College of Health and Human Performance

Heather Gibson Recognized by the Academy of Leisure Sciences

April 2, 2024

Heather Gibson, Ph.D., professor in tourism, hospitality and event management in the UF College of Health & Human Performance, was honored by the Academy of Leisure Sciences with the 2024 Distinguished Researcher Award.

The Distinguished Researcher Award recognizes Gibson's outstanding performance in research and service in leisure studies and related fields.

Gibson’s research interests include leisure, tourism and sport behavior in mid and later life and the wellbeing associated with participation, women as tourists, sport tourism (specializing in sport events and active sport tourism, and perceived risk in tourism. This has led to projects on solo women’s travel, girlfriend getaways, families who travel for sport, leisure in the lives of retirement aged women, and active sport tourism participation in mid and later life notably in the Senior Games, Bike Florida, and Paddle Florida. As sport tourism emerged as a focus in the late 1990s, with a background in tourism and sport, Dr. Gibson was well positioned to author some of the seminal papers proposing definitions of sport tourism, small-scale events as sustainable tourism, college sport as a tourist attraction and testing the viability of developing social impacts through mega sport event hosting.

Professor Gibson has an extensive publication record across the fields of leisure, tourism and sport with more than 100 peer reviewed papers and 30 book chapters. She has edited/co-edited three books: “Sport Tourism: Concepts and Theories,” a collection of original essays on this type of tourism and co-edited “Leisure and Aging: Theory and Practice” and “Active sport tourism: Global insights and future directions.”

She teaches classes in tourism theory, sport tourism and a Ph.D. seminar in leisure theories. For the past 17 years she has led study abroad programs to Australia and Fiji with a focus on sustainability. In fall 2017, she was a faculty member on the Semester at Sea program. Dr. Gibson has witnessed first-hand the powerful influence that experiential international education has, and this has led her to develop a number of research projects in this area. She was selected as the college's UF International Educator of the Year honoree for 2023-24.

Gibson is a distinguished scholar, serving as a fellow in multiple academies, with extensive editorial experience and leadership roles in the field of leisure and tourism studies. (Learn about the more than 25 fellowships held by faculty in the college.)

“Dr. Gibson’s dedication to exploring the dynamics of tourism and its effects on communities is commendable,” said Rachel J.C. Fu, chair of the Department of Tourism, Hospitality and Event Management. “Through her research, she highlights the transformative power of leisure and travel, particularly in retirement and for women, and sheds light on often-overlooked aspects of tourism behavior. Congratulations, Dr. Gibson, on this well-deserved recognition of your contributions to the tourism field and society.”

The Academy of Leisure Sciences central purpose is the intellectual advancement of leisure sciences. Learn more at

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