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!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Us and Them among Tourists in Taiwan

Tourists are humans and tend to behave as any other human social animal.  One human behavioral characteristic is to form social groups that include some (“Us”) and exclude other (“Them”).

I saw this recently during my second visit to Taiwan in the past eight months.  I went to Sun Moon Lake in the central Taiwan mountains which is possibly the biggest single tourist attraction in Taiwan for mainland Chinese tourists.  In the last couple of months, mainland Chinese tourists have become the largest single source of tourists to Taiwan, replacing Japanese tourists who have declined considerably following the earthquake and tsunami. Almost all Chinese tourists tour Taiwan on package group tours, and it seems that most of those tours include Sun Moon Lake.  We saw the following statistics on display at the new, post-modern Sun Moon Lake Visitors Center:

Growth in Mainland Chinese to Taiwan & Sun Moon Lake

YearNumber% visiting Sun Moon Lake
2008 – 89,970 – 74.2%
2009 – 600,969 – 92.5%
2010 – 1,165,549 – 98.8%

The growth has been quite phenomenal, and there was a news story a couple of weeks ago about how the Taiwan stock market is has been strong due to the large number of mainland Chinese tourists expected this year.

What I was told by my hosts/guides was that because so many mainlanders now go to Sun Moon Lake, other tourist groups have stopped going there. The two other groups, in particular, that have largely (not completely) stopped going to Sun Moon Lake are the domestic Taiwan tourists and the Japanese tourists. There are some districts and sites in Taipei that I have been to that are mostly Japanese, including a Cantonese restaurant where we had to wait to with mostly Japanese people out on the sidewalk to get a seat.  Many of them were holding Japanese guidebooks of various kinds that recommended the restaurant.  I really liked the food, which had a uniquely Japanese delicacy to it.

There are other places in the world where visitors segregate based on culture and ethnicity.  There are Mediterranean resort islands that are almost all German-speaking next to an island that is all French-speaking, for example.  And most of the tourists to Barbados in the Caribbean are British and Canadian, while visitors to nearby Martinique is mostly French, and St. Lucia is mostly American.

Most of this segregation is due to business efficiencies, though there is also some desire among some tourists to congregate with their own, which gives them a bubble of security, even when in a different country.  My hosts/guests, for example, told me that Taiwan domestic tourist avoid Sun Moon Lake because (1) it is too crowded and (2) occasional political conflicts between mainland and Taiwan Chinese. It seems to me that in some ways, Sun Moon Lake has become a sacrificial site for increased mainland Chinese tourism. 

Off hand, I do not know of similar examples here in the US where such ethnic separation in tourism is so clearly defined.  I would be interested to hear about such places if you know of any.  And I wonder if we might see this in the future as the US becomes ever more culturally diverse.

(Geography Note: Sun Moon Lake is actually a reservoir that was created on top of a wetland area with a smaller lake in which the local aboriginal Thao people fished.  The Japanese added some dams to make the original lake larger and to generate hydroelectric power when they ruled Taiwan (1989 to 1945), and the R.O.C. Taiwan government created the current version of the lake around 1970.)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Sustainable Tourism Conundrum: Would you Stop Traveling to Save the Planet?

Would you stop traveling to save the planet? That is the challenge of sustainable tourism! 

I posted that on Twitter on April 13, 2011 while listening to a presentation at the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers.  It was my most re-tweeted post at the conference, and one of the most re-tweeted of all of the #AAG2011 tagged posts.
The comment was written in response to a presentation by Antti Honkanen (University of Eastern Finland), titled Sustainability and the democratization of tourism - The limits of growth in travelling abroad.

Antti presented the essential conundrum for all of us who love to travel, but are also concerned about the major negative impacts that humans are having on the environment. That it was re-tweeted by several other people indicates, to me, that many of us are troubled by this issue.

Here is a edited and shortened version of Antti's presentation abstract (from the online AAG 2011 program) -
  • Does everyone, if wealthy enough, need to be a tourist? Or are we starting to reach some limits of growth for tourism?

