Sunday, January 20, 2013

Public and Private Sustainable Tourism: Environmental Footprints and Quality of Life


'Sustainable development' has been a popular conceptual framework since the World Commission on Environment and Development issued its report to the United Nations in 1987 (WCED, 1987).  Also known as the “Brundtland Report”, after the commission’s chairperson, Gro Harlmen Bundtland of Norway, its goal was to define a new approach to addressing pressing social and environmental needs of the world.  Among its chief concerns were
  • 1.  Poverty (hunger, health, housing, wealth distribution, exposure to natural disasters
  • 2. Growth (fossil fuel and other natural resource consumption and pollution), global agenda to deal with the deterioration of natural and social environments. 

Today, 24 years later, sustainable development and sustainable tourism are widely accepted as appropriate philosophies upon which to base policy decisions and behavioral practice. Their wide acceptance is due, in part, to the flexibility used to interpret their meaning.  “Sustainable development” is an oxymoron, in that it implies both environmental conservation and stewardship (through sustainability), and natural resource exploitation (or development). Proponents for both of these perspectives commonly use “sustainable development” to argue for their respective positions. For Destination marketing organizations (DMOs), for example, sustainable development often means maintaining and growing tourist expenditures and tourism investments. This may be in complete opposition to slow growth conservationists for whom sustainable tourism is tourism development that does not impact local natural environments traditional cultures.

Sustainable tourism, however, mostly applies to mostly amenity rich geographic settings and, as such, is a niche area of application for the broader sustainable development paradigm. Urbanization, as a primary force for global social transformation can provide a more general and perhaps universal perspective on sustainable development. Several efforts have been made in popular media, for example, to rate the sustainability of cities, along with justifications for those ratings. A compilation of several of those lists shows a dominance of European cities, followed by North America and then a few cities in other parts of the world (table 1, sources: d'Estries, 2011; Grist, 2007; Linssen & Sindik, 2008).










What is more valuable for these sustainable cities lists is the criteria that they are based on. A review of the sources for table 1 resulted to two general types of criteria against which these cities stood out in various ways: their environmental footprint and their quality of life (table 2) (see also, . The environmental footprint of cities includes technological investments and innovations that either reduce greenhouse gas emissions or, secondarily, enhance the recycling of natural resources. As such, they are efforts to reduce the environmental impact of cities, with ultimate goals of reducing or mitigating the worldwide severity of global warming and environmental change. Quality of life criteria, on the other hand, are much less narrowly focused on global environmental issues. Instead, they address local lived experiences and the creation of places that are comfortably adapted to their social and environmental geographies. Open space, park lands, air, water, transportation systems, forests and heritage sites are shared, common resources that require conservation for future generations as much as the fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources. 















The sustainable cities criteria in Table 2 reflect the perspective of environmental organizations that are the strongest supporters of sustainable development, which reflects a strong bias toward the conservation of natural and social resources.  It also shows a bifurcation in that perspective between mitigation, which is a mostly engineering challenge, and adaptation, which is a more difficult social planning challenge.

The difference in these two perspectives is also evident in the area of sustainable tourism. The most common approach to instituting and verifying sustainable tourism is through engineering evaluations of the environmental footprint of a hotel, resort or tourist attraction that result in green certifications. This approach to sustainable tourism is popular because it is easier to conceptualize and more readily measurable than are social planning objectives. Tourism industry sectors throughout the world have adopted green certification programs both to mitigate the environmental impacts of tourism activities and as an effective marketing mechanism for some travel segments.

How tourism activities impacts local quality of life is occasionally acknowledged by the tourism industry, which mostly associates this through contribution to employment creation and the conservation of traditional culture through artistic displays and performances, and various forms of museumization.  Tourism’s broader roles in community development are addressed more by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social scientists than by private sector tourism industry representatives.

The distinction in tourism development between private businesses ownership of environmental mitigation measures and public sector and civil society responsibility for public goods is not exclusive. Governments also build green buildings and adopt internal energy efficiency and recycling practices to reduce their environmental footprint.  In doing so, however, they are behaving more like private sector entities, rather than setting public policies that influence broad sectors of community behavior. The true distinction here is the public goods nature of the resources that comprise most of the quality of life sustainability criteria. The profit driven private sector is seldom, if ever, given primary responsibility for ensuring a community’s water and air quality, and shared open spaces.

After two and a half decades of sustainable development, this is where we have arrived the sustainable development paradigm has brought us.  There is a private sector primary focus on the technology of climate and ecosystem mitigations, and there is a public sector dominance of the realm of quality of life. These are both positive experiences that have benefitted the communities by reducing environmental impacts (footprints) and creating more livable places where they have been adopted.

The problem is that although sustainability paradigm practices have been adopted throughout the world to a degree beyond the expectations of many, they have not resulted in effective responses to global climate change and widespread poverty and hunger.  Some have even argued that the success of sustainability has resulted in a depoliticized and coopted climate change concerns, resulting in post-modern indifference to the future (Swyngedouw, 2013; Beck, 2010).  

The solution? See my previous post on Creative Resilience for the direction that I am currently leaning towards...



