For long holiday tourism has been in the grip of economic thinking and sociological research. On this webpage a more balanced view is maintained on the focal centre of tourists' activities: tourists themselves and their encounter with their holiday destination. Tourists take what is given to them and then turn it into their own ends; it is these ends what is of our primary interest and more than 25 articles on this site are about just that: the tourists' tourism.

Under the heading "Tourism" a new article has been added on Climate Change (July, 2020)

and also under the heading "Tourism" I have added a new article about Phenomenology and Tourism (Feb. 2020).

Tourism (1)

Topic: Tourism

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The Reflexive Approach

The Reflexive Approach to Tourist Destinations

A tourist destination is an area where tourists like to come and stay for at least one night. The fact that tourists like to go there indicates that there is some sort of attraction, one that was made specifically for tourists (main and side Impsources) or something that a local population shares with tourists (shared and incidental Impsources). Since we define the essence of the tourists’ tourism as being the moment a tourist experiences a tourism Impsource, this means that the presence of things or phenomena that are of interest for tourists is of basic importance, as well as the presence of tourists themselves to experience them.

We can make a distinction between macro-destinations and micro ones. A country as a whole can be called a tourist destination. “Where are you going for holidays this year?” “We are going to Thailand!” Sustainability issues on a macro level concern international (air) transport, for example. Next there are tourist destinations on a small scale level, perhaps a national park, a small town or a rural community. The issues of sustainable tourism development can often be seen more clearly at the micro level where a local population has more direct input into affairs.

A destination consists of:

1. Travellers;

1A Tourists;

1B Travellers who happen to be at a place (and may convert themselves into tourists for a few days); even day-visitors fall into this category;

2. Tourism Infrastructure:

2A Tourist attractions purposely designed for tourists and provided with the necessary amenities for them (main and side Impsources);

2B Hotels, restaurants, souvenir stores, information centres, and roads constructed for tourism, tourism transport, local travel agents, etc.

3. Local Infrastructure: houses, schools, shops, banks, clinics, local authorities, etc. for the use of the local population or anyone who happens to be there; as such these are considered shared Impsources for tourists;

4. Local people, including the local population and anyone who happens to live there at the moment;

4A Those involved with tourists, travelers or the tourism infrastructure;

4B Those not directly involved in tourism.

From the scheme above we can deduce that so-called tourism destinations are rather heterogeneous affairs for many stakeholders from all walks of life such as owners of establishments, managers, tourists or employees on one side and investors, developers or intermediaries on the other.

Can we call a place a tourist destination when there are no tourists? Some may argue that a tourist destination receives its name because the destination has been prepared to receive tourists, while others feel that without tourists there is no tourism. My point of view is that a destination becomes a tourist destination when there are tourists, who therefore form an intrinsic part of a destination. This also means that a tourist destination may be so named in spite of the fact that it is not ready to receive tourists – they simply come for one reason or another and it is precisely these types of cases that concern many of the negative effects tourism may have: the lack of proper preparation at a destination for receiving tourists.

We touch on here one of the basic issues of a tourist destination and the problems surrounding it: in many cases a local population has no control or simply does not know when and how many tourists may be visiting their place. All too often tourists seem to turn up as if from nowhere and leave just as suddenly. All too frequently a local population has no control whatsoever over the things or phenomena that seem to attract tourists. Within this context we should remember that any place can become a tourist destination, because it is simply a matter of how a place is presented to pre-tourists and to what extent this picture coincides with the expectations pre-tourists may have.

To attract tourists and become a tourist destination (once tourists are arriving), many entities become involved. In this sense not only are there stakeholders at the (potential) destination itself, we can also find intermediaries between tourists on the one hand and tourist attractions, infrastructure and local populations on the other, which usually operate from outside the destination area or even from another country or continent. These intermediaries consist mainly of travel organizations that may be active in the country of destination or of the tourists’ origin, but they can also include national tourism boards or NGOs. They provide tourists with target information, material images and factual information. Their role at a destination is therefore indirect, but the persuasive power they have over the tourists’ choice of holiday and the dominant position they occupy on many levels of information supply mean in practice that these travel organizations can exercise an important influence at a destination.