    This paper asks whether the propensity to spend a holiday abroad has reached its limit for growth in some social or geographical groups, based on age, income, socioeconomic status, education, gender and country of residence. The study is based on survey data from Eurobarometer 25 (1985), Eurobarometer 48.0 (1997) and Flash Eurobarometer 258 (2008).

    According to the results, while differences exist, travelling abroad has become more common among all groups over the years 1985-2008. The democratization of tourism appears to be continuing, even if some lower societal groups are left out due to increasing social inequality. The propensity to travel abroad for their main vacation holiday has increased in almost all countries. Some limits of growth, however, may be seen among the upper classes.
Basically, her study of Europe found that more and more people are traveling internationally (at least through 2008), except maybe at the very bottom of the economic ladder (where they cannot afford it), and at the very top of society (maybe because they have already been everywhere?).  And this data was for Europe, which is generally far more environmentally conscious than most of the rest of the world!

The apparent answer to my Twitter post is "No" - we (including myself) are not willing to stop traveling to save the planet.

We are willing to tweak how we travel (using hybrid cars or developing alternative airplane fuels), and we are willing to pay a little more to try and compensate for our impacts (staying in ecolodges or paying to plant trees), but we are not willing to stop traveling -- which would have the biggest impact on reducing CO2 levels.

Of course, if we stopped traveling we would also have a huge impact on the livelihood of all the workers and businesses that are involved, to varying degrees, in the the fifth or sixth largest industry worldwide (which is
what I have estimated the size of the tourism industry to be).

And that is the
Sustainable Tourism Conundrum -- how to balance the Economics impacts of tourism (usually considered good) with its Environmental impacts (mostly considered bad). There are a lot of other cultural ans social issues related to sustainability and tourism, but I believe that the economic-environment tension is its most fundamental challenge.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Best Tourism Places

I just returned from the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Seattle, WA.  This annual geography-love-fest drew some 7000 geographers (mostly university and college teachers and students) and included some 3,500 presentations.  Among those presentations were 107 papers that included the keyword "tourism".  You can search and view the abstracts for those 107 papers here: http://www.aag.org/cs/annualmeeting/pastprograms.  

These numbers are typical of past AAG meetings and makes this conference among the largest tourism conferences in the world.  I, personally, was involved in 10 sessions in one way or another -- as a session organizer, chair or presenter.  In fact, in addition to the 107 papers with the keyword "tourism", there are discussion panels on tourism-related topics and many more papers that cover tourism in peripheral ways (such as the papers in a session on "Creating Sense of Place").  Given the large number of concurrent presentations, what I typically do is just look at the tourism sessions and try to attend as many of those that I can.  I will be blogging about the AAG more in the future, as I work through all my notes.  

For this blog, however, I want to talk about one of the discussion panels that I organized.  Panel sessions are different from paper sessions in that the presenters do not submit a formal abstract, but instead put out ideas that generate audience discussion.  The panel session that I am focusing on here was on the topics of "The Best Tourism Places".  It was run in a Pecha-Kucha (http://pecha-kucha.org) format, which allows 20 slides and 20 seconds of talking per slide. The format forces the presenter to be highly focused on the presentation (preventing tangents) and highlights the most important themes of their talk.  I first saw this presentation format at last year's meeting of the American Planning Association in New Orleans and though I would try it at this year's AAG.

The Best Tourism Places session turned out to be a blast!  I had asked everyone to make the last slide in their presentation a list of what makes the best tourism places, though not everyone actually read or remembered my instructions. I went first and found it very demanding, exhilarating, and fun. I talked about Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah, Malaysia, which is one of my favorite places.  I selected KK because it is a major tourist destination that offers a range of opportunities for different types of tourists, from the recreational-leisure tourist to the avid cultural and environmental explorer. My own conclusions were that the best tourism places had the following characteristics:
  1. Sensual Diversity: Sight, Taste, Smell, Touch
  2. Landscape Diversity: Physical and Human
  3. Experiential Diversity: Both Predictable/Safe and Unpredictable/Risk
  4. Mixed Accessibility: Mostly Easy, Some Challenges
  5. Local Authenticity: Local Tourists and People at major sites
  6. Tourism Incognita: More mysteries around every corner
Much like what I did with Kota Kinabalu, Jamie Gillen (Auburn University) presented the sights, sounds and tastes (in photos, at least) of Singapore, the diversity of which made it one of the best tourism places. And similarly, David Truly (Autonoma Universidad de Guadalajara, Mexico) talked about a recent trip he made to Bali, arguing that the best tourism places are those that support and enhance the "vacation" experience, which he associated with the concept of markers specific to the destination: landscape markers, cultural markers and lifestyle markers.  These markers, or iconic symbols and landscapes, reinforce the special qualities of the tourist destination.  (It was just a coincidence that Southeast Asia appeared so prominently in this Pecha-Kucha session, though as one of my major research areas, I can see why!)