References Cited

Beck, UY. (2010) Climate for Change, or How to Create a Green Modernity. Theory, Culture & Society 27: 254-266.


d'Estries, M. (2011) Top Five Most Sustainable Cities in the World. Ecomagination.com (29 Nov), online at http://www.ecomagination.com/top-five-most-sustainable-cities-in-the-world, accessed 20 January 2013.

Grist (2007) 15 Green Cities. Grist (20 July), online at: http://grist.org/article/cities3/, accessed 20 Jan 2013.

Linssen, S. and Christopher Sindik, C. (2008) 2020 Global Sustainability Centers, Ethisphere (7 Sept), online at http://ethisphere.com/2020-global-sustainability-centers/, accessed 20 January 2013.

Swyngedouw, E. (2013) The Non-political Politics of Climate Change. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 12(1): 1-8, online at http://www.acme-journal.org/vol12/Swingedouw2013.pdf, accessed 13 January 2013.



Sunday, October 21, 2012

Creative Resilience: The Next Sustainability for Tourism?



by Alan A. Lew – this is a brief summary of a paper that I am working on

'Sustainable development' has really only been around as a popular conceptual framework since the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) issued its report to the United Nations in 1987 (Hall & Lew, 2009).  Also known as the Brundtland Report, its goal was to define a global agenda to deal with the deterioration of natural and social environments. 

Today, 24 years later, sustainable development and sustainable tourism are widely accepted as appropriate philosophies upon which to base policy decisions and behavioral practice. Their wide acceptance is due, in part, to the flexibility used to interpret their meaning.  Unfortunately, that flexibility may have made both sustainable development and sustainable tourism meaningless.
Evidence for the failure of sustainable development is seen in many of the major news headlines of the past couple of years, including:
  1. Increasingly extreme climate events related to increasing atmospheric green house gasses (GHG).
  2. Increasing global population (reaching seven billion in 2011) putting more pressure on natural resources. 
  3. Increasing extreme geologic events (earthquakes and tsunamis), in part due to growing populations in dangerous locations.
  4. Economic recession and financial crises, especially in the US, the Eurozone and Japan.
All of these changes, among others, are taking place despite widespread commitments to sustainable development across the globe.  It appears that sustainable development in general, and sustainable tourism as one of its forms, has failed to meet the demands of contemporary society, and are even being overwhelmed by them. 

Resilience theory offers an alternative to the sustainable development paradigm.  Community resilience is the ability of a place to maintain a normal level of service in the face of periodic or unpredictable external shocks or system failures.  One way to think of the difference is that sustainable development tries to prevent the shock event from occurring (by behaving more responsible toward the environment and society), whereas resilience planning focuses more on the response and recovering after the shock event.

From a human settlement of community perspective, three general approaches to resilience planning have been suggested (Davoudi 2012): Engineering, Ecological and Transformational.  Engineering resilience is the ability to return to a normal equilibrium after a disturbance and emphasizes the efficiency and predictability of bouncing back. 

Ecological resilience is the ability to learn from an adverse event so as to be better prepared for future shocks, which may involve an alternative form of normalcy. Such learning includes institutional capacity building and understanding individual social capital opportunities and needs.  For example, the SARS epidemic decimated tourist arrivals in many Asian countries in 2003 because they were caught unprepared to address this type of catastrophe. Similar disease issues have arisen since that time, but policies and practices adopted since 2003 have successfully kept them mostly under control, protecting the tourism industry.  These practices include isolating travelers who are severely ill and regularly disinfecting elevators and other strategic locations in public places.

Engineering and ecological resilience represent the traditional goals of community resilience planning and both assume that there is a normal level of social equilibrium that can be achieved.  Most the new interest in climate change resilience has tends to focus on these traditional approaches. However, as community resilience planning has become more widely examined by social scientists and community planners, a third form of resilience has emerged.  It is define as the capacity of a community to invoke whole systems changes, reflecting different timelines and geographical scales, that evolve and create new adaptive models of response to changes in their natural and social environment (Planning Theory & Practice). I call this Creative resilience because resilient societies are those that are able to continuously re-create themselves to successfully adapt to an ever changing world. 

Three basic tenets of Creative resilience are:
  1. Disturbances range from large, sudden shocks to gradual and consistent shifts, from the unpredictable to the expected, and from the undesired to those that are welcome.
  2. Communities and people build resilience by continuously responding to disturbances in creative and adaptive ways.
  3. Creative capacity building is occurs through effective leadership, individual social capital, and institutional social learning.
To me, a resilience approach makes a lot more sense in today's world, with today's challenges, than does a sustainability approach.  While much of sustainability also supports resiliency, resilience planning is more directly related to the immediate challenges of a community in a real and practical manner.  Creative resilience also offers a wider range of possible responses and visionary futures than does sustainability, which is more narrowly focused on conservation approaches.

For tourism, does this mean that we will replace green certifications (such as Green Globe) with resilient certifications, or at least incorporate resilience into the certification criteria?  I think that we may actually see this some day, though not in the near term as resilience is still an emerging approach.

For tourism destinations, however, the question arises as to what is the more important and effective policy for local and regional funding and political support: sustainability or resilience? Instead of sustainable tourism, should we be promoting resilient tourism?  And what would resilient tourism look like?  

