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).

Sustainable Development (1)

Topic: Sustainable Development (1)

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Tourists’ profiles and lifestyles

The Tourist’s Profile and Lifestyle

In reflexive tourism as we understand it, the pivot on which tourism hinges is the tourist’s experience. However, before a tourist can be called as such, there is a long way to go. Getting the motivation to go on holiday is the starting point on a complicated road before someone becomes a full fledged tourist. This motivation may be based simply on the fact that this person has only two weeks of vacation per year, or it could also be fueled by a concrete desire to travel to an area that is completely different from the home environment. This motivation may stem from personal reasons, such as difficult home situations, an urge for self-realization or even health concerns, but it may also be inspired by external sources, such as a TV programme, a novel, a nature film or the inspiring stories of friends.

2 Responses to “Tourists’ profiles and lifestyles”

  1. Dear Marinus Gisolf!
    Good Evening
    That’s a very informative article and giving me certain insights about my research.
    thanks very much for putting over this webpage.
    I want to use the last diagram by citing you. in my research page by citing you.
    Kindly allow me to do so, I shall be highly obliged to you.
    In case if you are allowing please guiding for citing this article and above-researched diagram(last one).
    thanks and regards

    Ashok Sigh Rathore
    Mody University,Sikar
    Rajathan, India

    • Dear Ashok,
      Thank you for your mail. Please feel free to use the material from my website, but obviously always mention the source.
      Additionnally I am interested in your article and once published perhaps you can send me a copy.
      With regards from Costa Rica,

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The Background of Sustainable Tourist Experiences

The Background of Sustainable Tourist Experiences


The relationship between sustainable development and tourism is the subject of this article. We shall first have a look at the backgrounds and the reasons behind the concept of sustainability. The debate on sustainable development started because many things in the world were going terribly wrong: diminishing biodiversity, a thinning ozone layer, noticeable greenhouse effects, discrimination against large populations. Eventually there were so many symptoms it appeared to be a serious disease. The principles of sustainability were originally developed as a response to these problems. In order to examine how deeply rooted these destructive elements are in our Western societies and why there is a need to take a look at our environment with different eyes, we shall put things in a historical perspective and give a brief overview of the development of the relationship between people and their environment.

One Response to “The Background of Sustainable Tourist Experiences”

  1. Buen día,

    Soy estudiante de Especialidad de Gestión Ambiental, en Facultad de Ciencias Marinas de Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, México. El tema de mi trabajo terminal tiene que ver con el turismo sustentable. Quiero pedir su autorización para citar sus artículos.


    Lorena PR

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Liminality and Tourism

All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source.

Marketing ‘Inbetweenness’


 Accelerated changes in style and speed of daily life in Western societies have sparked an urgent need for new tools to analyse the increasingly rapidly changing tourism markets and especially the tourists themselves. Hasty life styles, intensified communications and many other globalizing trends impede free self realization of most individuals living in the so-called developed countries and holidays have therefore grown in importance to counter the negative effects western life styles are causing. Escaping used to be the main motivation for a majority of holiday-makers, but conditions in Western societies seem to force people towards a search for re-encountering their true selves.

As part of the reflexive approach to tourism, in this article changing tourist behaviour is analysed as well as the involvement and the experiencing tourists show during their holidays, since these are of fundamental importance for an understanding of market changes in the hospitality sector and tourism in general. The period a tourist temporarily abandons social status and home influences can be described as a time of transition and transformation; it is like living in between two realities: the home environment that has been left behind, and the destination where one is physically present but not as a part of it; this is a situation of a betwixt and between. Postmodern tourists are locked into an ‘inbetweenness’ of two cultures, of falseness and authenticity or of constraint and spontaneity.

Inbetweenness is described in this article with an introduction to a fairly recently developed concept called liminality, which serves as a tool to get a clearer insight into the changes tourists and tourism are subject to. On this basis shifts in tourism markets are explained and finally a reference is made to the difference with other travellers in general concerning the relation between sustainable tourism development and postmodern liminal tourists.

1. Post-modern tendencies and tourism

From the 1960s on, new social and cultural actions have been coinciding with accelerated globalisation movements leading to what is now known as post-modernism (q60, q62, q117, q120). It has been most noticeable in Western societies and among others it has led to what is called cultural pluralism, which in essence means that people have started to lose their own feelings of belonging to a place by embracing many expressions of different cultures in one way or another (q92). Nationality, ethnicity, gender or class are no longer cornerstones people can build their identity on. This in turn has resulted in a growing egocentric preoccupation with the self (q86), with an increasing consumerist behaviour as one example and preoccupation with the bodily self as another (q62). Having lost their sense of “belonging to” a certain place or culture, it refers to the trend in which people’s strong feelings of once having been tied to that place and culture are now slowly giving way to being tied to a certain time or era (q50). Most people living in postmodern societies have not only lost the links with their cultural backgrounds, but also with authenticity and nature. They seem to live in a world that is increasingly dominated by images and representations, rather than by real and realist objects and phenomena (q92).

The loss of a feeling of identity amid un-authentic people, cultural pluralism, and time-space compression has created uncertainty about the present day and the future (q50). However, at the same time this has prompted a search for historical roots, an idealistic authenticity, longer lasting values or an eternal truth, often drawing explicitly upon the spiritual traditions of the East ( q60, q88, q120). Profound changes in the way that place and time are experienced as a result of accelerated globalization have led to a new questioning of identity, the self and the place people take in this world. Not only are ways of living leading to a sense of loss of identity, for many individuals, work and everyday roles impose constraining and monotonous routines in which individuals find it difficult to pursue their self-realization (q110).

An increasing preoccupation with consumption could be said to make tourism the archetypal postmodern activity, as by its very nature it relies on the consumption of artefacts, natural and built environments, and culture (q62). Additionally, if in postmodern times individuals cannot realize their authentic selves in everyday life, then they are liable to turn to tourism in order to reach this goal (q110); of course this does not imply that nobody can realize self-fulfilment in work or routine life. Tourism can offer freedom from work and other obligatory time, an escape from traditional social roles and the liberty to spend one’s time however one chooses. Indeed, tourism reflects the “anti-structure” of life, an escape from something, rather than a quest for something (q103).

2. Post-modern tourists

The increase of tourism activities is unsurprising therefore as reflected in the growth figures published by the World Tourism Organization (q113). Post-modern tendencies have influenced tourism in general through globalizing and others trends, whereby tourism is seen as a cause as well as a consequence of global transformation. Van der Duim (q41) explains that tourism as a cause, is supposed to induce global flows of people, ideas, imags and capital, whereas tourism as an effect results from increasing global interconnectedness of economic, technological and socio-cultural transformations. Within the context of postmodernist tourism, the clear tendency for more individualist experiences and exclusive authenticity have widened the boundaries of the tourism panorama as well as the number of activities and experiences that can legitimately be categorized as tourism. It seems that nearly every dimension of human culture now has the potential to become a form of tourism. At the same time, to become a tourist coming from a post-modern society and having travel needs based on escape and search encompasses three fundamental understandings:

  1. Being a tourist means having to leave the home environment as part of satisfying a travel need;

  2. The potential tourist expects to have experiences that in turn will affect him in some way or another; some kind of transformation has to occur. At the end of the holidays a tourist expects to come home having satisfied (some of) his needs and being enriched in many different aspects, other than the monetary one; most tourists expect that they are or feel different than before the holiday and this may just mean a nice suntan or a completely different outlook on life;

  3. The third understanding is that tourists enter the unknown motivated by escape and search, where they have to rely on their expectations, previous experiences, factual travel knowledge and personality. Tourists are well aware that they enter a different socio-cultural and economic environment during their holiday where their home “rules” may not apply.

Preceding any tourist’s expectation there is motivation interacting with the need to travel. The need behind the travel motivation may refer to wanting to experience new things or to escaping in the sense of avoiding certain situations; breaking away from the daily grind may serve perfectly well as a motivation to want to travel. In other words, there are the explicit motivations often related to the element of escape, such as wanting to have a rest, recharge batteries, to have some variations from daily life or based on some specific hobby or field of interest, and then there are the implicit motivations: searching for inner-balance, wanting to take one’s own initiatives, pursue self-realization, use one’s own skills or experience involvement and engagement with a certain destination (q47). In the literature on the subject of travel needs and motivations, escape and search form the core elements that can be distinguished (q30, q35, q68, q69). However, the extent to which escape is a necessary step before searching is arguable.

Apart from the importance of the need to travel (point 1 above) and the role of expectations (point 2), point 3 refers to the issue of a tourist’s status at the holiday destination. The period a tourist temporarily abandons social status and home environmental influences can be described as a time of transition and transformation; it is like living in-between two realities: his home environment, which he has left behind, and the destination, where he finds himself physically but does not form a part of it. It is a situation of a betwixt and between or a no-longer but not-yet. Tourists enter into the unknown, where they do not participate in daily routine activities and slide into a world where their “rules” no longer apply.

3. Tourism and liminality

When analyzing this social phenomenon of temporary alienation, comparisons can be drawn with observations stemming from anthropology. In his writings published in 1908, a concept was introduced by French anthropologist Arthur van Gennep based on the Latin word “limen” referring to a “threshold or boundary.” Van Gennep described rites of passage such as coming-of-age rituals or marriage as having the following three-part structure:

  1. Separation
  2. Liminal period
  3. Re-assimilation

The initiate (the person undergoing the ritual) is first stripped of the social status that he or she possessed before the ritual, he or she is then inducted into the liminal period of transition, and finally given his or her new status and re-assimilated into society.

But it was not until the second half of the 20th century that the terms “liminal” and “liminality” gained popularity through the writings of Victor Turner (q102). Turner borrowed and expanded upon Van Gennep’s concept of liminality, ensuring its widespread usage not only in anthropology, but other fields as well.

Examples can be found on different levels. Twilight serves as a liminal time, between day and night. Illegal immigrants (present but not “official”) and stateless people, for example, are regarded as liminal, because they are betwixt and between home and host, part of society, but sometimes never fully integrated. Trans-gender people in most contemporary societies or those accused but not yet judged can be liminal. Another case is that of just married couples: after the honeymoon (time of seclusion) they enter their new home, whereby the bridegroom is supposed to carry the bride over the threshold (“limen”) of the front door. The concept of liminality can be applied to individuals (rites of passage, puberty), groups (graduation ceremonies, religious gatherings, pop concerts, soccer hooligans) or populations (carnivals, days of national mourning or celebrations). The term liminal may apply to short or longer term occurrences, as in the case of periods of wars or revolutions.

The spatial dimension of liminality can include specific places, larger zones or regions. Liminal places can range from borders to no-man’s-lands or disputed territories. Mountain passes, crossroads or bridges are all liminal and do not forget the most important one in tourism: beaches as liminal zones between water and land, whereupon visitors forget their social backgrounds for a moment; besides, in a bathing suit everybody looks more or less the same – it is the physical status that starts to rule rather than the social one.

In most Western societies affected by post-modern tendencies there is no better way to demonstrate one of the most visible consequences of this than to point to the places in this world that have no cultural-historical ties or any fixed identity at all. They are also called non-places and are part of a phenomenon that started to spread around the world from the 1970s on (q22). Often they are seen as beacons for postmodern globalisation and include: international airports, shopping malls and international chain hotels. These are designed and built so that anyone from any culture can feel comfortable and have something they can recognize; places that are inseparably linked to consumption and trade and have an air of luxuriousness; places where people – tourists among them – will have little sensory intake and will be left with hardly any memories, other than their encounters with fellow human beings, although even these seem to be superficial. It is about liminal places and in tourism, airports or hotels where people pass through but do not live in them highlight theinbetweenness that defines these spaces. For a hotel worker (an insider) or a person passing by (an outsider), a hotel would have a different connotation for these two people; however, to a traveller staying there, the hotel would function as a liminal zone. These liminal zones are also characterized by a certain timelessness and cleanliness, erasing any signs of wear and tear.

4. Being liminal

For people, being in a position of liminality means foremost a withdrawal from social action and structures; actually the very structure of society is temporarily suspended (q102). In liminal zones a liberation occurs from the social, intellectual and physical limiting factors inherent to working conditions in the Western world and this refers to the body as well as the emotional inner-person: the liminal experience refers precisely to the feeling of being more one’s authentic self with a higher degree of freely expressing it. There are four recognizable effects this temporary suspension may cause.