We stated that tourists form part of a destination and we should see now how tourists can help shape a destination and vice versa. It is precisely this approach of reflexivity in tourism that should shed a clearer light on how sustainable development concepts can be implemented more effectively and how possibly negative effects caused by tourists can be prevented.

The reflexive approach helps us to get a clearer view of how tourism can work: the pivot on which tourism hinges is the moment when a tourist enjoys an attraction, in other words when a tourist has the sensory intake of impact calories (Impcal) from a tourism impact source (Impsource). This is the moment when the tourist and the destination meet and the reason why the tourist wanted to go there. Reflexivity can then be applied to tourists and their destination in the widest sense of the term and we can see what mutual influences and effects one has on the other.

For this purpose we made a distinction between those Impsources that were prepared for tourists specifically (Main and Side Impsources) and those that form part of the everyday life of the locals, who share these Impsources with tourists and anyone else who happens to be there (Shared and Incidental Impsources). This distinction is important, not only because in many cases the so-called shared Impsources form the bulk of a tourist’s holiday experiences, but also because there is some sort of more direct contact between locals, tourists, local culture and landscapes.

When studying the Tourist Lifestyle Scale (see: ), those on the right-hand side will mostly enjoy main and side Impsources, while for those falling more towards the center and left side of the scale (the allocentric part), shared Impsources will play a dominant role in a holiday. This effectively means that travel organizations are having less influence while destination sources are having more.

There is the point of tourists being part of the tourist destination, but this leaves us with the question how tourists can exercise this participation. How can tourists participate in the development of a destination, the creation of a “tourism gaze” or decisions regarding the limitations of development? Are tourists stakeholders? Of course they are.

At a destination individual people work in tourism and each one has his or her own individual input one way or another. With tourists this is different. Every week there are different tourists turning up – rarely does the same tourist appear twice at the same destination (these “repeaters” form a low percentage of all tourists). In other words, when talking about tourists at a destination we are thinking of the group as a whole and not of each individual traveller. How does one involve a group of unknown people?

First of all we should make a clear distinction between tourists and ordinary travellers, which boils down to the following three points.


1. Travel to a destination without any obligatory reason or previous commitment; in other words, for leisure purposes;

2. Travel with the primary aim of satisfying one’s own needs and expectations (“I want….,” regardless of whether or not a destination can satisfy these demands); and,

3. Insist that a destination be adapted to tourist needs to some extent; for many tourists falling on the right-hand side of the Tourist Lifestyle Scale, this may mean expectations of more luxury than people at a destination are used to and conversely, tourists on the left-hand side of this scale often expect less luxury than folks at the destination are accustomed to.

The well known writer Paul Theroux adds a fourth characteristic: Tourists don’t know where they have been, while travellers don’t know where they are going.

Some people argue that many tourists can be reached through travel organizations, which is true to a certain extent; however more than half of all tourists do not make use of travel organizations, which leads us to the point that tourists need to be able to exercise some influence on a destination as a group.

The basic assumption here is that tourists, once they have decided on their holiday destination, develop not only the corresponding expectations, but they also form a direct interest in a destination with a certain amount of involvement at the same time. Once selected a destination is seen in a different light. Generally speaking this interest means that tourist may develop a feeling of social responsibility, secondly an economic involvement (e.g. leaving as much money as possible at the destination itself and not with travel organizations); thirdly a feeling of solidarity specifically with future generations (their own and those of the people at the destination), fourthly there should be a commitment with protecting biodiversity, and fifthly there must be respect for other cultures. We mention here five different levels of showing interest, notions that should be shared by most tourists. These in turn can be translated into a uniform behaviour pattern among tourists at a destination so they can be seen as a more or less homogeneous group that plays a role in the sustainable development of a place. The proper preparation based on the five levels mentioned here can produce a common denominator among tourists regarding their relationship with the tourist destination.

