In an era where travel is increasingly driven by unique experiences and personal enrichment, niche tourism, particularly Educational Tourism, is emerging as a transformative force not only for travelers but also for small local economies and social development.  

Unlike traditional mass tourism, which often overwhelms destinations with transient visitors, niche tourism offers a more immersive and sustainable approach, fostering deeper connections between travelers and the communities they visit.

This specialized form of travel not only provides invaluable opportunities for learning and cultural exchange but also serves as a catalyst for economic growth and social empowerment in often-overlooked regions and destinations. 

At One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF), we have always looked at Educational Tourism through this lens.  OEF’s founders envisioned Eleuthera becoming a “laboratory” for research and innovation, a space where the brightest minds in The Bahamas could converge to explore and incubate solutions to some of the nation’s biggest challenges. They dreamed of creating experiences where leading practitioners from around the hemisphere would gather to debate, study and collaborate while enjoying Eleuthera’s idyllic beauty and culture. 

Like other recently popular niche tourism concepts (Eco-tourism, Agri-tourism, Spiritual Tourism, Avi-tourism, etc.), Educational Tourism is typically viewed as another avenue to entice visitors to travel and spend money. While the popular metrics for measuring the “success” of Educational Tourism focus on the number of people, the number of days in the country, and the amount of money spent, the true impact and success can be traced far beyond this upfront value. 

Benefit #1: Far-Reaching Economic Impact  

The most recent institution that partnered with OEF and its training partner, the Centre for Training and Innovation (CTI), was the Wake Forest University (WFU) School of Entrepreneurship. Led by Dr. Dan Cohen, twelve WFU students were paired with twelve of the most promising graduates of the CTI-Harbour Island Trade School (CTI-HITS). The students worked together in a week-long business intensive focused on strengthening their entrepreneurial skills. 

While the short-term economic impact from this team of thirteen was helpful to the island, the long-term economic impact of this training for the Bahamian students and the island will be generational. “The impact of our work will be significant and, with ripple effects, hard to measure,” noted Dr. Cohen.

“Rather than being an hourly employee with no hopes of generating value beyond an hourly wage, we have helped these students become business owners capable of creating immense economic and societal value.” Additionally, based on their experience, many of the WFU students indicated that they hoped to return in the near future to enjoy more of the island with family and friends.

Benefit #2. Beneficial Long-Term Partnerships

OEF’s two oldest educational partnerships are with Emory University and Clemson University. Over the last two decades, dozens of groups representing 700+ participants with ties to these schools have spent a week or more on Eleuthera. Key leaders of these groups – including Professors Corrine Abraham and Caroline Coburn with Emory and Professor Janice Lanham and retired educator Lynn Dobson with Clemson – continue to meet monthly to strategize about how best to support the many health professionals doing heroic work on the island. 

“We have established and maintained relationships with community members and leaders through offering community-based programs along with professional development for the healthcare teams on Eleuthera and in Nassau,” noted Professor Abraham. “Students and faculty alike are consistently inspired by the nurses’ commitment to the health of the community and resourcefulness in adapting to variable resources.” This spring, a team of Emory Nursing faculty and students will once again visit the island. 

In mid-May, a team of Landscape Architecture and Tourism students led by Clemson professors Dr. Hala Nassar and Dr. Matt Brownlee, respectively, will visit the island. While this will be Dr. Brownlee’s first trip, Dr. Nassar has been doing work on Eleuthera for more than a dozen years. 

“My relationship with OEF and the people of Eleuthera is central to my teaching strategy at Clemson,” Dr. Nassar noted. “OEF has helped me provide meaningful, real-world learning experiences for my students who, in turn, have been able to produce creative Landscape Architecture design solutions that address community resiliency, sustainable tourism and ecological restoration.” 

Benefit #3: Empowering Underserved Sectors Through Education

While for-profit businesses are the backbone of the Bahamian economy and national and local governments have vital roles to play, OEF believes that many community challenges are best addressed by nonprofits/NGOs. Therefore, central to OEF’s larger mission is to grow and strengthen the nonprofit or Third Sector. 

Educational Tourism presents an opportunity to attract and host industry leaders who can provide a wealth of knowledge and shared experiences to underserved sectors. 

In the past, OEF has partnered with Professor Dan Pater of Drury University for a series of workshops and classes designed to better equip nonprofit professionals, administrators and Boards.  

Benefit #4: Expansion of Learning Opportunities for Bahamian Students

When drafting its MOUs, OEF seeks to ensure that these special educational partnerships will benefit Bahamian students as well and expand their horizons. Dr. Patrick Bunton, a professor at the University of North Georgia, has sought to expose Bahamian high school students to the fields of astronomy, physics, electronics, and robotics. “Our hope is that these activities will expose students to new career options and inspire them to pursue a career in STEM,” Dr. Bunton noted.  

Professor Val Pintard (Flax) of the University of the Bahamas (UB) has worked closely with OEF since 2017. Over the years, the partnership has led to a series of research projects for Professor Pintard’s students focused on master planning, historic preservation, and affordable housing. 

“The intention of these ‘beyond the classroom’ projects is to inspire students to have a positive impact on their community and the greater world,” she reflected. “It has been a great opportunity for UB faculty and students to see first-hand the impact that OEF is having on the island of Eleuthera. I’ve been thanked many times by students for offering these enriching experiences.” 

Benefit #5: “Exporting” Bahamian Culture and Values 

Lastly, OEF believes that authentic Bahamian culture is not only something to be preserved, it is also something to be “exported.” Team after team visiting Eleuthera basically say the same thing: “our time on Eleuthera has changed us forever…for the better.” 

University of Kentucky professor Dr. Elena Sesma conducted much of her PhD fieldwork in South Eleuthera. Like dozens of other visiting scholars, Dr. Sesma has forever been shaped by the island’s heritage and culture. “Over the many years I have visited, I have gotten to know the island, its beautiful landscape, and wonderful people,” she remarked. “I was especially lucky to get to know Eleuthera and parts of The Bahamas outside of the resort and cruise tourist destination that many visitors see. I am so grateful for the local community members who welcomed me into their lives with friendship and hospitality.” 

Dr. Sarah Gardner with Williams College has been bringing Environmental Studies students to the island since 2005. While her research has focused primarily on food and energy systems, Dr. Gardner has continued to visit the island because of its gracious people. “My students and I have been enriched from our interactions with the people of Eleuthera,” she notes. “We have met with countless people who have deep knowledge of Eleuthera’s history, culture, environment, farming and fishing. Residents have always been warm, welcoming and generous with their time. Our goal has been to repay their kindness with solutions-based research that could improve conditions for Eleutherans.” 

Educational Tourism – and the long-term, mutually-beneficial and fruitful partnerships birthed – have been key ingredients in OEF’s community development model and have enhanced Eleuthera and The Bahamas significantly. The profound impact on local economies and societal progress extends far beyond what can be measured by traditional metrics and shines a light on how Educational Tourism can be a pivotal component in shaping the future landscape of global travel and family island tourism. 

About One Eleuthera Foundation

Founded in 2012, One Eleuthera Foundation is a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to transforming our local island communities into thriving, self-sufficient ecosystems. We do this by focusing on five key areas: economic ownership, meaningful educational advancement, pathways to wellness, and environmentally sustainable communities centered around our island’s unique cultural identity. We run a number of social enterprises, including CTI, our vocational school; the Retreat Hotel, a training hotel for hospitality students; and our farm and Cooling House, which trains future farmers in the best sustainability and food production practices. Through OEF’s consistent dedicated efforts, the tenacity and resourcefulness of our legacy community, and the support of donors and partners, we are creating change in Eleuthera.