First, hierarchy and social structures do not apply anymore, which means that their forces do not limit thought or self-understanding. In liminality people are able to analyze their lives and backgrounds more clearly and they tend to deny prejudices that may rule within their home environment (q110).

Secondly, generally social differences are de-emphasized or ignored (q115). Among groups of liminal people there exists a state of equality and even solidarity, especially when a common goal is sought, such as a pilgrimage, soccer fans accompanying their team, or at rock concerts. Spontaneous friendships, warm contacts and completely undifferentiated social relations tend to prevail. Even on a national level, the celebration of commemorative days or matches of national sports teams (Olympic games!) may “unite a nation.”

Thirdly, the liberation of societal constraints opens up possibilities for a more authentic self with higher levels of self-expression and spontaneity. It also means that reason, prevailing so much in daily life in Western societies, gives way to a more free flow of emotions. The original idea of transformation such as in the case of rites of passage takes place in liminal zones or in state of liminality.

Fourthly, on the basis of diminished social pressures another element may also manifest itself: the darker side of human nature. Under the influence of being in a state of liminality people may want to do things they otherwise are not allowed to do at home. In the case of groups, soccer hooligans are an example of such behaviour and on an individual level, sex tourism and excessive consumption of drugs can serve as examples.

Additionally there is the phenomenon of permanent liminality: an individual or usually a group of people enter a state of being liminal, but for internal or external reasons do not pass on to the next state of re-integration. Monasteries or convents are examples as are groups of hippies living alternative lifestyles. Refugees are by definition liminal and there are cases that their status remains so for an indefinite period, stuck in a society they do not belong to and unable to return to their home environment. This may lead to dangerous developments, precisely because of the lack of societal norms and standards. Extremist groups personify the dark side of the permanent liminal state and in most cases this is related to violence.

Another significant variable is the “degree” to which an individual or group experiences liminality, which depends on the extent to which the liminal experience can be weighed against persisting social structures (q96). Whether people are able and willing to enter a state of liminality voluntarily or by force or whether they consciously try to avoid it can depend on personality traits as well as socio-cultural backgrounds. Distancing oneself from the home social environment may also be different for young people (students) and children, since their involvement in the home society has not been fully developed yet and entering a liminal zone may not be experienced as a fundamental difference or as response to the hasty and stressful life the thirty to fifty five age group has to deal with. The same can be said of elderly people, especially when they are retired.

5. Tourists in liminality

Arguably indeed tourism enacts the three stages that characterize liminality: separation, marginalization, and re-aggregation. The second phase – marginalization – is linked to the concept of liminality. For most tourists entering the state of being liminal consciously marks the moment a holiday really starts. The physical distance away from the home environment helps tourists separate themselves from home societal life, freeing themselves from social structures in favour of a feeling of social equality among tourists in general with a feeling of increased emotional freedom and spontaneity. Clothing and in general the way of dressing is a nearly obligatory external sign for tourists to show they are entering liminality.

 Liminality in tourism can be explored from the inter-personal point of view or the intra-personal one (q110). The latter refers to tourists that are alienated from the home environment, which means a liberation from social constraints and from the loss of the “true self” in public roles and spheres. Tourism activities under conditions of liminality can help tourists re-find themselves as a direct antidote to the loss of the true self in ordinary daily life at home (q15). In such a liminal experience, people feel they themselves are much more authentic and more freely self-expressed than in everyday life, not because they find that the objects or phenomena visited are authentic, but simply because they are engaging in non-ordinary activities, free from the constraints of the daily routine. Among other things this means that the authenticity of emotions starts to prevail, enabling tourists to act much more freely among themselves.

The concept of the authentic self is mainly based on the balance between reason and emotion, and the latter on body and inner feelings (q116). Tourism serves in large measure as a means to help put this balance back on track after the sometimes devastating attacks imposed on most people in developed countries by the stressful and complicated life. Liminality helps create the environment in which tourists can regain their authentic self in the sense of a balance between self constraints and spontaneity (q110) and we could even go one step further and say that the authentic self can primarily be found while staying in liminal zones, while in the daily routine of life at home, it is rather a question of the in-authentic self caused by the process of alienation through the constraints and limitations put up by working conditions and societal pressures (q110).

As far as the bodily part of the self is concerned, beaches are a fascinating domain for analysing liminality in all its aspects, not only because of the territorial liminality between land and sea, but also because of the lack of a clear dress code and therefore the growing importance of bodily feelings at the expense of the mind. Moreover, the time after sunset and before it gets dark plunges the scene into the extra dimension of a liminal time zone. No wonder beaches are still a favourite spot for tourists to rid themselves of any feelings of homesickness. Stripping clothing and social status is different from sunbathing in a local park, where workers pass by and watch or criticize, in other words where normal social life continues.

When exploring the domination of body over mind that is occurring in beach areas, in the case of the bodily a sensual element can be distinguished that can be translated into feelings among other sensations and a symbolic element as part of a culture of sign systems – fashion and ‘good looks’ being two general ones (q44). The latter is related mostly to the idea of a “display” of personal identity, including health, naturalness, youth, vigour, vitality, fitness, beauty or energy, while the sensual element is related to inner-feelings concerning relaxation, diversion, recreation, entertainment, refreshment, sensation-seeking, sensual pleasures, excitement, play and so on (q30, q31). The element of escape is most clearly demonstrated by the physical freedom a tourist enjoys with the minimal clothing used as extra value. The element of search is less obvious and does not always exist for all people. Getting to know one’s own body, having a clearer feeling who one is physically and the sensual pleasures that are often not present in the home country help tourists free themselves from constraints at home and supports their self confidence and esteem. In general the terms used here refer to what is generally known as ‘wellness’ and beach zones have very much to do with that part of the authentic self.

Next to the intra-personal element of tourists in liminality, there is the inter-personal focus and whether liminality is conceived fully or partially there are some basic traits that can be identified.

Tourists in a liminal situation will regard each other as social equals simply based on their common humanity that generates spontaneous relationships developed between equals stripped from their structural attributes (q103). They form part of a liminal travelling tribe whose members will show their typical social contacting: they exhibit none of the reluctance to greet complete unknown fellow travellers they would otherwise demonstrate at home, while commonly introducing themselves to each other with the first name only and the place they come from. They exchange some travel impressions, joke about any general topic and mention their likes and dislikes of globalized products such drinks, top hit-songs or films. It is unusual during the holiday to mention social or occupational status, while attributes such as jewellery or brand-name clothing are left at home. Most tourists have similar consumption patterns, bathing suits, going around in brightly coloured clothing and baseball caps while shopping in more or less the same stores. The food served often reflects the liminal status: different from the home fare, but not typical of the destination either. With group travel, the liminal tribe element tends to show even more clearly. Often friendships within a tour group constitute one of the most important elements of the entire holiday experience and even after returning home many members of the group remain in touch with each other (q52). Liminality here refers not only to the alienation of the home social environment; it very much refers to the state of being liminal and the interaction between liminal people. Thus experiencing within a group is an element derived from liminality, whereby not only the pleasure exists of seeing uncommon things or phenomena, but also of sharing and communicating this pleasure instantly with fellow travellers (q24, q106).

Another point is that of nationality and customs for each country. Countries where people dispose of a relatively large period of leisure time – 4 weeks per year or more – tourists will have various medium or short holidays per year and their need for escape is probably less than their urges to search for new experiences. With 2 or 3-day escapes liminality is usually not sought and the main motivation is a particular interest, hobby or just going shopping (consumerism therefore). In other countries where people can enjoy only one or two weeks off work, the element of escape is likely to dominate the holiday agenda. In this respect it is worthwhile to mention that there are still large parts of the world where people do not enjoy any form of vacation.

One of the effects of being liminal is the opportunity for transformation either bodily, emotionally or mentally. Entering voluntarily a state of liminality creates expectations that may vary according to each tourist. Therefore it would be erroneous to presume that the liminal situation of tourists would erase any differentiation between them. On the surface and in the eyes of many local residents, tourists may all look similar, but the various orientations of experiences expressed by tourists indicate that motivations may differ considerably (q30, q69). Tourists find themselves in more or less liminal situations as part of their efforts to satisfy one or various needs and each tourist tries to have the experiences that fuelled his expectations originally. The liminal travelling tribe is out there on a mission and although this mission is distinct for each of them, nevertheless tourists also have common ground to share between each other.

6. Liminality – an illusion?

The influences of liminality can be analysed from a different perspective: what happens when something goes wrong during a holiday. An accident, robbery, natural disaster or illness will force any person to react to it and only this pressure of having to react breaks the spell of being temporarily free of daily responsibilities. Any mishap will trigger negative emotions such as anger, disgust, pain, disillusion and so on (q47), which are in complete contrast to the freedom experienced in a liminal zone. Under the pressure of negative emotions a tourist will fall back on his home environment, having to contact insurance companies, police, hospital or any other local or international body. Not only does a tourist have to again be involved in a series of networks he had tried to escape, he must also contact family or friends in his home country, picking up the thread of home social life and with this liminality disappears. It shows how delicate a liminal zone is in tourism and the extent to which voluntary liminality may be based on an illusion. With any mishap a tourist will quickly get the feeling that the holiday spell is broken, his being a tourist has finished while he is seriously considering getting home as quickly as possible where he can at least manage his environment and can feel much more secure again. The inbetweenness that defines liminal zones are constructs of the mind made virtual and the same zone may get a completely different connotation as a result of negative emotions. Additionally there is the observation that in the case of forced liminality (refugees for example) a mishap or similar would not change anything regarding their status. Turner (q104) coined the term liminoid to refer to optional liminal experiences such as those in tourism, limiting the concept of liminal to those that are part of the ritual of society itself.

7. Marketing the inbetweenness

The concept of liminality was introduced during the 20th century, but the idea itself is obviously much older. Even in Greek mythology examples can be found of liminality (q101) and in Oriental as well as Western mythology many examples can be found of liminal personages, places and times. In tourism the concept has been used little so far and the first interrogative therefore is, to what extent the status of tourists being liminal and liminal tourist zones could have been applicable in the past. Hardly any academic research has been carried out on this issue and therefore the only useful leads come from field experiences.

As a practical example the observation can be made that at least until the 1980s it was common for tourists to send postcards with pictures of their holiday destination to friends and family. Colleagues would even be offended if they did not receive a holiday greetings postcard, even though this may not arrive until weeks later (q52). With the years texts became shorter and just before electronic mailing took over, they were even limited to simple picture language: a sun, knife & fork and a little heart to indicate that the weather was fine, food was good and love flourished (perhaps this picture language was the predecessor of electronic messaging and emoticons). It definitely seems that until the 1990s, most tourists had their home crowds very much in mind, meaning that their break from home society during their holidays was only partly experienced as such. It also means that tourists talked with each other about their worries at home and social status was not hidden as is now the case with most 21stcentury tourists. Nowadays few tourists send email messages to friends or relatives during their holidays and if they do, it is by mass mail, lacking any personal touch and most of Facebook or Twitter use should be interpreted within this context. Communications via computer, iPod, mobile telephone or any other device is fast, voluminous and aggressive, leaving many tourists no choice but to disconnect themselves completely.

 Many tourists used to spend hours buying little presents for their relatives at home. But in the 21st century, if tourists do buy presents during their holidays, this is left for the last day when the process of de-liminalization has started. The type of souvenir tourists buy nowadays seems to be more geared towards the cultural expressions of a local population, rather than buying something that would just remind them of the place they have been (ashtrays, T-shirts).

 Another observation is that tourists under liminal circumstances do not like to be reminded of time and this is another characteristic appreciated by liminal postmodern tourists. Timelessness is an important ingredient in liminal buildings such as international airports or hotel chains, made visible by the absence of clocks and the continuing presence of cleaning personnel, making sure that any traces of the use of the facilities is removed as quickly as possible, emphasizing the time-spacelessness of liminal zones.

 Tourists have much more access to information compared to the pre-computer era, which enhances the level of preparedness before the start of the holiday. Factual travel knowledge and backgrounds on the destination seems to inspire tourists to want to know more about where they go, increasing therefore the learning element (search as motivation).

