Dec. 9, 2022
Shuangyu Xu, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, is helping reboot the college’s tourism program.
Xu, along with her undergraduate and graduate students, is currently conducting a study on cave tourism that examines the visitor experience of exploring these underground worlds that are so plentiful in our state.
“Before Missouri was the Show-Me State, it was the Cave State because we have so many,” Xu said. “There are over 7,000 caves in Missouri, and many are open to visitors.”
The project is funded by the Cave Research Foundation and seeks to understand the sensory experiences of visiting show caves — both public and private — and how that can be enhanced to improve visitor satisfaction. Xu and her students are looking at the effects of the intensity and quality of lighting within the cave. She is also examining visitors’ motivations, cave services evaluation, and barriers to entry
Xu brings to the program insight on Missouri tourism in particular, as she did her own master’s degree in parks, recreation, and tourism at CAFNR. During that time, she studied recreational storm chasing, another pastime Missouri is particularly well-situated for. In addition, her dissertation is in wine tourism, which is of interest to the many winemakers who call Missouri home.
“Missouri is ranked 11th nationwide in wine production but only captures 1.4% of wine tourism,” Xu said. “I really want to do some baseline research to find out why there is such a discrepancy and strategies to increase wine tourism in Missouri.”
Xu, however, does not limit herself or her students to Missouri-specific research projects. She believes a global perspective is valuable knowledge. She is working with one graduate student, Connie Johnmeyer, for example, to study pilgrimages — like hiking the 500-mile Camino de Santiago across northern Spain and southern France — and what motivates people to take them repeatedly.
“We are curious why people choose to keep going back,” Xu said. “What is it about pilgrimage journeys that are so transformative?”
Johnmeyer is conducting a survey about the topic, which has received more than 2,200 responses, with the assistance from the American Pilgrims on the Camino. Xu says it has been the most well-responded-to survey that she has experienced in her academic career.
This month, to fulfill a Farmer-to-Farmer (program funded by U.S. Agency for International Development) assignment, Xu will travel to the Dominican Republic, where she will work with local rural communities in their sustainable eco-tourism and agritourism development efforts.
Each of these projects have emerged because of Xu’s work to rebuild the program after it lacked faculty for a short period.
“Thanks to Dean Christopher Daubert and his vision, they re-opened this position, and I was able to return to Mizzou,” Xu said. “When I started, I had students telling me, ‘I am so glad you are here.’”
Xu said students were excited to dive into studying tourism, and that enthusiasm has continued to motivate her in return.