My own fieldwork in Asia indicates that the answer to this last question is very much dependent on the context and needs of the tourism entities involved.  Figure 1 shows how four generalized types of tourism settings based on the degree of disturbance (from gradual shift to sudden shock) and the scale of tourism (from private entrepreneurs to shared public interests) that are involved. 

 Figure 1

The Change Rate axis recognizes that people perceive and manage slow, but still significant, changes in the environment, culture and society than they do with sudden shocks to these systems.  In addition, the model recognizes that rates of change can be highly variable over time and at different social and geographic scales, which can require different modes of response.

Given the complexity of contemporary social challenges, a fully comprehensive approach to resilience planning is best approached from a creative resilience because it is the only approach that acknowledges and accepts the range of changes that a community faces.  From the perspective of the tourism industry, this means:
  • 1-      All tourism destinations face a range of change pressures, including environmental (changing natural resources), social (changing cultural resources) and economic (changing economic conditions).
  • 2-      Some pressures for change are apparent and predictable, while others are opaque and unpredictable.
  • 3-      Pressures for change occur at a variety of time lines (speeds) -- some are slow and gradual, while others require urgent responses.
  • 4-      Traditional sustainable tourism planning mostly addresses slow change issues. Engineering resilience planning mostly addresses major disruptions.
  • 5-      Pressures for change occur at a variety of geographic scales -- some only impact an individual entrepreneur, while others impact an entire community or cultural group.
  • 6-      Lower geographic scale issues need to be incorporated into resilience planning that occurs at higher geographic scales.
  • 7-      Common change issues in tourism destinations include the modification, deterioration or complete loss of: (1) tourism facilities and services; (2) environmental and cultural tourism resources; (3) tourist markets; and (4) skilled employees
  • 8-      A slow change pressures may be transformed into a sudden shock event if it passes a tolerance threshold (or breaking point).
  • 9-      Comprehensive resilience planning should incorporate the full range of change pressures that a community faces, and encourage creative and flexible response.
  • 10-   The tourism industry needs to be included in community resilience planning.


Reference Cited

Davoudi, S. (2012) Resilience: A Bridging Concept of a Dead End? Planning Theory & Practice, Vol. 13, No. 2, 299–333, June 2012 - http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14649357.2012.677124 

Hall, C.M. and Lew, A.A. (2009). Understanding and Managing Tourism Impacts: An Integrated Approach. London: Routledge.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Easy and Hard Sustainability: Sustainable Tourism and Sustainable Cities


While almost everything I research and write about is tourism related, the classes that I actually teach at Northern Arizona University are mostly not tourism related, but are in urban and regional planning.  I have a master degree in urban planning and am a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners.  I also follow email lists for practicing planners, academic planners and tourism academics.

I try to bring my urban planning background to my tourism work, with my book Understanding and Managing Tourism Impacts: An Integrated Approach (Routledge, 2009) being the place where I have done that the most.  There is also a commentary that I wrote in 2007 on planning theory and tourism planning that you can download from the link below.  This blog post is based on that commentary, which was updated in a keynote presentation that I gave a few months ago at a conference on "Sustainable Urban Tourism" that was held in Hong Kong (2012) and which is also linked below.

My personal opinion is that urban planners have a much better understanding of the breadth of issues related to sustainable development than do tourism people.  In tourism, the main focus of sustainable development is on green certifications.  This checklist approach is what planners call a "functional" or "tame" problem. They tend to have clear goals, quantifiable results, and are not threatening in their implementation.  They are the easy challenges of sustainability, and include low carbon energy use, water conservation, waste recycling, open space protection, and low impact building practices.

There is, as you might suspect, another group of sustainable development problems that are much harder to resolve.  Planners refer to these as "substantive" or "wicked" problems, and they tend to involve vague goals, subjective attitudes, and political decisions that threaten particular interest groups.  Examples of wicked sustainability issues that relate to tourism development include changing human behavior to improve air and water quality, increasing quality of life opportunities and political empowerment for low income communities, and protecting living cultures without destroying their sense of place through commodification and museumization.

Urban planners have developed tools to use with communities to address wicked problems.  These mostly center on citizen participation techniques, and there are many substantive approaches that may be employed.  A big difference between tourism and urban planning, of course, is that tourism tends to be more private sector and business oriented, while urban planning tends to be more public welfare oriented. 

However, these orientations are not exclusive, as tourism is often seen as an economic development opportunity for both private businesses and communities in general, as well as having potential positive impacts on environmental and cultural conservation.  Just how tourism can do that in a truly sustainable manner, beyond the easy sustainability of green certifications, requires a greater awareness on the part of tourism industry leaders and managers, as well as many tourism researchers, of how this is  being done in disciplines outside of tourism itself.

References:

Lew, Alan A. (2007Tourism Planning and Traditional Urban Planning Theory: Planners as Agents of Social Change. Leisure/Loisir: Journal of the Canadian Association of Leisure Studies 31(2):383-392. (pre-publication version)


Lew, Alan A. (2012) Planning Theory, Sustainable Cities and Sustainable Tourism. Keynote presenation at the Sustainable Tourism in Urban Environments Conference, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 20-22 April 2012. DRAFT Pre-Conference Working Copy (.pdf)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Challenge of Benchmarking Tourism's Global Economic Value


In 2008, I posted on this blog: "Tourism is Not the World's Largest Industry" -- which actually came from my book: Understanding and Managing Tourism Impacts: An Integrated Approach (with C.Michael Hall, 2009, Routledge, UK).  That post has been one of the most visited on my blog.


