Landscapes: Geotourism 1670–1970’, convened at the Geological Society in London in October, 2012, and incorporates a number of the papers presented at that time, as well as several commissioned specifically for the publication. 

Grand (Geo)tourists 

Appreciating Physical Landscapes: Three Hundred Years of Geotourism, edited by T. A. Hose. Geological Society, London, Special Publications 417. Dr Thomas Hose of Bristol University, who both convened the meeting and edited the book, is one of the foremost proponents of the study of geotourism. In the first paper in the book he discusses the various definitions of the subject, which encompass interpretative and educational functions, basic tourism, geoconservation, geomorphology and ecotourism, as well as geology. He also points out the importance of distinguishing the difference between the ‘casual’ geotourist, who “occasionally visits geosites, mainly for recreation, pleasure and some limited intellectual stimulation” and the ‘dedicated’ one, who goes “for personal educational or intellectual improvement and enjoyment”. Very interesting in this first chapter is the identification by Dr Hose that the original geotourists were those wealthy young Europeans of the mid-18th to mid-19th centuries for whom participation in the ‘Grand Tour’ was a vital part of their education, when appreciating and understanding physical landscapes played as important a role as visiting important cultural and archeological sites like Paris and Pompeii. They were encouraged to write and illustrate journals about their travels – not dissimilar to the plethora of travel blogs to be found now on the internet, and of equal variety in quality and artistic merit! 

This leads to a theme common to a number of the following papers: the part played by art, and later photography, in the development of geotourism. One chapter is devoted to the development of various artistic movements in relation to a romantic fascination with the Scottish Highlands and how this changed the face of geotourism over several centuries, while another looks at how the work of ‘tourist’ artists was used by geologists to define as well as illustrate geological phenomena, particularly in (at the time) rarely visited places such as Australia. The use of photography is explored in several papers, including reference to how the observations and photos from 19th-century geotourists in Norway are a valuable resource for modern glaciologists as they chart changes in glacier extent and behavior in response to climate change. 

Another interesting paper discusses the crucial contribution the development of map-making made to the science of geology as well as to geotourism; in the 1800s it was difficult for many people to fully appreciate the physical landscape, but by the 1900s it was much easier, not just due to more accurate maps but also to the advent of mass transport systems. There are several papers devoted to the subject of caves, caverns and mines, many of which were popular destinations for both scientists and interested tourists from the early 18th century. 

Education and Sustainability 

Since this is a GSL publication, there is emphasis on the development of geotourism in north-west Europe and the UK in particular, but a number of papers discuss the changes in perception of geotourism over the centuries with special reference to locations elsewhere in Europe. These pay attention to how the popularity of a site can wax and wane, with some previously well-frequented locations now overgrown and deserted, and attempt to explain the rationale behind this. 

An important theme throughout is that the modern approach to geotourism, in addition to providing the strong educational element which has always been evident, has a strong emphasis on maintaining ‘geoheritage’ and sustainability, ensuring that allowing access to interesting geosites does not bring with it any ecological or environmental drawbacks. The creation of the UNESCO Geoparks program progresses and popularizes the concept of geotourism a step further. 

Since this book comprises a series of academic conference papers, it can be both repetitive and sometimes a little heavy, but is still an interesting read, putting our current needs and preoccupations into a historical context. However, I feel that a less learned and more publically accessible book on the history of geotourism is hiding in the pages, and if it ever appears it would promote the cause of modern geological travel and education.


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