 They are all signs of tourists slowly shifting their holiday behaviour to a progressive alienation from societal pressures as from the late 1990s onwards and these signs point therefore at an increasing degree of liminality. The changes in tourist behaviour are caused basically by the post-modern tendencies that increasingly affect societies around the globe. One of its most important manifestations through fast and intensive transport and communications channels is the compression of time and space. Life seems to be faster and the resulting pressure is mostly felt on the level of the lack of self-realization and being oneself. Another consequence seems to be that rational factors have started to control the non-rational ones (emotion, bodily feelings or spontaneity) leaving too little space for satisfaction of the latter. Emotional constraints seem to characterize post-modern living conditions, unbalancing the reason-emotion relation in favour of the former. This has increasingly prompted a shift from the need to escape from it all to a need to search for one’s true self, whereby a liminal environment is the most suitable condition.

 Therefore it is unsurprising that under post-modern influences the concept of liminality is rapidly gaining importance and people coming from post-modern societies tend to enter a liminal status more easily than it is the case with more traditional societies. The concept of liminality therefore is a tool to get a clearer insight into the changes that tourists and tourism are subjected to. The levels of involvement and experiencing that tourists show during their holidays are of fundamental importance for an understanding of market changes in the hospitality sector and tourism in general. As a result these shifts have become visible through various changes in tourists’ behaviour:

  1. In practical terms it means there is a slow change towards individual travel to the detriment of travelling in groups or mass tourism. The latter is very much related to the element of escape exclusively, but nowadays tourists need more than just that, which also means that in search of one’s true self a complete breakaway from the home environment is essential. To resist the in-authenticity of post-modern life the authentic self is thought to be more easily realized in spaces outside the reigning social relations, where one can be true to oneself and keep distance from the constraints caused by work conditions, societal life and in-authenticity resulting in a growing importance of being absorbed by a liminal status (q110).

  2. Inherent in individual travel is a wider range of possible holiday interests and with this a growing number of niche markets on nearly all levels of human activity. These tendencies have led to a series of market shifts, whereby new niche markets seem to arise at high speed. Similar to the fact that nearly every dimension of human culture now has the potential to become a form of tourism, any search for one’s inner-feelings and bodily needs seem to open up new niche markets. From the 21st century onwards tourism destinations can be differentiated on the basis of a wide array of activities from health tourism to dark tourism or from new age tourism to sports tourism. As far as group travel is concerned, there is a tendency to organize them around a central theme, rather than just going to a destination.

  3. The shift from group travel and mass destinations toward individual tourism and the growing importance of being liminal have prompted many tourists not to emphasize a specific destination they want to go to, instead they appear to look first for the activities they want to carry out. Since being liminal is a priority for many tourists to be able to fulfil their various needs, the choice of destination will depend more on the possibilities to satisfy those needs in the sense that for a destination just being famous is not enough anymore. Tourism destination selection is increasingly based on activity related criteria, while at the same time tourists are less fixed to one particular type of activity. In marketing terms the motivational element of escape can be related to push factors, while search as motivation can be directly connected with the pull factors of many marketing strategies. Along the same lines there is the tendency to do the so-called ‘tourism zapping’; like the postmodern way of watching television by “channel-surfing” – dipping in and out of different settings that capture the interest momentarily, regardless of whether or not the entire programme is watched – they readily mix different styles during the same vacation period: some adventurous trekking, a few days at a spa resort, culture in a city, a Reiki course at an ecological farm for a few days and finally some days at the beach. Dipping into different niche markets as part of the search for finding a personal balance has very much been related to tourism practices since the beginning of the 21st century and with it the importance to be able to do so under liminal circumstances.

Of interest for marketing strategies is the fact that staying within a liminal status sparks off some side effects, of which the two most important ones are mentioned here:

First, the element of transformation in liminal zones, which is related to the element of search regarding tourists’ travel needs, has to do with tourists’ bodily wellness as a result of the restrictive use of the body in most work environments in post-modern societies. This is partly remedied by the use of gyms and fitness schools and the development of green areas, local outdoor attractions or “theme” parks in the tourists’ home countries, but generally speaking there seems to be a tendency for increased care of one’s own body during the holidays. It concerns a niche market that has grown so fast (q112) the word ‘niche’ no longer applies. Wellness, health or spa tourism is receiving an increasing response from a broad public that dedicates either part or the entire holiday to this tourism market. The existential experience and the importance of finding the authentic self prompt many tourists, once they have entered liminal territory, to focus just on body and emotions and the balance between the two. The quest to recuperate and discover oneself is gaining importance and it is one of the main themes encountered among postmodern tourists (q112).

Secondly, as part of an effort to regain a healthy balance between body and mind under liminal conditions there is a marked tendency for tourists to insist more on luxury. For example, twenty years ago a hotel room with a shared bathroom was still common, but nowadays many tourists insist on rooms with private bathrooms, preferably with a jacuzzi, flat screen television, air conditioning, mini-bar, Wi-Fi, and so on. These luxury items often jeopardize sound sustainable development and furthermore they do not directly enhance the level of experiencing a holiday destination in general; however they do caress bodily feelings, which is often exactly what tourists are after, and furthermore they help create the dream a stay in a liminal zone is supposed to be, therefore forming part of the concept of liminality. An important element of spa resorts is precisely the high level of luxury and comfort these hotels offer. As an extreme counterpart to this type of physical wellness, adventure tourism can be mentioned wherein physical hardship is a base element in the process of getting to know oneself. Those tourists looking for spiritual experiences only may also shun the comfort zones, for a short period at least, and the hardships of staying at New Age farms is a rapidly expanding niche market, not to mention the option of voluntary work.

8. The non-liminal travellers

The concept of liminality has another application: as a tool to help distinguish tourists from any other traveller. For the former it means that social status is temporarily abandoned, but other travellers remain socially the same, regardless of where they are. This also means that at a destination the tourists’ gaze (q106) is different from that of any other passenger, visitor, participant or lecturer, who will look at their environment according to their socio-cultural status and views. In tourism the liminal status of tourists is voluntary as are their motivations and expectations; in contrast, travellers in general have an obligatory reason for moving from one place to another. Having personally enriching experiences is the primary source of motivation for tourists, but that is not usually the case with other travellers such as athletes, lecturers, business people or family visitors. There are many travellers that may fit into the ‘official’ category of tourists, but if they lack the element of liminality, one could arguably doubt to what extent they can be considered tourists or not.

Some more differences emerge from the liminality concept: it means that tourists often expect that holiday destinations are adapted in one way or another to the tourists’ needs, whereas any other traveller will accept a destination as it is. This point of adaptation has an additional connotation. Inevitably tourism will leave its marks on the destination’s environment, economy and socio-cultural life. Although sustainable management is a priority on most development agendas, practice and an extensive literature on the subject indicates that tourists are hardly involved directly in any sustainable development and only a few efforts have been made to involve tourists directly into mitigating their footprints.

There seems to be two clear reasons: the first is related to marketing efforts from tour operators or any other travel organisation that follows the current post-modern approaches of viewing relations from an economic and specifically mercantile viewpoint, wherein the tourist is pictured as the client and the client is King. If a tourist insists on having champagne in the middle of the jungle, any sustainability principle is quickly put aside just to satisfy his majesty’s supposed needs.

The second reason is related to the liminal status, whereby tourists temporarily abandon the daily social responsibilities they are used to at home; this is precisely what liminality is about, so this means it would go against the liminal feeling to demand a responsible attitude from tourists. With most sustainable management schemes tourists are asked to behave just as well or better than they would at home, ignoring the fact that this is exactly what tourists are trying to escape. As was pointed out before, the trend as a part of liminality to demand more luxury puts more pressure on sustainable management. Winning tourists’ support for responsible and sustainable development is therefore a hard task. Marketing the need for sustainability measures has also proven to be a challenge (

MacCannell, D. (1976): “The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class”. New York: Schocken Books

">q118), which may lead some to conclude that sustainable management should be imposed rather than suggested. Additionally, little effort has been invested in analysing the incentives that ecotourism offers to tourists to change their own perspectives and behaviours concerning sustainability matters. This is a gap in the research and it exists despite the fact that a significant goal of ecotourism is precisely to raise environmental and cultural awareness among tourists (q91).

Another case concerning the application of the liminality concept refers to domestic tourism. People who take time off to explore their own country and decide therefore not to change their socio-cultural environment are obviously less likely to enter the liminal status. The element of escape dominates and in most cases this is simply space-related without any connotation of freeing oneself from the constraints of societal pressures in home or work environments. In one’s own country many societal pressures will remain the same whatever the purpose of the journey is, with the exception of very large countries such as Brazil or India, where internal cultural differences are extensive and people from one area can very well be liminal in another.

The distinction between liminal tourists and ordinary travellers is reasonably clear but arguable. The businessman who takes a few days off during his stay in a foreign country to explore some of its beauties will do so viewing the environment from his own social perspective. Tourists however, may be in a position to take a different view of things they have not been used to before as part of their social alienation. For the same reason appealing to the sustainability sensitiveness of ordinary travellers will have a greater response than in the case of the travelling liminal tribe. Those in favour of responsible tourism should in fact advocate the thesis that all should be travellers and not tourists, but at the same time they should realize that a large part of the difference between the two is a result of socio-economic conditions in the developed world.

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5 Responses to “Liminality and Tourism”

  1. Very interesting paper Marinus, thanks for sharing. We live in an instant gratification society and pure travel is becoming a thing of the past. Niche agencies such as my own struggle more and more to find authentic options unspoiled by commercialism. Travelers that have that inquisitive spirit will continue to search for the oh so perfect respite. Those looking for the quick fix with end up on crowded beaches or in long corralled lines – or perhaps someday at the local “virtual tourism” shop.

  2. Dear Marinus,

    I’ve read your article about the liminality concept in tourism with great interest. Of course the role of the tourist is very important and if everybody in the tourism business would understand the needs of the tourist better, touroperators would do a much better job at attracting tourists than they are doing now…
    Tourism is not all about pretty pictures of sunny beaches and all-inclusive formulas… Each destination has its own character, its own flavours and a good holiday in a certain destination should create a memory on which the tourist can live until the next holiday…..
    In these times with mobile phones and internet the information comes fast, good or bad news can make the tourist decide on where to go…even last minute….!!
    But all tourists have different wishes for their holidays and I’ve spend the last years sharing information about Greek destinations, Rhodes and Kos, not only the typical sightseeing but also the local places away from the mass tourism spots…
    My latest site is

    Kostantinos Ec.

  3. I read this article with great interest at work. I haven’t previously heard of and I thought it was a very interesting concept to be applied to tourism.

    The idea of the tourist leaving his identity at home and entering a liminal state between his own life and the life ‘in-between’ is very interesting and I can see how this works well. You talk about the tourist tribe as a group of people that has left all social and cultural identity’s at home but shouldn’t this create a shared identity within a liminal state. I feel that many take on the image of the destination that is visited and shared cultural codes and procedures that relate to that country and inherit what it looks like to be a tourist in their country of choice.

    Tourists visiting Switzerland look and behave differently to those visiting Thailand. I argue the tourism identity relates to a destination and becomes their temporary identity and grounds them. Thus if it is common for tourists to show and express responsible tourism activity’s and any other activity’s if deemed to be important to the rest of the tribe. I am not sure tourists are in a total liminal state as many still conform to cultural and social tourism norms that relate to that particular destination. Furthermore, it could be argued that many try to jump from one cultural state (home identity) through a liminal passage (airline) into another cultural state (home-stays for example which are becoming ever more popular) to achieve a new identity.

    Just a few thoughts….

    Saul Greenland

  4. Liminality and tourism is an area I have written on for years. The concept was introduced over 50 years ago by van Gennep and Victor Turner in their exploration of the rites of passage. One of my primary areas of tourism research focuses on long-term overseas budget backpackers. I have used the liminal framework to explore their occupation in and traversing through international liminal zones. My dissertation (2008) has a 26 page bibliography that may help guide exploration of liminality in relation to the tourism literature. You indicated that it is a recent entry into the tourism literature but this is not so.
    Most of what you have written here has been written about by many researchers and writers in tourism education. Unfortunately I do not see anything that you have written as new but rather is repetitious of what I, and many others, have covered over the years.

