The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented “super-shock” for the tourism industry. How tourism academia relates to this unpredictable context is anyhow not yet evident. This study uses a qualitative scenario method to propose four possible futures for tourism academia considering the pandemic and to draw attention to key factors of these future developments. Nine interviews were held with tourism (full/ordinary) professors across Europe, America, Asia, and the Pacific Region to gain expert insights. As a result, four scenarios are proposed for tourism education, industry collaboration, research, and discipline identity. Recovery (“new sustainability” or “revenge-tourism”) for tourism academia if the pandemic impact is short-term, and Adaptancy (“bridging the gap” or “decline”) for tourism academia if the COVID-19 impact is long-lasting. Key factors for the way forward are finally discussed and contributions of our findings are highlighted.
Although the precise beginning of “tourism academia” is difficult to trace, it is generally assumed that related research has undergone more than 40 years (Airey, 2015). Butler (2015) pointed out that it is a common misperception that the subject is of recent origin and just materialised after the advent of mass tourism, while contemporary travel has many common features with tourism even two millennia ago. Travel literature itself indeed has a millennial history with early evidence of travel writing by Ancient Greeks and Romans.
By most defined as a multi-disciplinary field rather than as a discipline, interest in tourism academia has had steady growth, and numbers of journals have increased significantly. However, the field has long been criticized for the limited capacity to solve real-world problems (Buckley, 2012; Butler, 2015; Walters, Burns, & Stettler, 2015) and for a subordinate role in interdisciplinary collaborations (McKercher & Prideaux, 2014; Okumus, van Niekerk, Koseoglu, & Bilgihan, 2018).
Contemporary tourism academia finds its roots in early descriptive and rather advocative studies of the tourism phenomenon (Butler, 2015; Jafari, 1990, Jafari, 2001, Jafari, 2007), while a more cautionary and critical turn was initiated partly by intense theory development in the 1970s; largely as a response to real-world and/or industry issues. Regarding contemporary tourism academia, a complex picture of a globally expanding multi-disciplinary field emerges; arguably in a sort of identity crisis and with low (perceived) relevance for the industry and other scientific fields.