3.1. Characteristics of the Scientific Literature on Geotourism
The results reveal a growing focus of researchers on geotourism. The oldest paper included in the review was published in 2002, and during the first decade of the millennium the number of papers published in peer-reviewed journals grew at a slow pace. In the following decade, by contrast, the number of published papers grew rapidly (Figure 2
). In 2017 a total of 53 papers were published on topics directly related to geotourism.
A geographical analysis of the study areas reveals a true global distribution (Figure 3
), with a total of 53 countries represented. The largest share, or 136 studies, was conducted in Europe. Of these, the largest amount of research was conducted in Italy, with a total of 26 studies, while 20 studies were conducted in Poland, 15 in Serbia, and 10 each in United Kingdom and Slovakia. In Asia a total of 64 studies were conducted, with 14 studies conducted in both Iran and China and 13 studies conducted in Malaysia. A total of 19 studies were conducted in Africa, 6 of them in Egypt, 3 in Morocco and 2 in Cameroon. A total of 13 studies were conducted in Australasia, 10 in Australia and 3 in New Zealand. Only 12 studies were conducted in South America, 11 of them in Brazil, with the same number, 12, conducted in North America, including 7 in the United States.
The papers selected for review are published in 86 different journals which focus on a wide range of disciplines (Table 1
). A large proportion of the papers (41.4%) are published in journals which focus on geoheritage and geotourism. Other dominant disciplines include geography (12.5%), tourism (10.9%), and geology (8.2%). A total of 7.4% of the reviewed papers are published in journals which focus on the earth sciences, 3.9% on quaternary science, 3.1% on geosciences. Of the papers 6.3% were published in multidisciplinary journals, and 6.3% in journals with another disciplinary focus.
The papers can be divided into several categories based on their central research topic. However, in many cases these categories overlap and are interconnected, given that the same paper often addresses several topics. The majority of the papers (46.1%) focus on the geoheritage of the areas studied and their potential for geotourism development (Table 2
). Other common research topics include geotourism and geoheritage management (12.5%), tools for geoheritage promotion (10.2%), and new methodologies, techniques, and geosite/geomorphosite assessment models (9.8%). The results indicate that researchers show less interest in stakeholders of geotourism: tourist perceptions and motivation are a central research topic in 16 of the papers (6.1%), while just two of the reviewed papers focus on local communities. Ten (3.9%) of the papers examine geotourism in the context of sustainable development.
The vast majority of the papers (98.8%) employ an empirical approach or use empirical data for testing proposed models and methodologies. The majority of the reviewed papers (61.3%) are based upon a combination of qualitative and quantitative data, while a total of 22.1% of the papers exclusively use qualitative data, and 16.6% apply a quantitative approach (Table 3
). Collection of primary data was carried out for 17.0% of the papers, 8.7% use secondary data, while the majority of the papers (74%) employ both primary and secondary data for their research. The majority of the primary data (68.8%) was collected via field work, including field surveys and sampling (Table 4
). Other primary data collection methods include surveys of visitors, students, and local populations, interviews with managers and staff of geoparks and other geotourism destinations, tourists and other stakeholders, as well as questionnaires completed by experts and managers of the geoparks. Secondary data used in the papers was obtained via bibliographic research, analysis of cartographic materials, remote sensing, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and satellite imagery, analysis of webpages and smartphone applications, and database and records searches.
3.2. Research Trends in Geotourism Which Have Evolved over the Past Two Decades
The volume of research on the geoheritage of the study areas and their geotourism potential is growing at a rapid pace compared to papers on other topics (Figure 4
). The number of papers focusing on the geoheritage and geotourism potential of the study areas grew from five papers in 2010 (45.5% of all reviewed papers on geotourism in 2010) to 29 papers or 54.7% in 2017. Besides the inventorying, mapping, description, and analysis of the geosites and geomorphosites carried out based on the data from the field surveys, samples, and bibliographic research, many studies (49 studies in total) carried out geosite or geomorphosite assessment for the purpose of geoconservation and geotourism development. Eight of the papers employ SWOT (strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threat) analysis of the geotourism potential of the study areas. The same number of papers focusing on the geoheritage of the study areas proposes a geotouristic itinerary in the areas studied based on collected data.