Somewhat contrary to the examples of KK, Singapore and Bali, Dallen Timothy (Arizona State University) defined the best tourism places as those without any tourists, for which he used trips he has made to Bhutan, the Shan State of Myanmar (which I was also on), and a private tour of the back-region of the Vatican as examples where tourists never go.   Entrance into the "back-region" has long been argued to be one of the ultimate goals of most tourists because it is considered to offer a more "authentic" experience.

Authenticity, however, is a very personal experience.  Sanjay Nepal (University of Waterloo, Canada) described a trip that he made to the walled city of Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang in Nepal.  For him, this was one of the best tourism place because of its blending of dramatic natural and cultural landscapes, a sense that this was an ancient and timeless place, elements of sacred geography, and feelings of uniqueness, exclusivity (visited by few other tourists), and adventure (in just trying to get there).  In a similar vein, Albina Pashkevich (Dalarna Univesity, Sweden) talked about her research into seasonal workers at the Kiruna Ski Resort in Sweden, and how Kiruna has become a special place for her through her research encounters and personal experiences there.  For both Albina and Sanjay, the places they described became special through their personal existential encounter with a destination.

Dan Olsen (Brandon University, Canada) interpreted my task for this panel as a focus on how we create lists of different types of Best Tourism Places, showing a wide range of examples from the Internet, from the most green destinations to the best travel photographs.  He concluded with the questions: Who creates these lists? Who chooses the criteria upon which these lists are based? Who is the intended audience? Why are these lists developed in the first place? Do these lists “work”?

These questions could also, of course, be asked of all the presenters on this panel session.  And that is exactly what David Weaver (Griffith University, Australia) did as he led a lively discussion of the presentations. A good part of the discussion focused on how we, as tourism geography researchers, perceive and define the places we study and visit.  We tend to be biased toward "allocentric" destinations -- trying to avoid mass tourism and seeking out back regions -- and one wonders how that might bias our research and writing.  I also wonder if the same type of session by business school academics would have resulted in more mass tourism examples?

This blog is cross-posted on the BlogNotions - Hospitality Blog

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Tourism Incognita Part 2: Terra incognita and Topophilia Presentation Video

If you've half an hour to spare, here is my recent talk in Martinique on the topic of Tourism Incognita:

Terra incognita and topophilia : the importance of remoteness and the unexpected in the tourist experience

Contributeur(s) majeur(s) : Lew, Alan, A. Date : 2011-01-27
Production : Université des Antilles et de la Guyane ; CEREGMIA : Centre d'études et de recherche en économie, gestion et modélisation informatique appliquée
Extrait de : Conférence Internationale du Tourisme "The changing world of coastal, island and tropical tourism", 27-29 janvier 2011. Université des Antilles et de la Guyane, campus de Schoelcher, Martinique .
Provenance : Université des Antilles et de la Guyane. Service commun de la documentation 

Click Here to view and hear most of the papers from this conference.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tourism Incognita - The Importance of the Unexpected

My email inbox these days seems to be overflowing with more "all-inclusive" travel deals than I have seen in a long time. All-inclusive experiences are certainly attractive -- no need to think about anything other than getting to your destination resort. They are also very popular -- as evidenced by the continual growth in cruise ships, the ultimate all-inclusive experiences. Unfortunately, they are also the ultimate in predictability, efficiency and control -- the hallmarks of hypermodernity, and what George Ritzer and Allan Liska (1997) called "McDisneyization". While I appreciate efficiency, because it often costs less, and I try to avoid bad surprises as much as possible, I find that what I most enjoy and rememver about travel are experiences that are unexpected , unplanned and sometimes out of control.