I see today that the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has recently commissioned a study to, yet again, prove to policy makers that tourism is a really big deal (see their press release here: Travel and tourism larger industry than automotive manufacturing; and on more on the wttc.org website here - they have a couple of ppt files on their site that details their findings, though as usual, the methodology is fuzzy, at best).




The problem is that the co-called "tourism industry" is so diverse that almost any activity remotely related to travel and hospitality can be considered all or part of it.  The WTTC tends to use the Tourism Satellite Accounting System to "guestimate" how much each sector of an economy contributes to tourism -- and this really is just a guess!  In addition, the Tourism Satellite Accounting System is inherently unsuitable for comparison across political boundaries (beyond a single country) and across different industries.  Each of those transgressions involves exponentially greater guesswork.  Also, comparing service industries to manufacturing is wrought with challenges and is not recommended by the WTO (World Trade Organization), which compiles most of the international trade data for the world.  (I know, I did make this last transgression myself in my original blog post on the topic, but at least I admit that it is a fundamental flaw in my analysis.) 


Anyway ... yes, I fully agree that tourism is a huge global economic activity that just continues to grow despite economic upheavals across the globe.  However, I caution everyone to be careful in accepting the illusion of hard number results from any study that tries to compare tourism economic activities with other industries at a global or even regional scale. 


(Cross-posted at BlogNotions.com)

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Top 10 Dive Destinations in the World -- Really!


I just finished writing a book chapter on the World Geography of Scuba Diving for a book that a friend is putting together on recreation dive tourism. One of the things that I did for that chapter was to look at 15 online lists of "the top ten dive sites in the world".

Taken at Pulau Sapi (Sapi Island) very close to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

Here is my list of the World's Top 10 Dive Destinations that comes from my combining 15 lists created by other people. (A longer version of this list will appear in the book when it comes out.)

COUNTRY  (REGION)  -LISTINGS-  DIVE DESTINATIONS

1) Australia (S Pacific) -10- Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island
1) Indonesia (SE Asia) -10- Sulawesi, Raja Ampat
1) Mexico (M America) -10- Baja California, Riviera Maya and Cozumel
1) Thailand (SE Asia) -10- Koh Tao Island, Phuket Island

5) Malaysia (SE Asia) -9- Sipadan Island, Mabul Island
5) Egypt (Africa/M East) -9- Ras Mohammed Nat. Park, Red Sea (south)

7) Belize (M America) -8- Barrier Reef Reserve, Great Blue Hole
8) Fiji (S Pacific) -7-
9) Ecuador (S America) -6- Galapagos Islands

10) USA - Hawaii (C Pacific) -5- Kona Coast
10) Maldives (Indian Ocean) -5-
10) Micronesia, F.S (S Pacific) -5- Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon

OK. So my list is more than 10, due to so many ties.  But let me explain it.

The top four countries that tied for first place were each listed on 10 of the 15 lists that I looked at.  No country appeared on more than 10 of the lists, indicating how variable these lists are.  Malaysia, which is where I am currently living, appeared on 9 of the lists, as did Egypt.

To the right of the listings number are any specific sites that might have been mentioned more than once.  Lists tend to combine countries (like the Maldives and Fiji) and destinations (such as the Kona Coast or Sipidan).   My list is based on countries.  Dive destinations are shown only if they appeared on two different lists or more.  So Maui, which appeared on only one of the 15 lists, did not make it onto the list above.

I took this photo of a pregnant pygmy seahorse at Lembeh Strait, near Manado on Sulawesi Island, Indonesia.

Personally, even though I included top dive destinations from both the US and UK, I think the results are a bit biased.  Based on other data I used for the book chapter, I believe that Australia, Indonesia, Mexico and Belize may be ranked a little too high and Pacific Island countries area little too low.

Australia, Indonesia and Mexico are all far larger in land area and coastlines than any of the other countries on this top ten list. (The mainland US and Canada were in the top 25, but not the top 10.)  This gives them an advantage in that they have many more dive sites, as well as dive sites from widely different parts of their country.  Mexico and Belize are boosted by their close proximity to the very large US diver market, which puts them on more top dive lists than they otherwise might be.  On the other hand, the Pacific island countries may be a bit lower because they are so remote from both North America and Europe (the second largest dive market).  Many, but not all, of the top 10 dive spot lists are written for specific diver markets, such as the US, the UK or Australia.

In addition, I doubt that very many Americans get to Egypt's Red Sea to dive, as I almost never see it in articles or advertisements in the dive magazines in the US.  However, it still ranked quite high on this list.  I believe that this is because it is such an important dive destinations for the UK and Europe in general.  The Red Sea is the closest tropical-like coral reef destination for Europe.