The growing body of research investigating the geoheritage and geotourism potential of various areas creates a need for the development of geoheritage assessment models. Since 2010 two to five papers presenting geosite/geomorphosite assessment models and other methodologies have been published each year. The earliest reviewed paper [26
] proposes a classification of geomorphosites based on their scenic, scientific, cultural/historical, and social/economic value. Reynard et al. [27
] aimed to develop an easy-to-use assessment method and propose classification of geomorphosites based on scientific and additional values. Their methods were further developed and modified by various researchers [28
]. Based on the previous research Vujičić et al. [32
] developed a preliminary geosite assessment model (GAM), which was later modified by Tomić and Božić [33
] to M-GAM by including tourists’ opinions on the importance of indicators as part of the geosite assessment. Božić and Tomić [34
] further investigated M-GAM by comparing the opinions of two different market segments: general geotourists, and pure geotourists. Mikhailenko et al. [35
] proposed aesthetics-based classification of geological structures which has promising potential to facilitate identification of geological areas interesting to a wide range of visitors. The models which focus on studying tourist visitors to geotourism destinations include the Geotraveler Tendency Scale [36
] and a geotourism typology model [37
Papers which focus on tools for geoheritage promotion have a similar distribution across the period reviewed with an average proportion of 10.2%. Most of these papers (9) present geotourist maps describing sites of potential interest to tourists. Bissig [38
] presented an analysis of geotourist maps and concluded that more effort should be put into simplifying the communication of maps to make them more understandable to the average user. This, according to the author, could be achieved by researching visitors’ needs. Another topic, addressed in six papers, is implementation of digital technologies for geoheritage promotion, which include mobile applications, videos, QR codes, games, laser scanning, 3D modelling, web-based dynamic maps, and web information monitoring and crowdsourcing. Two papers [39
] investigate interpretative panels at geotourism destinations—with interesting results: while one paper [40
] identifies a need to simplify the information on the panels in the study area and make it more understandable and more attractive to visitors, the second paper [39
] characterizes the provision of only very simple and basic information in the study area as a missed opportunity to cultivate visitors’ interest in the geosciences. Farsani et al. [41
] conducted a study of the use of traditional handicrafts, and concluded that art can be successfully applied in geotourism. This was supported by Gordon [42
] and Walliss and Kok [43
] both of whom included art projects in their proposed interpretative strategies through direct experience.
The proportion of papers focusing on geotourism and geoheritage management decreased from 9.1% in 2010 and 29.2% in 2012 to just 3.8% in 2017. The highest proportion of papers which focus on management issues, 12 out of 32, investigate management issues in specific environments, such as geothermal areas and other volcanic areas, fossil sites, loess geosites, and caves which require increased attention due to their sensitivity or potential natural hazards. A total of 11 papers describe the challenges and present examples of successful geotourism development in geoparks. The main management challenges identified in geoparks and other geotourism destinations include potential overcrowding and subsequent impacts on the environment, including damage to geoheritage [44
], the need for compromises between geotourism and geoconservation [45
], the difficulty of communicating geological information in a way understandable to the wider public [46
], insufficient funding for geoconservation in geoparks, lack of geoconservation strategies, and uncoordinated development of geotourism destinations [47
], and visitor management in the presence of natural hazards [50
]. Positive contributions made by geoparks and geotourism development include raising public awareness of the importance of geoconservation, providing the public with more information about the areas in question, improved distribution of visitors across the areas, longer length of stay, and a broader range of activities offered to visitors [52
]. Gerner et al. [53
] argued that effective geotourism marketing and management significantly contributed to successful development of the Lake Constance region. Newsome et al. [44
] emphasized that geotourism can be a successful contributor to sustainable development only when properly managed, otherwise geotourism development can pose a threat to geoheritage. The authors suggested that successful management of popular geotourism destinations demands management of visitors and their numbers, provision of high quality geoheritage interpretation and appropriate infrastructure, as well as effective legislation. Kiernan [54
] emphasized that appropriate management of geotourism destinations is especially lacking in developing countries, where priority is given to economic development over geoconservation. Other solutions proposed to improve the management of geotourism destinations include geospatial planning and geosite networking, which aim to include the objectives of various stakeholders [45
] and Local Geodiversity Action Plans [55
Geoparks are an important tool, combining geodiversity conservation with visitor education. In the papers which focus on geoparks and other geotourism and geoconservation initiatives (15 papers in total) the role of geoparks in the promotion of geotourism [56
], representation of geodiversity [57
] and geologic time [58
] as well as their contribution to socio-economic rural development [59
] are investigated, and examples of geopark development based on the type of geoheritage present in the area are presented [60
]. Geotourism initiatives implemented outside the geoparks are also investigated [63
]. The study conducted by Gladfelter and Mason [65
] in Yosemite National Park concluded that although geotourism projects have the potential to influence visitor patterns and congestion problems in popular national parks and can make a positive contribution to the involvement of stakeholders, they may also increase environmental impacts.