    • Dear Mark,
      Thank you so much for your very quick reaction.
      I think it is not so much the application of the liminality concept to tourism what matters, but about the changing role of liminality in tourists’ perceptions. Market changes are notorious and fast and the changing role of liminality with regards to the escape-search paradigm helps us to get a clearer view of the shifts tourism is experiencing.


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Rural Community Tourism as Learning Experience

All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source.

I would like to thank Dr. Eduardo Costa Mielke of the State University of Rio de Janeiro for his observations and help, enormously contributing to the quality of this article.


From the seventies onwards possibilities have been explored for tourism to be an instrumental tool for the development of rural economies, but in general terms it seems that there are more failures and unsustainable practices than success stories to be told, especially in developing countries (q147, q148, q149). This article explores some of the problem areas, trying to reconcile (academic) theory with the practice of rural tourism, while highlighting the main issues at stake.

Within the framework of postmodernist tourism the clear tendency for more individualist experiences and exclusive authenticity has widened the boundaries of the tourism panorama as well as the number of activities and experiences that can legitimately be categorized as tourism. It seems that nearly every dimension of human culture now has the potential to become a form of tourism. Although the search for the authentic in the modern sense, where time seems to have halted and the poor must remain poor and culturally stagnated, is still very much alive within postmodern holiday trends, simultaneously there are many groups of tourists with different lifestyles searching for the authentic in the sense of a reality they do not know and want to learn from. Within the same parameters, there is a rapidly growing number of tourists interested in a genuine countryside style as well as in learning skills and customs as a personality enriching set of experiences. It is about tourists who do not travel to a specific tourism highlight, but want to have personal learning experiences and this particular allocentric lifestyle may suit rural tourism development, including elements of volunteer work and home stays.

There is a marked tendency to view life as being economically driven and tourism is no exception. The producer-product-client chain dominates western (postmodern) thinking and it is therefore also applied to rural development. The use of tourism as part of a rural poverty alleviation scheme has followed this same line of thinking: the locals provide a product (lodging and/or tourist attraction) to be sold to clients: the tourists. As shown in literature on the subject, a majority of community-based tourism projects have failed so far in terms of visitor numbers, which has led some people to think that rural tourism development is falling short in poverty alleviation processes.

However, there are other ways to view tourism apart from an economic viewpoint. From a socio-psychological perspective emphasis is being laid on the role a local community plays vis-à-vis a tourism community. The meeting between tourists and their holiday destination is the focal point, which is a view that invites an examination of community-based tourism on the basis of this encounter and at the same this is one of the main concepts of the reflexive approach to tourism. Simple questions such as what each party is looking for and to what extent they share some common ground become much more relevant. Before starting any rural tourism development one must not only investigate what the possible objectives are for each party involved – including tourists – but also the socio-psychological motives that make stakeholders act.

This article describes some parts of the complicated road that local populations have to follow to develop tourism initiatives within their communities. This is a process that should lead to learning experiences and it applies to the people of local communities and tourists alike. For a local community objectives should not only relate to profits, but also to improved infrastructure, contacts with different cultures, new social networks, improved social organization and more cultural awareness, while the tourists’ learning experiences should include a broadening of their horizons, increased awareness of the environment and alternative lifestyles, among others.

Rural Tourism

Rural Tourism can be considered from the point of view of space, time and social relations. Geographers, sociologists, economists and environmental planners alike have long indicated that from a spatial viewpoint there only exists a blurred separation between what can be considered to be urban and rural, mainly because of the physical widening of suburban development, increasing population mobility and the phenomenon of a second home. Some authors define what is rural as the environment where main economic activities are related to agriculture (q67, q78). A wider view differentiates between types of rural space according to the size of the agricultural activity, such as an extensive one with high numbers of (day) labourers and large villages, medium-sized horticultural areas usually near urban centres, or those areas dominated by small family farming.

What is considered to be rural can also be viewed from the point of view of time: people living in urban areas usually have a view of rural areas as being behind in development, where time seems to have halted. It is this nostalgic view of what is considered rural that contrasts with the post-modernist and ‘fast’ life styles of the big cities. This view coincides with what rural tourism development usually tries to convey: the contrast between life in a city and in the countryside. The main traits of this view on rural areas can be summarized as follows:

  • rural in functioning, including small firms, little labour division, open countryside, contact with nature, rural heritage or “traditional” practices;

  • rural as far as scale is concerned (buildings, farms, etc.)

  • traditional in character; slow and organic growth, close family ties with fixed positions within the family (rather than by achievement), locally controlled with a long term development vision;

  • represents complex relationships between environment, economy and rural history.

In this sense the ideas of what is rural does not necessarily coincide with the actual rural development or reality of an area (q67) .

From a social perspective rural tourism refers most of all to the community’s participation, empowerment and its receiving most of the benefits (q64). What is not clear is to what extent local participants themselves should have decision making powers or whether this should be channelled through local associations or cooperatives (q100). This issue is closely related to the extent that rural tourism development is following a top-bottom pattern or the opposite. A complete involvement of everybody and everything local seems to be in line with what is called the reflexive approach to tourism, whereby the encounter between tourists (guests) and rural destination (hosts) is the pivot on which tourism hinges (q52).

Obviously the term Rural Tourism can also be viewed from the point of view of tourism and it can be sub-divided according to the type of activity carried out by tourists, based on their motivation to travel. It should be equally obvious that the distinctions made between types of rural tourism can overlap – they usually do. Mowforth (in: q29) summarized:

  • Cultural rural tourism: refers to the opportunity offered to tourists to get to know the cultural expression of the rural area visited. This may refer to tangible items (either historical, cultural or both), through the performance of cultural expressions (music or theatre for example), but also by means of the direct contact tourists have with local people and their way of living;

  • Eco-tourism: refers to tourists who travel to a destination to observe and enjoy nature and to help preserve these natural resources;

  • Adventure tourism: the characteristics of tourists’ motivations are the active participation, sometimes not without risks, in discovering and exploring rural areas; the tourist’s objective is not so much to gain knowledge (such as it is the case with Eco-tourism), but rather the exploration of themselves;

  • Specialized tourism sectors: the tourists’ motivations are directed to specific areas, such as agriculture (agro-tourism), social experiences (community-based tourism), etc.

With these subdivisions of tourism activities in mind, there is another common denominator: the main attraction of a rural destination is the destination itself and not some particular tourism highlight. It is about enjoying a type of rural environment that would be the same with or without the presence of tourists (q52); in other words, it is about an authentically rural environment and not some attraction developed for tourists. Additionally, there exists a distinction between soft and hard tourism (q59) (also referred to as the activities of either allocentric or psycho-centric tourists (q81). The first term relates to responsible medium to small-scale tourism, while the second concept has to do with the massification within tourism destinations. Rural tourism, especially when it is community-based, refers to soft tourism, which may lead to constructive and sustainable development for a population, whereas hard tourism may cause more harm than any good to any tourism environment in the long run (q59).

This distinction between two forms of tourism can also explain what the difference is between rural tourism and beach tourism: both forms of tourism take place in non-urban areas, but the latter lacks the agricultural element and in most cases it is related to hard tourism and massification. At the same time it should be clear, that both concepts – rural and beach tourism – do not necessarily exclude each other, because there is rural tourism at coastal areas.

The wide scope of the subject of rural tourism invites a narrowing down of concepts and this article will deal mainly with community-based rural tourism (RCT) for three reasons: as sustainable development, rural tourism projects can only be successful when the local community participates actively; secondly, in Europe, the USA, and increasingly on other continents, rural community tourism is seen as an important tool for protecting cultural heritage and poverty alleviation; and finally, we want to focus this article on showing the principles of the reflexive approach to tourism more clearly.

Some theoretical tools: networks and interactive approaches

The roots of rural tourism development are cultivated by many entities with either global or local interests, fertilized by government authorities or private sectors with macro or micro climates in mind, while the clear aim is to produce win-win situations. Power relations, however, are unevenly distributed by the sheer nature of the stakeholders involved. Some actors may have economic superiority, others fulfil hub-positions, there are groups with a strong cultural heritage to share and others with a lot of know-how. It also means that many different scientific disciplines are involved and the relations between the people having some stake in rural tourism development can be seen from sociological, social psychological, anthropological, economic, geographical or political points of view, just to mention a few. Stakeholders in rural development processes are connected in some way or another and the relations between entities – human actors and natural or built environments alike – are constructed on the basis of common interests and may develop into networks that in turn define the roles each entity will play (q41). This is an interactive view of rural tourism development, whereby tourists themselves are stakeholders just the same and they therefore play their role on equal terms with any of the other entities forming and cultivating the roots of rural tourism development.

Networks are thought to play an important role in regional development. Consequently, stimulating networks has become a dominant policy goal, whereby there is a shift of concern from the outcome to the development process itself (q25). This also implies that the emphasis shifts from mere economic results towards the importance of building and expanding networks, since it is on the basis of new networks that opportunities can present themselves for further development. In most cases this is a process of innovation, in which not only local communities have to be involved but outside actors must equally play their part – including potential visitors.

Rural community tourism is a services-related activity that differs from agricultural or manufacturing production and therefore the introduction of tourism into rural areas impacts much more than just having a “new product” that can be sold. The latter suggests an incremental innovation that doesn’t deviate much from current practices, while the starting up of service-related activities means a radical innovation from all points of view. These radical innovations or novelties demand drastic changes in attitude and business management (q56). Tourism is a novelty within a rural environment and it is related to different sets of networks from those a community may be used to. Thus the introduction of tourism into rural areas leads to changes on the level of networks, infrastructure and community organization among others and it should be clear, therefore, that the introduction of this novelty may take some time (q25). Any new organizational structure imposed either from above or developed from within will take a considerable amount of time and effort to become embedded within a local community.

Innovations as part of a rural tourism development strategy have to be radical in order for them to become embedded within the socio-economic activities and as such there are various areas that can be distinguished (q56). For most rural communities, organizational structures have to be renovated; different infrastructure is required with which the local people may not be acquainted, a complete innovation of marketing efforts is needed, while on a regional level new networks have to be developed (q25). Only with the support of the people from a local community can these goals be achieved and their commitment to any development programme is crucial. A bottom-up approach seems to be the only viable way of ensuring that a rural tourism development will reach the stage of embeddedness.

Rural community tourism development projects

When approaching RCT development from a socio-psychological point of view as part of the reflexive approach of tourism a clear emphasis is placed on the first planning stages that have to make sure that a sound tourism activity is being developed with all or most of the stakeholders in agreement. Starting with the basic conditions for tourism to function local communities have to follow a quite complicated road to arrive at the point of a lucrative and sustainable tourism activity as an established practice within their local way of living. Based on literature and case studies, below we present a series of requirements, conditions and suggestions that have been grouped together in response to a series of problems that RCT projects often suffer, taking into account a socio-psychological approach to the RCT phenomenon.

1. Basic conditions for a tourism project

When any rural community wants to incorporate elements of tourism into their economic activities, it must meet a series of requirements in order to be functional within tourism-related networks. In other words it is about what tourism activities should look like and what requirements there are from the point of view of the encounter between tourist and local community (reflexive approach). A rural community tourism project should be able to produce:

1.1 A general ambiance that helps tourists feel the difference from their own home environment, based on anything local that has not been developed specifically for tourists and would have been there anyway with or without the tourists’ presence; existing agricultural practices or small manufacturing may form part of this ambiance. Local people themselves must never serve as a tourism attraction (this applies specifically in the case of indigenous groups).

1.2 Services related to tourism infrastructure, such as hotels, restaurants, information centres or souvenir shops, among others – in practice these may concern a small inn with a limited number of rooms with shared bathrooms or home-stays with home-cooked food.

1.3 Services related to the sources of tourism experiences, such as tourist attractions, trails, socio-culturally interesting sites and anything else specifically developed or adapted for tourists.

When developing tourism initiatives a distinction can be applied between those elements in tourism related to the internal situation within a community and those factors related to the reality outside. From the point of view of networks, these three points (1.1 – 1.3) refer to internal networks. Points 1.4 and 1.5 refer to external networks:

1.4 The community has to be relatively easily accessible and should be located in between other possible points of interest for tourists at a reasonable half travel-day distance;

1.5 The community should be able to offer telecommunications services and therefore be able to receive reservations and payments while maintaining the corresponding administration, bookkeeping and marketing efforts.