All of these destinations are in warm water regions of the world.  Europe does not appear at all, not even on the full list of  25 countries that I ended up with.  Colder water dive sites, in general, only occasionally appear on top 10 diving lists that I reviewed. I wonder why? ;-)

I have personally dived at five of the places on this list, and snorkeled at one more of them.  One of the problems is that any one dive spot, no matter how fantastic it is, may not be that great on the day that you are there due to water and weather conditions.  Thus, my one day diving experience at the Great Barrier Reef was not very memorable, in part because a large cyclone a couple of months earlier had covered a lot of the coral with muck.

Still, I love scuba diving, and I love the Asia-Pacific region -- and I now have a (growing) list of places that I need to visit!!!

You can read how I got lost on my last dive just last week at :
http://travelgeography.blogspot.com/2012/04/dive-54-where-are-you.html  


Monday, March 26, 2012

Memorable Places: Hanoi

This was recently posting on my Travelography blog, where I talk about my personal travels.  I thought it might be of interest to readers here, as well....

Hanoi: How to Make a Place Memorable


... We left Hanoi feeling really good.  We thoroughly enjoyed the city and felt like it was a place that we both wanted to visit again some day.  Part of that was the great walking and exploring opportunities of the Hanoi's Old Quarter.  Being able to "explore", "discover" and be "surprised" is a really important part of a good tourist experience.

The other key to our very positive experience of Hanoi, however, was the friendliness and hospitality of the people we encountered.  Not just one person, though Mr. Anh really stood out, but also so many of the other people we encountered.   Homer was so right when he wrote that “A guest never forgets the host who had treated him kindly.”

For more, go to: http://travelgeography.blogspot.com/2012/03/hanoi-how-to-make-place-memorable.html

Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, at night

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Travel Hungry? Look at this....

I have long felt that a lot of the research coming out of the neurosciences these days can inform our understanding of tourism and tourist behavior.  I also know that a lot of that research is controversial with results that are probably overstated.  With that caveat, though, I saw a recent article in 'Science Daily' that discussed research on how "what's going on inside our head affects our senses. For example, poorer children think coins are larger than they are, and hungry people think pictures of food are brighter." (Science Daily, 3 March 2012)

Here's looking at you -- at a morning wet market in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. (photo by Alan A. Lew)
The research found that when words were flashed very fast on a screen (too fast to read, but slow enough to imprint on the brain), "Hungry people saw the food-related words as brighter and were better at identifying [the] food-related words" when shown on a list after they were flashed.

So what this research shows is that our perceptions increase toward items that our body wants or needs.  How does this relate to tourism?

Tourism scholars have long pondered what motivates people to want to travel, and especially what motivates them to travel to certain types of destinations.  Coastal and island destinations, for example, hold particular attraction as travel destinations for a broad spectrum of people.  Culinary diversity, family kinships, ethnic and national identities, and architectural wonders are among the many other attraction types that we want to see and experience.

So if food hunger enhances our senses toward food, what does our selection of attractions tell us about what we are lacking, or hungry for, in our day to day lives?  Because that is what is guiding our attention to travel magazine, tv shows and advertisements.

And while we are on a trip, what do the things we do, the photos we take (I will take several hundred photos of an interesting place), and the many other choices that we make say about our motivations and needs?

And finally, why are these so different from one person to the next?

These are the kinds of questions that get tourism researchers excited. ... Wow, look at that!

------

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Have Blog, Will Travel

I have been “on the road” for just over a month now. I received a Fulbright research grant to spend six months in Malaysia studying coastal tourism development. The first month was a whirlwind tour that included about a week each in Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu (mostly house hunting), Singapore (for Chinese New Year), and a road trip from Johor Bahru to Kuala Terengganu (one of my research sites). We have had some amazing experiences and living a life that makes many of my friends quite envious (though not in a bad way).

A few friends have asked me if I was going to post photos or blog. As usual, I have been taking a lot of photos. I average about 200 photos a day that I keep (out of the many more that I take) when I am visiting new places. Normally, I do try to post some photos and blog some about my experiences. However, that does take time, and for me, that time usually comes at the expense of sleep. This time, my wife has a request from her friends to post photos of our trip on Facebook, so I have been letting her do that. Occasionally I will share those so that my friends can see them, as well.

Now that I am settled into my semi-permanent home in Kota Kinabalu, I guess I do not have any more excuses for not blogging about our trip – and trying to get a few photos posted. Which raises a question in my mind about why — why do I feel the compulsion to blog, or two write in general. During this past month I gave two presentations on researching, writing and publishing tourism research (at two universities). And, as usual, I mention my passion for writing, and how much I enjoy writing. Not everyone has that passion, though most people in academia these days are under pressure to write and publish.

I think the desire to write, whether it be an book, journal article or blog post, meets to important human needs. The first is the desire to connect with other people – the people who read our writings. Even if we do not know them, we still get satisfaction from reaching out, with a degree of trust and optimism that someone will listen and be appreciative. The second is the desire for introspection. Writing requires thinking through thoughts and exploring ideas that would otherwise lie dormant in one’s mind. Putting them on paper makes them more concrete, forges new thought connections, and gives a sense of self discovery and existential creativity.

Travel also gives the potential for discovery and existential creative experiences. Writing about our travels, therefore, brings us full circle in a journey of understanding that includes both the outside world and our inside world. Writing about our travels also brings us full circle in connecting our known home (and friends) to our new places (and new friends).