The same five components refer to the three pillars on which the concepts of sustainable development are based: planet, people and profit. In the case of the economic involvement this is obvious; then there are the elements of solidarity and commitment referring to the planet, while social responsibility and cultural respect refer to people. In this case interest and involvement relate to a fairly recent tendency of people wanting to participate actively in or to belong to a group with the same motives. The growing interest people show in other peoples’ ways of living or in the environment in general seems to be closely linked to many Internet developments, of which Facebook and Twitter are the most noteworthy. Secondly, people are confronted daily with natural disasters and environmental issues and are nearly bombarded with information about climate change and the loss of biodiversity.

My website has an article on information supply ( where I introduce three types of information most useful in tourism: factual information, target information and descriptive information. However, in light of the aforementioned tendencies, there is a fourth type of information of growing interest to tourism: social information as a result of Social Information Seeking (SIS). In recent years there have been a fast growing number of sites where people can ask questions and they are answered by groups of people or communities. One of the early examples is the site ‘Answerbag’ and since then more have sprung up – Yahoo!Answer being one of the most popular, so it seems.

The basic idea is quite similar to the Wiki concept, of which Wikipedia is the most famous. Generally, a site consists of 4 parts: a mechanism whereby people can submit questions, a venue for submitting answers, the community built around this information exchange, and finally answers are indexed for search engines, thus enabling web users to find answers given to previously asked questions in response to new queries. This can be on world level or limited to specific groups of people with a common interest (communities). The term community is used here in the broadest sense of the word and those sites are called cQA sites. These kinds of sites began to appear on the Internet in 2003 and they have been a growing phenomenon ever since. Apart from this, there was already a tendency for people to ask for information via the Internet, rather than trying to find it themselves. An ever increasing number of people seem to think “why bother seeking an answer when the Internet can connect me with the people who have it?” On forums and similar communication platforms the habit of asking questions is also growing quickly.

The possibilities for those interested in tourism are enormous and cQA sites may provide a necessary link between (pre-)tourists and the people from a destination or local community. Due to the fast-growing influences of the various Internet applications that provide people with information and the tools for acquiring specific data such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques, potential tourists can find a lot more information directly on the Internet and the additional cQA sites carry the concepts even further along a new route of social information exchange. Obviously this refers not only to tourism, but to the world in general.

Apart from the changing influence the Internet is exercising, we can also observe some shifts in the field of social responsibility. Not until 2010, Unilever CEO Paul Polman stated:

( “Today, the concept of value is increasingly associated with products that demonstrate social responsibility. … A successful product must provide utility, but it must also exhibit a social consciousness, if you will. … Every brand must have a social mission and the consumer must have an integral part in defining that mission.”

Obviously it is interesting to note that globally, concepts such as social responsibility have begun to gain influence, while pure economic reasoning is being questioned. Up until now the travel organizations’ strongest card was in the provision of information to tourists, but this dominant role has started to diminish. Tour operators used to manage a large part of a destination’s information flows, decide on the image a place should have vis-à-vis tourists’ demands, and in combination with the economic weight based on sales volume, this led to their having a dominant role at many destinations for the last 30 years or so. But under influence of today’s many Internet applications, we now see that the tour operators’ role is not so obvious anymore.It is not only the tourist himself who has started to ventilate his feelings of wanting to be heard, but there are other actors as well at a destination, who dispose of more possibilities to take own decisions that are directed at a sustainable development in general and not just driven by economic prospects.

Putting tourists in the centre of what we call tourism in combination with the Impsources at the destination is an approach that also highlights the original nature of tourism and traveling: the social-psychological aspect. Remember that it wasn’t until the 1970s that tourism was converted into a predominantly economic activity whereby travel organizations became producers of tourism products, selling them to their clients – the tourists. Nowadays under the pressure of an urgent need for sustainable development and with new communications platforms provided by the Internet, this economic view of tourism has become untenable.

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