Current state of knowledge

This Action is based on an innovative, interdisciplinary approach aimed at examining relationships between tourism and wellbeing within an ecosystem services (ES) framework. As such it relates to a range of research literatures. Our review of current knowledge is focused on progress as well as significant gaps in our understanding. As Carpenter et al. (2009) argue, the connections between ES and aspects of wellbeing are key themes in the MA document, but such connections are complex due to spatial scale and time horizons (MA 2005; Hein et al 2006). In a broad context, though, these have identified a definition of wellbeing comprising 5 key dimensions: basic material for a good life, health, security, good social relations and freedom of choice.

Tourism and leisure are linked to many of these dimensions, especially health and social relations, and the importance of wellbeing is being increasingly recognised as an aspect of tourism. As a starting point there is evidence that positive leisure experiences can help to foster positive moods leading to improvements in psychological wellbeing (Argyle and Crossland 1987; Sirgy and Su 2000). This idea of subjective wellbeing is an important contribution to the happiness feelings on holidays and can contribute to aspects of life satisfaction (Gilbert and Abdullah 2004; Nawjin 2011; Nawijn 2011; Nawijn and Peeters 2010). There is a body of literature on medical and health tourism that has presented a range of examples on the growth of this market segment (Carrera and Bridges 2006; Smith and Puczko 2008; 2010), but there is a gap in the literature on preventive health tourism. Other work has started to explore the relationship between illness and holidays, like the role of social tourism schemes on improving the health and wellbeing of older people (Ferreira 2000; 2006), and some research has focused on the importance of holidays to the wellbeing of people with disabilities and their families (Shaw and Veitch 2011; Shaw and Coles 2007).

More recently more innovative studies have been undertaken identifying potential relationships between tourism, health and wellbeing while pointing to the decisive importance of the environment and natural resources (Hjalager 2011; Hjalager and Flagestad 2011). In parallel, there has been a recent growth in health research on the comparative health and wellbeing impacts of physical activity in natural environments (e.g. Depledge and Bird 2009; Thompson Coon et al. 2011; Depledge et al. 2011), but these two streams of research are not usually brought together. However, new tourism research has been exploring the development of new tourism products that address aspects of lifestyle and wellbeing on natural environments (Hjalager et al. 2011; Konu et al. 2010), which could provide significant contributions to public health policy development.

The relationship between ES and aspects of wellbeing (healthy living) are of course conditional in part by consumer attitudes and public-private good aspects (Fisher et al. 2009; Turner et al. 2003; MacMillan et al. 2006). But tourism is directly linked to the other dimensions of ES and wellbeing, like security and basic materials for a good life (including access to food, water and a clean environment), both in way that these essential services support tourism and that tourism may oppose a threat to these dimensions. However these aspects have so far been mostly analysed through an environmental impacts’ angle, e.g. on water depletion (Gössling et al. 2012) or climate change (Peeters et al. 2007; Scott et al 2012). An ES framework, in turn, can complement this line of research with alternative research questions on the role of tourism as a net contributor to wellbeing and ES management. For instance, the idea that ES are declining due to their value not being recognised in economic decision making (MA 2005; Fisher et al. 2009) is in terms of many tourism products/ regions not necessarily true as the experience of many protected landscapes in the EU demonstrate. There is then also a case for the exploration of synergies between tourism and natural resource management forms under a wellbeing framework.

As the MA (2005 p.25) points out ‘There is a hypothesis that stimulating contact with the rich and varied environment of ecosystems... may benefit physical and mental health’. We would argue that tourism can be a means of testing it, and the interdisciplinary approach of this Action can provide the tools for such research.

COST Action IS1204: Tourism, Wellbeing and Ecosystem Services (TObeWELL). The views expressed on this website are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of COST.