There is a growing demand in the literature for rigorous empirical research to test the underpinning assumption of international education theory, namely that global learning occurs as a consequence of international travel. Through the application of a global learning survey instrument to 1152 Grade 11 learners in 16 South African exclusive independent high schools, evidence is provided to indicate that significant global learning only occurs when the international travel experience is facilitated to encourage learning, when there is a desire by learners to engage with cultural differences at their travel destination, and when learners feel comfortable expressing their opinions within their tour group. Furthermore, some types of international educational tourism are more conducive to global learning than others.
Additionally, a conceptual, process-driven model of international educational tourism is proposed based on the synthesis of educational tourism, international education, experiential education and global learning theories. The model is tested and refined through analysis of the data collected from the questionnaire. By conceptualising educational tourism as a process it overcomes the limitations associated with segment-based definitions and in doing so demonstrates the potential for hybridising educational tourism with other sectors of the industry.
Finally, owing to the expense involved with international travel, non-travel related factors are identified which encourage global learning in high school children. Non-coerced participation in community service and possessing an altruistic disposition are found to be the most influential. The implication of this finding is that there are substantially less expensive and more accessible means of developing global learning, which is essential in South Africa where huge discrepancies exist in terms of financial wealth and quality of education.