Leisure and tourism studies are characterized by a diversity of approaches which come from different disciplines and use a variety of methods. As a result, studies often use an inter-disciplinary or multi-disciplinary approach, drawing on different frames of reference and different methodological approaches for conducting studies. To this end, researchers involved in doing research projects should take into consideration the research questions they want to answer based on the purpose of the research, such as whether to do a research study to build on the academic store of knowledge or to do a study for a professional client or business organization that is interested in research for marketing purposes. A researcher might regard these different approaches like a tool-kit which he or she can draw on, as appropriate, for doing a study on a particular topic for a particular purpose.
The different disciplines which have different approaches include these:
– The sociological approach, which has provided much of the foundation for leisure research, though much less for tourism studies. The sociological approach involves three major thrusts. One is doing social surveys, some of which is done for pragmatic reasons, and this is considered social research rather than truly academically-oriented sociological research. Such surveys involve a quantitative approach, based on using statistics and mathematical models of human behavior to make predictions about human behavior. This is sometimes called the "surveys and modeling approach." A second sociological approach seeks to explain why people behave as they do in choosing the leisure activities they engage in; it is designed to look at the meaning of leisure participation or non-participation to different groups of people. One such approach to discovering meaning is the existential and symbolic interaction approach, which considers the way people negotiate their leisure participation in light of their relationships of different types – from personal and social relationships to their relationships with their community and networks at work. Finally, a third sociological approach is the critical approach which has taken various forms. One is the neo-Marxist approach which has looked at the way in which individuals can act freely and the degree to which they are constrained and influenced by the structure of their society. A key aspect of this approach has been criticizing the capitalist system for exploiting or manipulating people within the system who have little power. Numerous streams of critical theory have influenced this perspective over the last few decades, including the feminist perspective that has looked at the way women have responded to leisure in light of their lesser power in society. Some other critical approaches have included postmodernism, which has explored the role of electronic communications and the cultural artifacts produced by it. It has been especially interested in the content of these expressions of culture rather than in the behavior of the people creating those cultural artifacts.
– The geographic approach, which have been especially interested in the way spaces and landscapes affect people's behavior and their perception of those spaces and landscapes, especially in making choices about their travel behavior. Geographers also look at the way people use different kinds of leisure facilities, such as national parks, gardens, playgrounds, and sports facilities.
– The economic approach, which looks at the economic valuation of different kinds of recreational and leisure facilities, such as outdoor recreation areas and arts facilities. One way researchers using the economic approach have measured results is by doing a cost-benefits analysis to examine the costs and benefits of particular facilities and programs to the public. Then, too, these researchers have examined the way pricing different leisure activities has affected demand, and the researchers have done demand forecasting studies in tourism to examine how much consumers are likely to spend on leisure activities in a particular location.
– The psychology / social psychology approach, which looks at the satisfactions people obtain from their leisure, their motivations leading them to participate in a particular form of leisure, how their relationships with others influences their participation, and how their perceptions affect their involvement in leisure activities. In particular, these researchers do research in four main areas: motivation and needs, satisfactions, the leisure state of mind, and the way personal characteristics, such as gender, age, culture, and personality affect leisure participation. They typically use self-completion questionnaires to survey subjects, such as tourists and students.
– The historical approach, which looks at historical trends in leisure and tourism, particularly in the US, Canada, and Europe.
– The anthropological approach, which has primarily looked at the effect of tourism on indigenous cultures.
– The political science approach, which involves examining the politics of making decisions about leisure activities in a particular locale. This approach has also considered the way tourism affects political behavior.