2. The Encounter

The reflexive approach to tourism relates to the interaction between host and guest or destination and tourist. The focal point is the encounter between these two and what happens as a result. From the economic point of view, there is an exchange of goods and services for money (or voluntary labour for example), but at the same time there is the act of experiencing, which may or may not be a result of this economic transaction. Specifically in the case of RCT, tourists gain experiences from things or phenomena they did not pay for: the local culture, landscapes, gastronomy or just the smells and noises that may be quite different from what a tourist is used to. Social contacts, comparing destinations with home environments or just dreaming of a different way of living one could have are assets and part of a series of experiences tourists expect to have and get for free. Rural community tourism is about this encounter between a local community and the tourism communities and before attempting to set up such a tourism project, there must be clear insight into the nature of this encounter as well as the functioning of tourism in rural areas. Analyzing this encounter leads to three levels that can be distinguished:

  • Encounters of one human being with another: shaking hands (or whatever local etiquette dictates), a conversation (depending on the language abilities of the tourists or locals), paying for something and receiving change; waving to one another or – even more human – exchanging smiles.

  • Encounters with a culture: tourists observing houses that have different architecture, use of colours, new smells and dishes, foreign styles of dress, indigenous music or intriguing religious relics; for a local community the arrival of people from different cultures may open new horizons, too.

  • Encounters with oneself: tourists find themselves in exotic environments, whereby some tourists come to learn, others for a social challenge or tourists may be interested in mainly physical activities, while the people of a community can mirror themselves similarly and become more conscious of the cultural roots they possess.

The first type of encounter may provide the actors with social experiences, while the second deals with possible cultural, gastronomic, aesthetic or religious experiences. With the first encounter there may be a barrier owing to different languages and customs – with the second encounter this is no barrier at all; this is precisely what the tourists came for: to experience something new. The third type is related to the kind of authenticity a tourist is looking for.

The basis of RCT is this encounter, which only works when both parties enter on equal terms. In other words a provider-client relationship, which is so dominating in western economic thinking, cannot be applied; instead a much more interactive host-guest relationship should occur in which both parties are partners in tourism.

Any village or community has matters that may capture tourists’ interests and that form clues for possible experiences. These clues or impact sources (Impsources) together form the community’s story come to life through the tourists’ sensory intake leading to experiences. In this sense the encounter between local people and tourists is about the framing of expectations for experiences.

3. Expectations

Before starting out with any rural tourism design plan, expectations for this encounter have to be set according to what is reasonably realistic. Expectations in tourism, in turn, are based primarily on needs and motivations from any actor’s point of view. What can be observed extensively from literature studies and practice is that local communities tend to be motivated by (or lured into) economic opportunities, while tourists are being motivated to have socio-cultural experiences, which means that both parties of this encounter start off with completely different sets of expectations – not a promising start. Too often tourists are taken to believe that socio-cultural experiences can be bought with ready money, while local people are made to believe that by acting according to what tourists like to see, they may be able to earn a living. One often envisages a more romantic version of tourists being attracted by the engaging stories local communities want to tell and after the encounter has taken place, both part in tears for the new friends they have made and the incredible experiences they both have had. Whatever the case may be, actors in RCT development, including tourists, should have a fair start with a chance to tune in on motivations and expectations the various players may have. In the case of local communities dealing with a novelty like the introduction of tourism, this can be translated into the opening up of new external networks that give access to knowledge about tourists and what tourists may be interested in vis-à-vis what the community’s own reality has to offer.

On both sides expectations have to be set according to what can reasonably be expected, which means that existing prejudices and fixed ideas have to be readjusted. In the case of a local population, too often economic gains are presented unrealistically, fuelled even further by some fixed ideas that all tourists are rich and should be charged a lot. This phenomenon can best be observed with regards to communities of homogeneous socio-cultural composition. It is quite understandable that tourists are assumed to be rich, arriving in expensive rental cars or in luxury coaches compared to the old buses the locals have to use for their public transport. Cameras, mobile phones, Ipods or sunglasses tourists carry with them may provoke a certain air of luxury locals are not used to and may lead to certain fixed conceptions of what tourists are like. The opposite may be said of the tourists’ case, where the notion of poverty may evoke certain feelings of being superior and – even worse – the idea of cultural superiority, while obviously the opposite may well be the case. Breaking down prejudices is therefore one of the important tasks RCT has to try to accomplish.

For both parties expectations have to be broad so as to take best advantage of the novelty of the situation, although both parties should know what tourism is all about and what they can expect in tangible as well as intangible terms of the encounter between the two. For both sides of the encounter an increase in networks should be valued highly. In addition a local community should have some understanding of the extent to which a higher number of tourists may mean more direct involvement of national and local authorities in terms of improving infrastructure (electricity, roads, telecommunications, health care, schools, among others). Expectations in tourism also have to do with branding/marketing and the exercise of comparing of what a community can show to what some tourists may be interested in should take place at the very beginning of any tourism development process in rural areas. With traditional tourism project design the expectations of tourists are usually left out, denying that rural tourism is precisely about the encounter between tourists and locals while being a radical innovation for any rural community.

4. Basic conditions for the encounter

Exploring the tourism possibilities a rural area or specific community may have and the sheer nature of the encounter between people of different cultural backgrounds invites another set of observations. An important part of the tourists’ social experiences is based on communication with people from the community, which means that for RCT to be successful, tourists should speak the language of the local people or there should be a language common to both; this means that domestic tourism should be the first choice in the development of RCT projects. Local people generally tend to treat tourists as guests, but at the same time they should understand that tourists want to try to be as “un-guestlike” as possible in their effort to experience “real” (authentic) local life. This point coincides with the observation that in a guest-house or small inn, a tourist can try to feel at home, but with home-stays invariably the tourist will be a guest. In practice it means that in the case where tourists are from a rather distinct cultural background, guest-houses are recommended, while home-stays should be used with those tourists who have closer cultural links (city dwellers going to nearby rural areas, for example). Then there is the point of the extent to which tourists want to be involved in activities with or without the participation of local people. Nature hikes, bicycle trips or agricultural activities can be converted into tourist attractions and it should be clear which of these activities are especially designed for tourists and those that form part of the locals’ everyday life. It also refers to what extent tourists and locals alike open their minds for new experiences and how much this opening may be blocked partially by existing prejudices. The voluntary work option may enhance any social experience. It should be clear that the role of tourists must be taken into account from the beginning of the planning stage of any rural community tourism project.

5. The authenticity of the encounter

What is attractive for tourists first depends on their travel needs, motivations and expectations, further fuelled by their personality and referential frameworks. The view of what is rural from the city-dweller’s point of view usually invites a more nostalgic view of the pure, clean and authentic rural life people are supposed to be living. Postmodern living trends often include elements of being more tied to an era than to a particular (birth) place combined with a distinct feeling of uncertainty about the future. The nostalgic past with clear cultural and economic stagnation forms part of this image of the postmodern urban tourists’ dream some think they can find in rural areas.

In this case authenticity has to look like real, since the resulting authentic experience is what matters. Obviously, real and objective authenticity is one possibility, but there is also the type where an object or phenomenon is experienced as authentic, without having to be real. The story about the object may induce a feeling of authenticity, forming part of the relationship between the tourist, the object and its image. This observation touches the importance of the difference between tourist attractions as being staged for tourists and the daily village life, which is there even when tourists are not. This daily reality cannot be staged, otherwise it would be converted into a tourist attraction and as such, would no longer form part of the locals’ everyday life. How local people deal with their environment is one example of their authentic way of living: their relation to nature is quite different from what a tourist might be used to, since sociocultural and environmental survival factors are usually quite distinct, with a possible exception in the case of domestic tourism.

Another postmodern variant of authenticity in tourism is activity-related authenticity, which directly concerns a person’s self and his change through experiencing an object, phenomenon or activity. By going fishing, one may get a tremendous feeling of peace and quiet – an authentic experience therefore, although not necessarily related to a well-defined tourism attraction. Adventure tourism has much to do with this type of authenticity and rural areas often have plenty to offer. In this case authenticity relates completely to the tourists’ own experiences regardless of the source these experiences stem from while social experiences, for example, tend to be of lesser priority.

On the basis of the issues mentioned so far, an inventory can be made of tourism possibilities at a given rural community. Although tourism can appear in many different forms and present as many “faces” as there are tourists, the types of tourism activities that can be distinguished are eco-tourism, agro-tourism, community tourism, and so on, as spelled out earlier on. Next, activities such as day excursions, multi-day stays, voluntary work, etc. must be decided upon and they should be closely related to the authentic experience value any of these activities may represent.

6. Connecting rural communities and tourists

Viewing RCT from the point of view of the encounter between host and guest as the centre of tourism means that a series of requirements must be met to make this encounter come true. Destinations as well as tourists must be aware of each other’s existence as well as what the motivations are that may bring the two together. Therefore marketing seems to take up an important part of such an exercise, taking into account that it is about the transfer of knowledge combined with the opening up of new networks.

It is hard for a local population to see how tourists arrived at their community and too often locals simply feel that tourists come from nowhere. Suddenly there they are! The complicated machinery of the interconnected networks that got the tourist to a certain place is a reality that most local communities are usually unaware of. Locals often do not know how the tourists got there or how tourism markets function; they are also unaware of what was promised to the tourists or what to expect; neither do they realize who ‘sent’ the tourist or how many tourists they can expect to arrive. Additionally, the inconsistency of tourism, the effects of high and low season and the uncertainty of its markets are well beyond the control of local communities.

External networks should be involved therefore to help local communities connect with those people and organizations that (A) could have a direct interest in their tourism projects and (B) that could help them with designing web pages and other means of communications for marketing purposes. A well defined presence on the Internet through a web page (most likely to be sponsored by an NGO) and/or a presence on Facebook and Twitter are indispensable for the development of RCT projects. In this regard, presence on the Internet serves as a tool to further extend networks outside the region of the RCT project. Websites should have two target audiences in mind: potential travellers and travel agents. It is important to establish a balance between tourists and hosts, and the website should carry a clear message in this respect. First of all this means that the pages should not provide what tourists may like to hear (advertising and propaganda); they must reflect what the community looks like and the activities that can be carried out. It should be made clear that this is about responsible tourism and that tourists also have certain responsibilities.

A common challenge for tourism development in a single rural community is its pulling power because of the absence of a distinctive image. In order to make the most of rural tourism resources, communities could therefore approach their marketing activities from a cooperative perspective, whereby win-win agreements must be set up. This may be difficult without a third party intervention such as public sector entities, since local communities usually lack the necessary financial and technical resources. The use of NGOs, either overtly supported by national authorities or acting with support from international organizations, has proved to be one way to help solve this challenge, although this runs the risk of involving local communities in long-term dependencies and thus jeopardizing their autonomy. Local travel agencies can also be called in as they have expertise with tourists’ expectations and demands. However, responsible tourism policy as applied by these companies should be checked in the field.On the same level cooperative branding can be mentioned that helps to synchronize the pull factors across multiple rural communities or a region as a whole. A mix of complementary businesses involving chains of projects (i.e. tourism routes) may stimulate tourism cooperation and opportunities, hence the mention under 1.4 of the requirement of easy access to other sites suitable for tourism not more than a half-day’s travel away.

What are the pull factors RCT can use actively? Most tourism destinations attract visitors on the basis of certain tourism highlights, famous landmarks, impressive natural phenomena or historical monuments. However, in the case of RCT, tourists are not drawn in by ‘famous’ attractions; instead it is about normal local people with strong historical ties and ways of living. Therefore there should be a clear distinction between those rural areas offering a clear tourism attraction that form part of the more traditional ways of tourism, and those areas that show an endogenous tourism based on primary resources and not artificial ones, with a strong anthropological connotation of meeting the needs of sharing culture and lifestyles. A provider-client relationship should be avoided therefore in favour of host-guest interactions, which should become clear on the websites concerned.