Not everyone has the need to do this, but a lot of people do, resulting in the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, and specialty travel blogging and comment websites. It may also have to something to do with the proliferation of academic journals on tourism – over 160 of which currently exist!

You can follow my escapades in Malaysia by going to : http://aalew.blogspot.com

This blog is cross-posted at: http://hospitality.blognotions.com/2012/02/07/have-blog-will-travel/
 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Topophilia and Emotional Geographies in Tourism Destinations


Topophilia is “the feeling of affection which individuals have for particular places” (Tuan, 1961).  The term was first coined in 1947 by the American poet, W.H. Auden, and became popularized, at least among academic geographers, by Yi-Fu Tuan’s book, Topophilia: a study of environmental perception, attitudes, and values, which was published in 1974 (Prentice-Hall). 

Recent work in geography along the lines of how people develop affections and attachments to places has occurred under the broader title of emotional geography (Davidson, et al. 2007). Emotional geography incorporates cognitive theories on how people “know” and relate to places through their senses, bodily movements and emotions. It includes not just what people say about place experiences, but also the many different ways that they perform, function and experience place with their entire physical being.  How this leads to feelings of topophilia and place attachment is one component of emotional geography.

The connections of topophilia and emotional geographies to tourism are obvious.  Tourism destinations want visitors to like them. They want to create topophilic relationships.  They offer services and attractions that titillate the senses through site, sound, taste, touch and movement.  Though the emphasis is often on somewhat superficial sensory experiences, sometimes turning places into thematic amusement parks, the ultimate goal is almost always to touch that deeper sense of topophilia.

Aspects of cognitive emotional geographies that tourism destinations should consider in their efforts to create topophilic relationships with tourists include the following (adapted from Ogunseitan, 2005):

  • Landscape Diversity – A place should contain a variety of different landscape features that are blended together to offer visual and other sensory stimulation.
  • Sensory Coherence – Colors, smells, sounds, light, touch (including the sense of movement) all need to be considered and should blend in a logical and pleasing manner.
  • Environmental Familiarity – Tourists visiting a new place need things that ground them and which make them feel comfortable and safe, including identifiable objects, spaces of privacy, and open spaciousness.
  • Cognitive Challenges – Tourists also need to be challenged by the places that they visit, through varying degrees of complexity, mystery, surprise and exhilaration

In essence this is finding the right balance between sensory dissonance and rationality, and between cognitive safety and risk.  These are the tourism destination’s tools of topophilic place making.  How does your community compare on these measures?

References cited

Davidson, J., Smith, M., and Bond, L. (eds.) 2007. Emotional Geographies. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

Ogunseitan, O.A. 2005. Topophilia and the Quality of Life. Environmental Health Perspectives 113(2): 143–148. - Published online 2004 November 22. doi:  10.1289/ehp.7467, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1277856/

Tuan, Y-F. 1961. Topophilia. Landscape 11 (Fall): 29-32.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Crossing Chasms: The Role of Distance in Tourism


Over the years, tourism scholars have come up with a large number of different ways to segment tourist markets so that different products can be more precisely targeted to potential travelers. Probably the most famous of these is Stanley Plogs division of the both travelers and destinations into “psychocentrics” (associated with security, familiarity and mass products) “allocentrics” (associated with risk taking, extocism and niche products).  Although a lot of different terms have been applied to this safety-risk dualism, with the goal of showing nuances, the fundamentals of the dichotomy have remained consistent.

Like others, I am not going to venture far from the basic model, but I do hope to provide some insights by introducing a perspective that has not, to my knowledge, been suggested before.  That perspective is the concept of “distance”. There are essentially three forms of distance: Geographical, Social and Psychological. Each of these can tell us something about the different ways people travel.

Geographical distance is based on absolute measurements on the planet earth, measured in miles or kilometers. For tourists, it becomes quickly complicated by complicated roads and pathways between where we are and where we want to go.  GPS receivers and online maps help us to navigate in a mostly more efficient and timely way, assuming they are based on current and correct geographic information. 

However, for tourists, a more desirable route may be one that encompasses certain kinds of scenery or attractions, which can be highly subjective to the individual tourist. What is happening here is the transformation of geographical distance into social and psychological distance.

Social distance is how the majority of people in a society define the distance between one place and another. This can be totally different from geographic distance. Political borders, for example, are a more formal social structure that has a huge impact on travel distance – both actual and perceived. One reason, among many, is that political borders increase the time it takes to get to a place, which is often be a more important distance factor than actual geographic measurements. 

Another example is the distance between different socio-economic groups in a society. We talk, for example, about the huge distance between the privileged lives of those in houses on the hill (the upper class) and homeless street life on skid row. We talk about not wanting to go to certain neighborhoods for safety and cultural.  These perceptions, while grounded in society, also have major psychological components.

Psychological distance is how our brains perceive distance. We can only see clearly over a fairly short distance (even with glasses on). In addition, our brains can only comprehend and process a somewhat limited amount of information. Where we focus our eyes is what we cognize and remember the best.  While we see the background and larger context of objects, elements in that broader scan are not stored in detail in our memory.

