Cape Town enjoys millions of visitors every year – the unique attractions are a drawcard for tourists from across the globe but there are other trends that affect travel across the Mother City. For example, academic tourism and ‘edutourism’ are both influencing the local tourism economy.

Edutourism is described as students participating in a learning experience related to the location. The courses may be short or last several months. Some students are accompanied by their families on longer trips, leading to a significant spend on tourism. There are several language schools in Cape Town, the city being popular as a base from which to study, and these schools also create employment opportunities.

There are challenges some academics and students face when travelling, especially if they’re travelling as or with minors who need unabridged birth certificates or other visa requirements. Changes to legislation can create barriers to those wanting to travel, especially when the changes happen half-way through an application process.

Recent changes to legislation on visas reportedly caused a surge in applications for study visas (or permits) being rejected, according to monitoricef.com.

An institution must be registered with the Department of Higher Education and Training in order for potential students to access study visas. Language schools previously recognised based on accreditation from the Services Sector Education and Training Authority (SSETA) are described as providing skills rather than degrees or officially recognised diplomas and, because of this, are no longer accepted as valid for claimants of study permits according to the changes in legislation adopted by the Department of Higher Education and Training. The only way for these schools to continue to attract students wishing to access student visas would be for them to apply for accreditation as Technical Vocational Education and Training colleges, a lengthy process.

A more positive story is that Cape Town’s four prestigious universities have research programmes and conferences frequently accessed by an international and national academic community. A recent study found that in any given month there are between 10 and 15 academic conferences within Greater Cape Town.

One example of an academic attraction is the collaboration between three universities – University of the Western Cape, University of Cape Town and the University of the North West – on the SKA project, which “brings together researchers in the fields of astronomy, computer science, statistics and eResearch technologies”, according to the partnership’s press release. This research is of great importance to the international scientific community, resulting in frequent conferences being convened on related topics.

Hotels, lodges and guest houses with conferencing facilities enjoy juggling these events, as do the local B&Bs, catering companies and other service providers. Travel agents assisting with flights and airport shuttles also appreciate this form of business.

There’s a knock-on effect: many academic tourists extend their trips to enjoy the city’s tourist attractions or to meet colleagues for business. The benefits of tourism are fundamental to transformation in the community. According to the Economic Value of Tourism report, an estimated 37 551 people were permanently and 15 130 temporarily employed in the tourism industry in Cape Town in 2013.

The world-class attractions Cape Town has to offer, including the academic ones, will continue to entice international visitors.

The Cape Town tourist may not be hiking with a camera on top of Table Mountain but quite possibly could be the professor in the lecture theatre or the teen with the notebooks.