Tourists may get in touch with rural community tourism initiatives directly through the Internet or by electronic mail. In these cases the tourism project can be found simply by surfing the web or from the recommendations of people who have been there. More common, however, is the practice of contacting a travel agent, either inbound in the destination country or outbound in the tourist’s home country. Supply chains as sets of networks help tourists find what they are looking for. Travel agents may fulfil a hub function and therefore it is of some importance that they are involved at some stage in the rural community tourism development process, mostly for their knowledge of what certain groups of tourists may like or dislike. As intermediaries, the role of travel agents is a delicate one, since they have to make clear to potential tourists that a visit to a rural community includes certain responsibilities and these agents themselves should know about local situations.

An important Internet application consists of Social Information Seeking (SIS). In recent years there has 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 appears to be one of the most popular.

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 means that these sites can fulfil a second role at the same time as database provider, based on previous answers, which in turn are provided by the people of a community or by any outsider. This can be on global 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?” The habit of asking questions on forums and similar communication platforms is also expanding rapidly.

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, controlled jointly by a community and its visitors.

7. New networks

Once a local population has decided on a project for receiving visitors within their community, an opening is automatically created to connect with outside actors, either being potential visitors directly or other actors involved in some way or another with visitor flows, transport or marketing: the so-called forward linkages. From a development point of view, making an inventory of existing contacts has to be combined with the inventory of external networks the community should have access to.

A major emphasis on rural development processes themselves will lead to the need for taking stock of existing networks as well as the technical and experience knowledge that is available. The questions of who has the knowledge and who has the skills must be the foundation for the inception of a development process. These inventories of knowledge and of the internal as well as external networks not only form the basis of the process design, they also indicate the strengths and weaknesses of internal organization or functioning and as such give an indication of the necessary training and education that should be internalized within the development process. Additionally, the introduction of a novelty like RCT means that new knowledge has to enter the community. Capacity building is one of the major objectives of any development process, but there must also be an exchange of technical as well as experience knowledge.

There are three types to be distinguished:

A. Exchange of existing knowledge. Networks reaching outside a community may enhance contacts with other villages or people from the region as a basis of information and opinion exchange; in other words, these networks build on locally existing knowledge (also called horizontal network integration).

B. New input of knowledge

B1. From governmental authorities, universities or NGOs

B2. From tourism contacts (travel organizations, etc.)

A different case has to do with contacts with NGOs or government agencies, since these networks are about a flow of knowledge towards the community and may contain new concepts, ideas, information or techniques (a vertical flow, therefore). When applying to a process that stresses a bottom-upward approach, new impulses from outside sources are of great importance, but networks have to be established first to let this happen.

C. New initiatives:

C1. Training, instruction and education

C2. Marketing, Internet design, accounting, etc.

A third form is that of forward linkages and it concerns contacts with possible buyers, not only of agricultural products and manufactured goods, but also of the (tourism) services provided. In the latter case this may refer to the tourism services in the community itself and networks concerning travel agents among others.

Once the motivations and nature of a particular rural tourism project have been established among the various actors and a start has been made on acquiring additional knowledge of the possibilities rural tourism may present, the next stage is to define what new elements have to be developed within a community to adapt to some kind of tourism activity. Will it be just an attraction for day-visitors, for multiple-day stays or will there only be indirect participation through the supply of guide services, agricultural products, handicrafts, and so on.

8. Requirements for the RCT development process

On the basis of the theoretical tools introduced, a description can be given of the process of rural community tourism development, keeping in mind that a bottom-up approach is recommended and that these projects are being viewed as radical innovations within the rural environment. Hence, the underlying arguments for a successful implementation of community-based tourism projects in rural areas are based on five assumptions that are interconnected. Once having established that a rural community or area can be of interest to tourists and the locals have shown interest in such an undertaking, all actors must have this awareness for a local rural community project to prosper:

2.1. RCT projects must be developed with the full participation of the local communities involved and should depend on their initiatives; for any initiative to develop into an embedded practice within a community it is this same community that should initiate this development process.

2.2. RCT projects must lead to socio-economically and environmentally improved living conditions for the local community; although the economic effects of tourism in rural areas have been emphasized extensively under the influence of pro-poor movements, benefits should also include improved living and working conditions as well as infrastructure and cultural awareness, among others.

2.3. RCT projects must lead to an increased number of internal and external networks that stimulate creativity and new knowledge in the community. Since the introduction of tourism is a radical innovation, a new flow of knowledge has to enter the community. Training as well as capacity-building form fundamental elements to help local people cope with new tasks, services and technologies so that they are not continuously dependent on outside knowledge, which could jeopardize their autonomy.

2.4. RCT projects must be complementary to any other already existing economic activity in the community and must build initially on the available organizational infrastructure; this assumption is first of all a “safety-valve” to help ensure that tourism evolves into an embedded practice. Secondly, it means that the innovation of introducing RCT may be radical, but at the same time that its influence on a local population and the way the people are organized does not change social structures radically.

2.5. RCT projects must produce an organizational structure that appoints, among others, those community members that are directly involved with the tourists and the tourism infrastructure to be developed; tourism networks depend very much on personal involvement and service, as part of the hospitality offered and to help create the image the community will have towards its visitors. Tourism in general depends largely on personal contacts and networks and therefore any tourism identity cannot afford to have a different person attending network contacts each time. Working in tourism, as in any other activity, needs special skills and not everybody has to be involved directly with tourists. Participation may also involve associated products, such as food cultivation or handicrafts, hence the importance of governance in appointing roles to play and tasks to fulfil.


9. Governance

So far an outline has been given on the basis of a reflexive approach to tourism of all pre-requisites that help identify the feasibility and viability of potential tourism projects in rural areas initiated by local communities themselves. The majority of actions described so far have dealt with the preliminary stage and it has been argued that these actions are of fundamental importance for a RCT project to be successful. However, it seems that a majority of RCT projects carried out did not take this road and rather followed the more traditional theoretical discourse of the provider-product-client model.

Literature and case studies on the topic of RCT show that a failure of marketing and a lack of governance are the major stumbling blocks for rural tourism development to prosper, and this view is supported by many observations of RCT in practice. Both issues are part of the radical innovations that have to take place within a community to successfully develop tourism initiatives. It is precisely the last mentioned element (see 2.5) of internal organization and the managing of external networks that seem to cause problems, and more specifically, the lack of organization is one of the main themes within communities; this is the major problem that women in rural communities have to face.

Governance, management and leadership relate to the internal organization of a community and to the way decisions are being made. Community organization is about a process that relates to responsibilities and commitments; if this were not the case there would be no political sustainability, which in turn may affect the autonomy of a community. A dependency on external organizations concerning knowledge transfer may develop, inducing a lack of self-confidence and lack of decision-making power, thus again undermining autonomy. Additionally, in a given community it may have taken decades for decision making processes to reach their state of embeddedness, but tourism has the power to turn around these processes drastically in the short term and the challenge therefore is to ensure effective decision making within a local population’s reality, maintaining the community’s autonomy and creating efficient organizational structures.

The organization within a community will largely define to what extent the various networks will be established and how they will function. Acting as a community requires many levels of internal organization and this usually involves the formation of some kind of association, cooperative or foundation – these three being the legal frameworks mostly accepted by government authorities and NGOs. On one hand, these forms of organization may help the strengthening and building of networks, but on the other hand one has to realize that they are western legal structures that do not always coincide with local traditions and may mean the exclusion of parts of a population.

10. Sustainability issues

When the first moves are made to look into the possibilities of the introduction of a tourism project together with a local community, sustainability development issues must be high on the agenda. Tourism exerts environmental pressures and impact studies must show to what extent a village or area can support them. Apart from the ecological issues, it has to be seen that the story a community has to tell does not change under foreign influences. The community’s story must be observed by external entities, such as tourism authorities or consultants, and balanced against certain expectations tourists may possibly have as part of the process to test the feasibility of a RCT project. This testing includes the vulnerability of cultural heritage, traditions and customs and how much a community or its members want to expose these to outsiders.

RCT projects have to be seen as an expression of sustainable development itself, although local communities may encounter severe problems mitigating the harmful effects increased numbers of visitors may have on their direct environment. Waste management is one example, since most communities have no other means available other than the rubbish dump just outside the village. Although recycling is a necessary practice, in remote rural areas specifically this is simply not viable. Along similar lines there are many restrictions – often of an economic nature – that stop a local rural community from meeting the sustainability standards set internationally. Local communities may feel they are living in harmony with their environment, but broader ecological issues concerning a region as a whole may demand additional measures be taken, which may be considered by local people as external interference. Tourism may not be a part of these sustainability issues, but the opening up of external networks and the resulting connection of a community to a complete region can lead to consequences at all levels. Additionally in most communities local people care about their natural environment as part of their survival and therefore they are well aware of the solidarity this involves with future generations, but this solidarity might be changed by the presence of tourists, especially when there are too many of them. A local population may give up part of this solidarity under the pressure of tourism, the prospects of financial gains or when pushed by government authorities or investment companies.

Sustainable tourism development in rural areas has captured the interest of government authorities and travel organization at large, but this has not always been translated into practice. The public sectors’ more traditional views invite shorter-term thinking and often seem to deny some of the basics concerning rural community tourism: a local community meeting the tourism community in an encounter where no exchange of money is involved. Similarly the private sectors coincide with the economic approach and the logic of linking rural tourism with sustainable development may contain a large element of wishful thinking, since tourism in general has never distinguished itself as being either sustainable or taking a long-term view of development. Meanwhile one has to realize that the lack of the State’s effective capacity to guarantee the complete protection of eco-systems and the need for productive alternatives in nature buffer zones have created an opportunity for sustainable tourism developed by local people to find a solution to the eternal conflict between conservation and development. RCT, therefore, may well turn into a sustainability tool that can serve the purposes of various stakeholders on national and regional levels.

Final Remarks

Rural Community Tourism development projects have mainly focused on economic impact, but little attention has been paid so far to view these types of development processes from the tourism point of view: the role of tourists, the relation between tourists and community and the windows that are opened for locals and tourists alike. The lack of success of a majority of RCT projects, in terms of low numbers of visitors, particularly in developing countries, seems to be related to poor governance and marketing efforts. Practice has shown that a RCT project may initially break even in economic terms at most and therefore RCT must be developed for reasons other than economic ones. Some more gains in addition to existing income is always a possibility, but there is the point of expanding networks opening the door for innovation as well as creativity and with it the opening of opportunities for new developments with the additional benefit that locals become more aware of their culture and their way of living; tourism therefore is a way of opening horizons not only for tourists, but also for local rural people who can come in contact with a world foreign to their own.

However, the bottlenecks encountered in the form of failing governance and marketing can be taken as symptoms of a deeper rooted problem. In the case of marketing, or to be more precise the lack of it, seems to be directly related to the absence of preliminary studies of what could be presented to tourists, what story a community has to tell and the bridge between the two. The lack of these insights may lead to the problem of how to decide what is best for a community and how to set up corresponding organizational structures. The common denominator of these issues seems to be the reigning economic attitude of external actors towards tourists: “They must be taken advantage of.” This can lead to a development process whereby economic factors dominate and there is no insight into the mechanisms that make tourism work and prosper. Income issues are important as long as they are treated on the basis of responsible tourism principles, while the specific tasks laid down in a well-worked out management plan based on a previously agreed tourism infrastructure are crucial for proper governance. Additionally in practice it seems that public and private sector initiatives should better understand a community’s possibilities and strengths, since the population’s cultural and natural heritage, the exact thing the tourists are coming for, are at stake.

Public and private sectors have been of vital importance to RTC and without them, RCT development processes are hard to envisage. The same holds true for training programmes, which are important elements in preparing communities for the tasks ahead of them. There is no room for a top-bottom approach as RCT consists of the voluntary encounter by both locals and tourists and this encounter does not include any monetary transaction. The traditional view of tourism as the relation between providers and clients cannot be fully applied to the RCT reality. Viewing tourists as clients worth nothing more than their money and hosts as providers who try to gain as much as possible is a view that unfortunately still rules in many handbooks or academic discourse on the subject of rural community development. One has to realize that with most RTC environments tourists pay for lodging and food combined with some services such as guiding or entrance fees to specific tourism attractions, but tourists do not pay for what they have come for: experiencing community life, local culture or rural landscapes, generating experiences that are priceless.