For tourists, this means that we can only comprehend a selected part of the destinations we visit. To fully appreciate requires time, repeated visits, curiosity, an openness to the unexpected, and patience. Most mass tourists are not able to devote themselves to a place in these ways, and so the tourism industry does its best to help direct a short term focus on immediate objects in front of the tourist – not in the distance.

Together, geographical distance, social distance and psychological distance contribute to making a lot of travel a short-sighted experience, even when we travel far (for the psychocentrics among us).  On the other hand, some travel can traverse great chasms and lead to unknown worlds, even if the actually journal is very close (form allocentrics).  It all depends on distance to which the tourist is willing to go….


(also posted at Hospitality.Blognotions.com

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Emerging Research Themes for Tourism: Insights from Geography


The annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) is held every Spring. In 2011 in was held in Seattle, April 12-16. In the previous fall there are a plethora of CFPs (Call for Papers) from people who are organizing paper sessions. I am personally on several geography email lists, including UrbGeog (urban geography), EconomicGeography, CulturalGeog, and LeftGeog, in addition to the email list of the Recreation, Tourism and Sport (RTS) Specialty Group in the AAG.  

As an avid academic geographer, I find many of these CFPs (certainly not all of them) to be very thoughtfully written and informative in themselves.  And, more importantly, they are often (certainly not always) at the cutting edge of research thought in my home discipline of geography.

In fact, I often find the geography CFPs more compelling that those that are written for tourism sessions at the AAG.  Because of that, I collected some 100 CFPs for last year’s meeting and culled through them to find the most interesting topics that academic tourism geographers should be studying (IMHO of course).  I grouped the 100 CFPs into the three topic areas below. Here is a selection of some of the more compelling research topics that I came up with:

TOPIC AREA 1 – Economic and Urban Geography

1.       City Image – This is an old theme in tourism research that seems to be re-emerging in the geographic literature. Some of the key concepts being discussed include: global cities, sustainable cities, declining cities, postcolonial cities, spatial inequality, urban political economy, nature in the city, urban boosterism, cities in film and new or social media, city landscape, place identities as commodities, and comparing neoliberal  and conventional  forms of place marketing, including architectural, social, textual, and sensual  branding.

2.       City Hubs and Networks – This is also a concept that has been around for awhile in travel and tourism studies, though not a major part of the field. Emerging geography research is still looking at the idea of transportation hubs (air and sea), but also extending that into “brainports” (aka “centers of competence”), the influence of municipalities on regional policies related to theorizing policy networks, sustainability and environmental governance, transnational networking and sociotechnical regimes related to global civil society and NGOs, and the new geographies of global production networks focusing on the relationships between small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and international corporations.

3.       Mobile Technologies and Place – This is, of course, a major new area of emerging activity and research. As such we are still evolving ways to study it. Geographers are interested in: how mobile devices change the spatial and temporal flexibility of individuals and organizations; how they change the ways in which material places are used and perceived; how technology transforms social and spatial relations, affects social identification, and transforms state-society and nature-society relations; and how information, communication and telecommunication technologies are becoming (or not) integrated into the everyday practices of businesses and households -- and with what socioeconomic consequences.

TOPIC AREA 2 – Cultural and Political Geography

4.       Everyday Culture and Experiences – This has long been a topic of interest among cultural geographers, but has been addressed much less by tourism researchers. It includes tangible or artistic aspect of culture; folk and popular culture; visual and performing arts; uses of space and place in music lyrics, television plot lines, movies and film, contemporary novels, graphic novels and short fiction; social space and resistance on the internet. Overall it is the everyday practice of making the world habitable and providing for our needs, which are based on relationships among subjectivity, identity and place.

5.       Multicultural Peoples – This is a popular topic in the broader social sciences that tourism researchers have touched upon to some degree. Topics include multicultural people's sense of place and the various belongings they have to where they grew up, where they live, where they travel, and where their ancestors were from. Also of interest are the intersections of race with gender, class, religion, and space; spatialities of post-racial thinking; and the growing diversity in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas the developed world.


6.       People Mobilities - The multicultural peoples topic is related to the growing mobility of people worldwide. This topic presents many geographic research themes, including: the search for alternative mobility futures; slow movements; borders and their surveillance and securitization; embodied performances and affective mobility; friction, turbulence and rhythms of movement; mobile and locative social media and electronic gaming; and imaginary and virtual travel. Also of related interest are how class, gender, sexuality, are ethnicity are enacted, (re)produced and potentially transformed in mobile practices by individuals and their social relations, experiences, mobile strategies, and identities. At another level are issues of freedom of movement, challenges and changes in the global system of migration controls, and “no borders” politics in an era of rising anti-immigrant sentiment.

TOPIC AREA 3 – Planning and Sustainable Places

      7.       Green Economies – Sustainable tourism is a very popular topic for tourism research, but the broader geography research on the green economy still brings some new ideas, including: new forms of green commodification and the rapidly expanding markets on which these are traded; developing spaces of the green economy; the work of creating ‘sustainable’ cities, transportation networks, waste management systems, and alternative/renewable energy; how ‘green jobs’ differ from traditional jobs; green urbanism; Foucault's apparatus (dispositive; institutions that support power structures); and the political economy and material processes of the green economy.