A gradually increasing proportion of papers (7.5% in 2017) examine geotourism as a tool for sustainable development and rural development. Dowling [14
] presented several locations around the globe where geotourism has contributed to sustainable development, and states that geotourism contributes to local communities by providing direct, indirect, and induced employment. Ólafsdóttir and Dowling [66
] state that geotourism can make a positive contribution to rural development in Iceland, and emphasize the importance of effective management to ensure sustainable geotourism development. The authors proposed managing geotourism destinations by applying planning zones: sanctuary, geoconservation, geotourism development, and outdoor recreation zones. Other papers [67
] also view geotourism as a welcome alternative to unsustainable exploitation of resources and deterioration of natural landscapes, providing economic resources to local communities. However, the case of the Witsie Cave project, which is implementing community-based geotourism in South Africa [70
], shows that geotourism development projects in rural areas may be facing serious challenges, such as lack of management and business skills, insufficient marketing, and low visitor numbers, resulting in a low level of income for local communities, which should be addressed by providing more financial support for the projects in question and involving more members of local communities. Moreover, a study conducted in Montana in the United States [71
] revealed that local businesses participate in sustainable geotourism practices only to a relatively limited extent, which may also present a challenge when developing geotourism destinations and should be addressed in management strategies.
Although local communities play an important role in successful development of geotourism destinations, only two papers focus on attitudes among local people towards geotourism development in their local areas. The first of these studies [72
] investigates the views of local people on the adaptation of an area degraded by mining activity for geotourism purposes, and establishes that most locals do not consider the area to be suitable for geotourism. The second study [73
] investigates the attitudes of local people in the region of a geopark and identifies numerous benefits to local communities including improved job opportunities and increased income, as well as increased ethnic and cultural pride. Tourists are the group of geotourism stakeholders who receive the greatest attention, although the number of published papers which have tourists as their main focus is still relatively low, with up to four papers published each year focusing on tourists, their behavior and perceptions. Four papers investigate visitor perceptions of geoheritage in the study areas, five papers analyze the motivation of tourists to visit the study areas, two papers additionally investigate the connection between tourists’ motivation and satisfaction [74
], and between tourists’ motivation and willingness to pay for guided tours [75
]. Three papers [12
] categorize visitors based on their attitudes and motivations, while two papers [78
] investigate visitors’ opinions on and understanding of geo-interpretation materials, and propose improvements.
Certain areas and geoheritage types receive greater attention from researchers due to their specific characteristics (Figure 5
). A total of 20 studies focus on volcanic geoheritage, on the basis that volcanism significantly shapes the landscape of the study areas, presents significant aesthetic value, the spectacular eruptions, hot springs and spas, black and green sand beaches, etc. which attract visitors [80
], while at the same time presenting greater potential for natural hazards. Other major groups include mountain areas, urban geoheritage, quarries and mining areas, and geocultural geoheritage. Notably, a greater number of geosite/geomorphosite assessment models are tested in mountain areas, while one paper [82
] presents a geomorphosite assessment model adapted specifically for gorges and another [83
] for urban geoheritage. A high proportion of the research conducted in rural areas (3/5) focuses on geotourism as a tool for sustainable development. The majority of the studies conducted of caves (3/5) examine tourist motivations. A high proportion of the papers which focus on geotourism management examine volcanic and loess areas.