It is about the postmodern tourists from city areas that want to have an encounter with rural people and this tourist has to understand that he has no status within that community other than being a visitor. For any RCT project it is important that rural people maintain the type of hospitality they are used to and that they are not forced to change this for a pattern of a servant-client relation (as often dictated by tourism hospitality manuals), while tourists should clearly understand that they are not going to be served and they must behave as visitors in a foreign environment. The logic of money does not and should not apply, in order to preserve what makes the encounter between the two parties a unique one. However, travel organizations in general still see RCT projects as attractions to be sold to tourists and they want to make sure that the locals provide “complete customer satisfaction” – whatever that may be within a rural context.

Travel organizations, NGOs in general or the public sectors combining economic thinking and socio-psychological perspectives of the encounter between tourists and locals is not just a tendency for the future; it should be today’s reality.

The view that a socio-psychological approach determines the essence of RCT instead of sheer economic reasoning may be contested by many and effectively this has yet to be proven, nevertheless first indications from the field point clearly to this direction. The main aim of this article is to invite the academic world to direct its interests toward these aspects of rural community tourism and the roles tourists play. The views expressed in this article are also directed to those working in tourism to start looking at the activity from a different perspective understanding that profit is not the only goal and RCT is a good example to show that point. Finally, the learning experiences local communities and tourists may acquire are not limited to just these two, but apply similarly to the academic community, travel organizations and public sectors alike.

I would like to thank Dr. Eduardo Costa Mielke of the State University of Rio de Janeiro for his observations and help, enormously contributing to the quality of this article.

For those working in tourism, students and scholars please remember that this website is not commercial and depend on voluntary contributions, small or symbolic as they may be, by pressing the DONATE button (PayPal system) at the bottom of this page.

All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source

2 Responses to “Rural Community Tourism as Learning Experience”

  1. Thank you Marinus for another interesting article; from what I could understand quickly the issues mentioned in the article are taken from practice; they are exactly those (amongst others, of course) that we are trying to tackle with our communities. So far, our model of a for-profit tour operator specialized in sustainable community-based tourism that has a relationship based on trust with the communities it works with. Fair prices, fair working relationship, shared management decisions (final decision is in the hands of the community really, we can only advise) and good marketing which results in improved arrival numbers. It’s true that a CBT project doesn’t necessarily need to result in huge economic success, too: there are so many more advanteges perceived by both communities as well as travelers.
    Thanks for this elaborate analysis. I hope t helps to continue improving the world of community tourism.
    Best regards,
    Guido van Es
    Founder RESPONS

  2. Marinus,

    This in depth approach is welcome and valuable. In our ever changing society, it is very important to reflect current needs. We at Go Mo Places applaud you for your dedication and tireless effort in creating and maintaining a more cohesive tourism environment. Thanks for sharing!

    Miriam Olin, CEO
    Go Mo Places

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In this article the funcionality of sustainable tourism certifcates (STC) is explained together with their advantages and draw-backs. One of the conclusions is, that although the practice of certification will take some time before being known and accepted among tourists, in the short term destination stakeholders may take advantage of the tourists’ current confusion of several issues such as sustainability, certification and authenticity.


  1. This is without a doubt the most well thought out paper on this subject. Thank you and Congratulations!

  2. The article has groundbreaking factors which if only made widely available and adopted by the industry would form a basis for the new and future tourism. It provides a deeper insight and clarifies the grey areas for both practitioners and academics alike. Reads excellently and certaily the issues raised are implementable but thats what we have to keep pushing. Excellent.

    • Dear Manny,
      Thank you for your kind words. Indeed, it is matter that concerns us all and let us hope tourists are also reading the article…….

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As part of my studies in the field of the reflexive approach to tourism, in this article I shall give some interpretations of New Age tourism and related tourism activities such as wellness tourism and I shall also show how these phenomena give us an indication of tourism developments to come.

5 Responses to “NEW AGE TOURISM”

  1. Marinus, it’s amazing how well you read why the new age market, the reason of New Age tourism’s existence and the marketing needs. We can only hope that those who take decisions on how to spend Costa Rica’s ICT marketing budget read up on your well explained issues. Thank you for sending me your article, I thought it was definitely an interesting read and we might be able to apply some of it to the marketing of our niche, Costa Rica real estate. As opposed to the average tourist and real estate buyer, the New Age client is definitely more motivated in today’s market to enjoy beautiful Costa Rica, which might soon become the next place for those looking to enjoy nature and retire in a nicer and cleaner environment. Costa Rica definitely has the potential to do so. Thank you!

    Ivo Henfling
    GoDutch Realty
    Costa Rica

    • Hi Ivo,
      Thanks for your comments – I shall pass it on to the ICT by next week, when I have finished the Spanish version.
      Let us keep in touch,

  2. As you know I am employed by the indigenous people of Scandinavia – the Sámi – to develop Sámi tourism. We started our work by investigating what the Sámi stand for, want to be known for and what they want to do with tourism. Your article well reflects also the debate in Sámi tourism today. Ancient beliefs and cultural heritage is something generations of Sámi have been forced to abandon (but they kept it alive under cover!) and a new spiritual and ethnic awakening can be said to take place. To develop tourism in these times is tricky and I can see how New Age tourism could really clash with Sámi life as well as being the key to a respectful meeting visitor and host. Follow this link and you can see how we have tried to state how Sámi want tourism to be developed:

    • Hi Dan,
      Thanks for your reply. The Sapmi project is a really impressive one and at the same time quite a challenge. Privately I shall comment on some interesting details . Regards – Marinus

  3. Dear Marinus,
    Thanks for calling my attention to this article. I am not a trained tourism expert. My experience about the tourism is twofold: behaving like a tourist and trying to attract the attention of people to Europe’s wilderness.
    My experience however confirms what you wrote regarding authenticity. I shall say that experiencing wilderness is something which might become a more popular way of relaxing. It helps to recharge your battery, being away from your traditional life.
    However I also wonder whether the need for authenticity is different for people living in urban and in rural areas. Wilderness sometimes is what surrounds you for a rural resident.
    So you might want to write a next piece about how the different cultural and living background of people affects their behavour and interest as tourist.
    We will certainly be in touch in the future.
    BR, Zoltan

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The Background of Sustainable Tourism

The Background of Sustainable Tourist Experiences


The relationship between sustainable development and tourism is the subject of this article. We shall first have a look at the backgrounds and the reasons behind the concept of sustainability. The debate on sustainable development started because many things in the world were going terribly wrong: diminishing biodiversity, a thinning ozone layer, noticeable greenhouse effects, discrimination against large populations. Eventually there were so many symptoms it appeared to be a serious disease. The principles of sustainability were originally developed as a response to these problems. In order to examine how deeply rooted these destructive elements are in our Western societies and why there is a need to take a look at our environment with different eyes, we shall put things in a historical perspective and give a brief overview of the development of the relationship between people and their environment.

The Issues

From the legal point of view it is interesting to see how the role of our environment has changed over time. We are talking about things, which form part of the collective memory of a whole society or of a group of people sharing the same environment. From a juridical point of view the way people have considered their environment and nature has changed. Roman law distinguishes in this context two important concepts: a thing or good can have no owner, or there are things or goods that belong to everybody. These concepts are known in Latin as res nullius and res comunis. The butterfly whirling around light heartedly has no owner. However at the moment she is captured, she is owned and she stops being res nullius and simply becomes a good. In the case of res comunis we think of things that belong to all of us, such as the air we breathe, the sunlight we absorb or the sea we enjoy. Those goods never have just one owner.

The more people there are on the planet, the more we can see a tendency for fewer things to belong to the category of res nullius and the goods that belong to all of us are of ever greater importance. It may be clear by now, that nature in the form of flora and fauna originally was considered to be res nullius. The human being has always organized himself in relation to his environment. Social and economic structures were set up to secure a place in nature and it is this relationship between people and their environment that has seen drastic changes over time. From the development of the first Homo sapiens, humans competed with all other animals in nature for food. Nature did not have an owner, people formed part of nature and the concept of “private property” was not yet invented. When people started to develop agriculture, they became conscious of the fact that there were things in nature exclusively for them, and that animals had to be excluded. In terms of law, the fact of exclusion forms the basis for the concept of property.

The negative influences that gardening and animal breeding had on the environment were mitigated by the fact that people (some 20 to 30 thousand years ago) felt they were part of nature. The magic of growing plants and the close links with Mother Earth were the cornerstone of their vision of the environment. From the time when people stopped being nomads and founded villages – later to become towns – the link with nature started to change slowly from that moment on. In part, this was a consequence of the conceptualization of God and the belief that the human being was His creation. The vision of the human being in the centre of the universe has led, among other things, to the development of the concept of private property. People claimed the right to possess something, from which everybody else was excluded – a development that turned out to be of great importance for the development of the Western world.

Much later in history, a need to protect res nullius to a certain extent arose, which resulted in the legal figure of state or public property: goods whose exclusive use are restricted to nationality.

As we shall see later, there are economic considerations in play as well: plants and animals in nature in many places are res nullius and as such lack economic market value; but once they are captured, cut down or shot, they are converted into goods with economic value.

From the seventeenth century on, the concepts of private and public ownership developed to such extent that property became absolute and untouchable in character, breaking the link between nature and society and consequently responsibility for the environment diminished, leading to the situation nowadays property rights include the right to destroy one’s own property. While a few centuries ago there was once an agreement on how to handle the environment, this link has been lost and with it an enormous part of social solidarity in favour of untouchable property, excluding any consideration on the conservation of nature, environment and society. Additionally, property as a right for future generations is only partially acknowledged. On the basis of higher legal security, life insurance and high inheritance taxes in Western societies, the trend is for those living now to have little concern for the future of the coming generations. They think those newly won securities will cover them during their lifetimes. Diminishing religious interest (as a consequence of this attitude), living in the present,  trying to be fashionable all the time, the feeling that “you live only once” and the ever more dominating concept of “this is mine and nobody can touch it” start to dominate Western thinking. The notion of private property has reached such a state that neither children nor grandchildren are being involved. Property forms an inseparable part of the ego of a person. Not only do people’s considerations of their own future generations play no role at all, solidarity with fellow citizens and with the environment has largely disappeared. Things without owners hardly exist anymore and even those goods under the heading of res comunis are under pressure, not only because of pollution, but also because of the tendency to characterize everything in this world as property – either private or public. The conversion of drinking water into a commodity is one example.

From an economic point of view in modern market-related economies the concept of wealth is only related to what has market value. Goods or services for which value cannot be expressed in money (market exchange values) are not counted as ‘wealth.’ This means, among other things, that nature is not comprehended in the concept of wealth, because it does not represent tangible market value. The destruction of nature, therefore, is not seen as a loss. To the contrary, this destruction forms an important part of increasing wealth, as seen from the point of view of market-directed economies.

This has not always been the case. Centuries ago, those economies functioning within capitalist relations were not only focused on the value of things, there was a content side to it as well. Any productive initiative demanded an investment to be able to start its economic life. With capital one can produce. However, this concept of content has been pushed into the background since the end of the Second World War, while the formal side of capitalism – values imposed by market relations – is dominating. This has led to a growing trend of using capital just to earn more money without being productive. Stock exchange speculation is an example; it’s a ‘game’ in which one gets richer while another gets poorer. Real estate, insurance and world currency market dealings are other examples of people trying to earn money without being productive (i.e. creating material and spiritual wealth by its content). How much people earn seems to be the focal point, regardless what or how much they produce – physically, mentally or culturally.

The increasing pressure on market economies to reproduce capital has led to shorter production cycles. This has been achieved in two ways: by shortening the useful life of a good or by combining a good with the concept of fashion. This means that after some time, products become old-fashioned, lose market value and are replaced, even if they are in excellent condition. In other words, to be able to continue producing at an ever higher pace pushed on by the need to produce gains faster, production has to be growing all the time. The consequences for nature are twofold: raw materials are being extracted from the Earth at an increasing pace while rubbish heaps are becoming mountains, because of the growing number of goods that are ‘returned’ to nature. Both effects lead to the destruction of nature, but neither is seen as causing a loss of wealth. They are rather considered a necessary element of creating wealth and development.