      8.       Ethical Practice – This is a topic that is very new among tourism researchers, and has probably been better addressed by geographers. Major themes include: issues of civil, political and social rights, what might be called "place rights" or a "right to place" as an entitlement of citizenship, and what constitutes these place-based rights, theoretically and in practice; policy implications that arise from normative scholarship and practice; caring approaches to social theory; human rights and geographic place; defining hegemonies and counter-hegemonies; accommodation and subversion within social movements; meaning and materiality in societal mobilization; similarities between red and green social movements – and, of course, their relationship to tourism development.

As you might guess, there were many other topics among the AAG Call for Papers. Each of the topics above is based on three to four different CFPs. I am sure other academic disciplines have a lot that they can inform our tourism research. For me, I am glad to be a geographer as I find the entire discipline to be immensely stimulating and informative for my personal tourism research.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

China's Exploding Tourism Economy: Three Examples

Few things demonstrate the rapid rate of modernization and postmodern tourism consumption in China as does the rise in tourism activity and the country's tourism economy. I just returned from a couple of weeks in China attending a conference, a field trip and giving some guest lectures at a university.  

The trip took me to Zhangjiajie National Park in Hunan Province for a tourism conference, and post-conference field trip by tourist bus to the old city of Feng Huang (Phoenix) in Hunan Province, and to the city of Weihai in Shandong Province where I visited Shandong University.  Here are few comments on what I learned from each of these places.


The cable car at Zhangjiajie National Park, Hunan Province, China

(1) Zhangjiajie - This tourism conference is held every two years in different locations in China.  This was the seventh meeting, and the sixth one in a row that I have attended.  It was also the largest event yet, with almost 300 mainland Chinese participants.  We only had about 20 international participants, do I think to the poor global economy and the lack of Zhangjiajie's lack of international renown (though it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

More than ever before, I was amazed and pleased at the quality of research papers that Chinese students presented, as well as their increased English speaking capabilities.  I remember the first conference that I attended in Guilin in 2000, and the few painful efforts that a few Chinese scholars made to present in English.  By contrast, this year about half of the paper sessions were in English and half were in Chinese, giving international participants a wider range of sessions to attend than ever in the past.

Lesson: The quality of academic scholarship in China is growing rapidly, and the newest crop of students and lecturers will soon be making a significant mark internationally.

Tourists line up for the boat ride at Feng Huang old city in Hunan Province, China

(2) Feng Huang - On Google+ I commented that Feng Huang was a Chinese version of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Germany. This is both in terms of the atmosphere (old buildings renovated and filled with tourist-oriented shops and foods), and the masses of tourists that are found there during the peak summer season.  I had never heard of Feng Huang (Phoenix) before this conference, and the photos that I could find of it when I put the conference website together showed old buildings and almost no people! (see http://www.geog.nau.edu/igust/China2011/)

First, it took us 7 hours, instead of four, by bus to get there due to the massive traffic jam as we approached the city.  The crowds in the old city (which is along a river and surrounded by a new city) were like Disneyland on a crowded summer weekend!  I had seen this in several popular tourist destinations in China in the past, including at Zhangjiajie National Park during a one-day conference field trip.  It seems that all of the top tourist attractions in China these days are overrun with tourists during the summer season. Most are on group tours, and, interestingly, many Chinese tourists also complain about the over crowded conditions.

Lesson: "Carrying capacity" has always had a very different meaning in China compared to other parts of the world.  As the world becomes ever more populated (approaching 7 billion), issues of capacity, visitor experience, and economic motivations will increase, and China's rapidly growing middle class may be at the cutting edge of this.

More photos of Fenghuang can be found here: https://picasaweb.google.com/alanalew/FenghuangChina

The "international beach" (popular with Russians) at Weihai, Shandong Province, China.

(3) Weihai - I have never seen a Chinese city like this one. It has a population of about 150,000 people (very small by Chinese standards) spread out along a series of long, sandy swimming beaches.  Traffic jams are almost non-existent, and the pace of life is much slower than in I am used to seeing in China. About a third of the people at breakfast at my Shandong University hotel were Russian families who come here from Siberia to enjoy the beach.

Speaking of China's growing wealth, however, I have never seen more constructions taking place in one location in my entire life of travel -- and that is saying a lot!  Almost all of the construction (90% perhaps) is for vacation homes and timeshares.  People from all over China, as well as from nearby South Korea, are wanting to buy a piece of life on the beach in Weihai. I really wonder what is going to happen over the coming few years as thousands of new vacation units (mostly apartments, but also some villas) come onto the market.  It seems like there will be a glut of units, which could push down prices and put a crunch on maintenance and upkeep.  One other issue is that the weather in Weihai, while great in the summer, is very windy in all of the other seasons, and very cold in winter!

Lesson 3: Never underestimate the ability of the real estate industry to sell paradise to tourists.  Weihai is the ultimate experiment in this, though I have heard that a similar real estate market is also found on Hainan Island in southern China.

More photos of Weihai can be found here: https://picasaweb.google.com/alanalew/WeihaiChina

As usual, China never ceases to amaze -- especially from a tourism perspective!