Market-related economies have realized that nature cannot be replaced and that its reproduction is relatively slow. This means that if capital wants to ensure its reproduction, protective measures have to be taken towards nature and natural resources. This has led to the curious situation whereby in many market-related economies, big investments are made to ‘repair’ destroyed nature, despite the fact that this same nature is still considered to have no market value and its destruction is impossible to measure. From a technical market point of view they are investing in something that, according to the same market relations, does not exist. These types of market relations have come to the fore during the last 150 years or so and have been accomplices to the vast destruction of nature to date.

Humanity lives on unequal terms with nature. During the second half of the 20th century the number of species has diminished by 30%. However, nowhere on this planet has this loss of biodiversity been booked as an economic loss. It must be clear that the limits of sustainability have been exceeded and the speed with which nature reproduces itself is well behind the rhythm of the reproduction of capital. In other words, we take more from the Earth than she can spare for us. Our planet not only has limitations in terms of natural resources, but also as a recipient of waste and CO2 emissions, among others. The principals that mercantile economies are based on do not contemplate maintenance of the Earth. These economies are so concentrated on the production of profits that all else is subordinate to this and our planet does not receive any attention at all, much less its future. ‘Capital reproduction must be achieved right now and tomorrow we shall see how we can make more profits again’ seems to be the slogan. Life on Earth is being sacrificed for the reproduction of capital in the short term.

This development has led to what we call the consumer society, whereby buying has become nearly as important as owning. More and more we are dealing with goods of which we should ask ourselves, do we really need them? It is all about a society where consumption has become a matter of survival, where solidarity in a society has largely disappeared and the human ego and property have become focal points to the extent that people are only concerned with life today and the future hardly plays any role at all.

Unfortunately, there are more factors active in making the total picture only gloomier. Agriculture suffers a lack of investments because of high risks and low returns in this productive sector, but there is another reason, too. Too much money within the mercantile societies is being used with only one aim: how to reproduce money as fast as possible without thinking for one moment that the production of food needs investments as well. Additionally, under the pressure of diminishing natural fuel resources, oil in particular, bio-fuel production is gaining ground, but this means that fewer resources will be available for food production. Food is becoming scarce and will become very expensive.

The concept of Sustainable Development

Measures to protect nature and the environment from destruction have become of interest to people at a rather late stage in history. The notion of nature and environmental protection, however, is an old one, but as a social movement we have to go back to the nineteenth century. During the 1860′s a number of national parks were established in the United States (Yellowstone among others) and countries such as Canada and Australia soon followed suit. In Holland, the Society for the Protection of Animals was set up in 1864. On an international level the first act to be signed was for the foundation of the International Counsel for Nature Protection in 1913, which later became the World Conservation Union. In those times, the focal point was the primarily the protection of nature, as well as the environment.

A new movement was observed by the late 1960s. The high post-war birth rate (‘baby-boomers’) and changing population structures in the Third World (demographic transition) that began in the 1950s spurred many environmental changes. The report produced by the Club of Rome in 1972 made clear that nature protection in itself was not enough. Apart from the introduction of many ecological issues, other crucial factors came into play: poverty and hunger. One of the basic concepts from these times was the idea that the achievement of a healthy society would depend on a radical reorganisation of social structures on a global level.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, new rumblings were heard. The Bruntland Report of 1987 and the Rio de Janeiro Conference in 1992 developed a number of basic concepts on what would come to be called ‘sustainability.’ It is interesting to note that the idea of sustainable development was accepted by most political camps. Bringing economy into harmony with ecology sounded good and led to technical innovations, among other things.

Tourism hardly played any part at all during these three early movements. When tourism began to develop on a global level, it had little impact on nature protection. During the 1960s and 70s, tourism was not affected by the environmental debate and was still considered a positive phenomenon – a green industry. It wasn’t until the end of the 1990s that tourism was lured into the debate on biodiversity. In 2001, rules were established for Biological Diversity and Sustainable Tourism (Convention on Biological Diversity in 2001). The United Nations declared 2002 as the Year of Ecotourism. It is important to note in this context that the concepts of sustainable development in tourism were already playing an important role at grassroots levels. Many action groups, NGOs or environmental associations had an important stake in the development of sustainable tourism, while international discussion of sustainability had halted somewhat. The Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development shed some new light on the issues and in 2003, the Marrakech Process was begun as a ten year plan whereby several Task Forces would analyze the issues of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) in support of regional and national initiatives.

There is widespread consensus on the three main cornerstones of the concept of sustainability: the promotion of a healthy environment and nature protection, the active participation of all parties involved, and economic gains for all participants. In the first place, sustainability is all about the development of a region, a country or a community in ways that affect nature, environment and socio-cultural relations as little as possible so as not to jeopardize these relationships for future generations. In other words, one tries to stimulate the kind of development that allows populations to satisfy their present needs while ensuring that future generations can satisfy theirs in the same way or better.

Sustainability is all about a vision of development clearly directed at the future. This vision includes close cooperation with local populations, which in turn means a clear recognition that a community, local population or ethnically homogenous group need protection for the conservation of their environment and their culture. Moreover, this development vision wants to ensure the type of development that will allow all participants to become better off in both material and socio-cultural ways. This may be related to monetary income and/or to improvements in infrastructure or access to (state) services. Apart from this, the United Nations has drawn up a series of basic human rights, including the right to education, proper nutrition, drinking water, and so on.

To ensure that future generations can satisfy their needs in ways that are the same or better than now, we must mitigate any negative impacts of our actions. The damage we are causing can be roughly divided into two types. There is a group of small-scale damage factors on the one hand and negative effects on a macro level on the other. Issues at the micro sustainable development level entail the harmful impacts of overcrowding, nature destruction, pollution, exploitation, vandalism and crime, among others. The jobs and works needed to protect a nature area, such as the creation of a buffer zone around it or the construction of environmentally-friendly infrastructure, are all quite costly to implement. Unfortunately, funding this work is all too often seen as a matter of government responsibility, rather than as an issue of sustainable development that concerns us all. Other activities that help mitigate harmful effects include organic vegetable gardens, soil conservation by means of permaculture, and avoiding the use of fertilizers. Obviously, recycling is an important example and a necessary practice. Rubbish, litter, garbage and pollution have become nearly unsolvable problems on both micro and macro levels. These issues must first deal with the magnitude of the problem, the degree of damage caused, and the slow rate of biological decomposition.

It must be clear that many actions directed at a sustainable tourism development are taken at the so-called lower levels: action committees concentrate on a certain development matter, while other harmful effects are ignored. Sustainable development often lacks clear problem definition and instructions for their solutions. Financial means are often lacking, too, as well as slow decision making (too many parties involved), lack of regulations and laws, knowledge gaps, manpower and, more than anything else, relevant information. Extensive organisational structures directed at sustainable development issues can have a positive impact on the awareness of an entire population, even though government involvement may be small. That is why we sometimes see that the protection of nature and environment is better developed in one country than in another. Local action committees, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and pressure groups may form a very important lobby for the sustainable development of a region.

Harmful effects at the micro level can also be divided another way: clearly visible versus hidden. The latter refers to harmful actions that are not directly visible and their causes may not be clear. One example is land speculation in tourist areas. This practice seems to be a favourite of foreigners (non-locals) in many parts of the world and rising real estate prices are the usual consequence. This can have disastrous effects on a local economy but no one seems to see this as a problem and there is no talk of trying to stop it.

The second group of harmful effects are large-scale in nature; disappearing biodiversity, diminishing ozone layers, noticeable greenhouse gas effects, marginalized populations are all examples of this group. The macro problem of air pollution caused by aircraft is a matter of international cooperation, while on a micro level local authorities must play their role. Who is going to have a stake in solution-seeking activities may well depend on the pressure exerted by countries, populations or international organisations.

The Balance

On the basis of the considerations above it must be clear that more is needed than just good intentions and development visions directed at future generations. The reasons why our planet has been affected to such enormous extent are deeply rooted, as explained in this article. The principles of sustainable development form an important initiative, but they are not the cure for the disease. Economic issues that have led to the systematic destruction of nature need much more serious solutions than a mere development vision. People’s attitudes, including their attitudes toward property, must change drastically, particularly in the Northern hemisphere. Money must again be used to produce while consumption should be in line with one’s needs; the durability of goods must also be extended. Solidarity with the environment must re-emerge and actions must be taken to involve future generations. Economic models based on zero growth will be necessary.

It should be clear by now that the principles of sustainability can be handled much more effectively on a small scale at the local level, while issues such as the changing of macro-economic systems need international attention at the highest levels. Working to conserve the Earth at the local level requires, among other things, a strong educational element focused on making people aware of the harsh facts and giving them a tool to create greater solidarity among communities, countries and continents. The role of sustainable development should be extended, since changes at local levels are an inherent part of achieving the solidarity needed. We can consider the points below in this respect:

1       The conceptualization of sustainable development should be taken more seriously and not on an ecological level only;

2       Much more direct action must be taken to curb the negative impacts of globalizing processes, such as trends toward homogenized lifestyles, cultures, attitudes and even language. In the case of tourism, destinations must be unique enough to attract tourists and in this sense, globalizing developments may become a threat to them.

3       There must be a growing interest in the ethical side of development issues and in socially-responsible government at all levels.

Achieving the changes needed at the macro level may require that independent global organisations, the United Nations for example, start coping with all the major issues on ecological and economic levels. However, others maintain the view that the globalizing effects of modern times have been the most harmful and they feel that solutions must be taken by countries on the basis of mutual negotiations without any interference from global organisations. Trying to stop the unlimited use of raw materials such as oil, iron and copper will need much more than good intentions and above all, the consumer sector will have to make a response. Recycling can be achieved on a scale much larger than that of today and the necessary investments should be made as soon as possible.

However, as long as humans consider property as an absolute concept and continue to base their vision of life on it, it will be hard to realize any change at all. Man’s vision of himself must change dramatically and with it, his relation to his environment and nature….

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Tourists and Sustainable development

There is an element of great importance in tourism, but whereof a tourist cannot create any image beforehand: sustainable development, nature conservation or the role of a local population in tourism. The influences and footprints a tourist leaves behind are usually not taken into account with his holiday evaluation and there are very few tourist interested in doing so. The reason is clear: no need will be satisfied. There is only a very small group of tourists (on the Tourist Lifestyle scale on the left-hand side) that may be concerned at sustainability issues during their holiday.

How many tourists are there who sit down after their holiday and run over in their minds how sustainable their trip was? Or the lack of it?

Very few, I am afraid. What happens is that tourists may notice things or circumstances that show a clear lack of ecological considerations. As part of the coninuous evaluation a tourist may feel guilty when travelling for hours through a barren and dry landscape and to arrive at his hotel with lush gardens, swimming pools and sprinklers working everywhere. Even the most insensible tourist will notice this. The contact between rich and poor is another point, that tourist may question spontaneously. We know that there are many tourist taking pictures of poverty, since it enhances the adventure element of their holidays, but at the same time they may wonder if there is not some project for poverty aleviation they may contribute to . However,  for most tourists that is it what sustainable considerations are concerned.

There are two ways this may change: The first one is making sure a tourist creates a need concerning his role in influencing the environment and the mitigation thereof. To help save the planet may form a well defined need indeed.

Experience has shown that the more tourists are confronted with sustainable practices the more they get interested in it. When one hotel is clearly separating the rubbish and another is not, the tourist may question this. To be honest, the number of tourists that really tries to find out how sustainable an Impsource or hotel is, remains very small indeed. Few tourists show interest how a hotel heats the water, treats the sewage or how local the staff is. Construction materials is another point, where tourists demand comfort in the first place, before really wondering if ecological motives were applied.

On the other hand, tourists like to be critical and they usually like to be asked for their opinion. A better preparation may help tourists to be more critical, which in turn can create a need to be satisfied by means of opinion polls, for example.

The second option is not to wait for tourists to get motivated, but simply to implement a series of obligatory codes of conduct the tourist has to study beforehand (on the Internet) and the tourist has to show that he understands them. When in 2001 after the twin tower disaster airport controls turned extremely strict in name of the national security of the USA, there is no reason not to imply strict measures in name of the salvation of the Planet.

Both options may lead to positive holiday experiences and both need much more attention from all parties involved.

All rights reserved. Complete or partial reproduction is prohibited without the permission of Marinus Gisolf and without mentioning the source.

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