A couple of years ago I took an Alaska inside passage cruise, from Vancouver, BC to Anchorage, Alaska. We were on one of the major cruise lines, which my wife loves because we only need to unpack our bags once. For our daily port experiences, however, I wanted to try to get away from the cruise mobs, but I still wanted to make the most of my limited time in each port of call. So I used an company that specialized in working around the cruise lines in booking local tours for cruise ship passengers. I did this for two of our three stops, Ketchikan and Skagway. In Ketchikan we did a rainforest natural area hike with a small group of people (8 to 10), which was nice, but also something that I think could have been easily done on one's own. In Skagway we took the obligatory (and scenic) White Pass and Yukon Train ride, for which I do not think there is a way to bypass the cruise mobs. However, the most memorable experience of the entire cruise was our stay in Juneau. 

Being a relatively larger place, I was determined to rent a car and explore Juneau on my own. They do not make it easy for cruise passengers to rent cars in Juneau! The car rental places are nowhere near where the cruise ships dock. I was too cheap to take a taxi for this one day rental, and instead took a public bus, which got me close, but I still had to hike a ways to get to the rental place. Having the ability to explore Juneau on our own, however, made a world of difference. We visited the Mendenhall Glacier, but we were on our own schedule, and beyond that we just drove north out of town looking to see what we could find. It was an overcast day, with some rain and drizzle now and then, but the scenery was fantastic and there were hardly any other people in sight! Among our stops was the Shrine of St. Theresa, which is a very unique old church on a small island connected to the mainland. And we also found some good, local food places.

So why was Juneau so special? What Juneau offered, that Ketchikan and Skagway did not was an opportunity to explore what geographers have long referred to as Terra Incognita. In the Age of Exploration (16th and 17th centuries) European cartographers marked the yet-to-be-explored places on maps as Terra Incognita. In 1947, the geographer John Kirkland Wright opened his presidential address to the Association of American Geographers with the words:

Terra Incognita: these words stir the imagination. Through the ages men have been drawn to unknown regions by Siren voices, echoes of which ring in our ears today when on modern maps we see spaces labelled "unexplored," rivers shown by broken lines, islands marked "existence doubtful."
Today, Terra Incognita still holds an important role in the travelers experiences of place. Travel and tourism today are usually taken to places we know. However, even in these known places, there are many geographies and experiences that are beyond the tourism mob, that are unknown and that offer opportunities to experience Terra Incognita

While we focus on the all-inclusive known when we purchase our travel experiences, it is equally important to make room for the unknown and the unexpected. I argue that it is even vital to have such experiences to have a full and deep experience and appreciation of a place. This requires an openness to risk, to serendipity, to personal transformation, to a special kind of Tourism Incognita, which those of us who study and promote tourism need to be more aware of.
As the author and poet Carl Sandburg once said, "Nearly all the best things that came to me in life have been unexpected, unplanned by me". After all, isn't this why most of us, both tourism professionals and tourism consumers are drawn to travel in the first place?


Ritzer, G., and A. Liska. 1997. "'McDisneyization' and 'Post-Tourism': Complementary Perspectives on Contemporary Tourism." In Touring Cultures: Transformations of Travel and Theory, edited by C. Rojek and J. Urry. London: Routledge.

See also: Robinson, M.B. 2003. The Mouse Who Would Rule the World! How American Criminal Justice Reflects the Themes of Disneyization. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 10 (1) 69-86. http://www.albany.edu/scj/jcjpc/vol10is1/robinson.html

Wright, J.K. 1947. Terrae Incognitae: The Place of the Imagination in Geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 37(1): 1-15. http://www.colorado.edu/geography/giw/wright-jk/1947_ti/1947_ti.html

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Nostalgia for the Family Holiday Vacation

Nostalgia for the Family Holiday Vacation

by Alan A. Lew, Department of Geography, Planning and Recreation, Northern Arizona University, USA

A Literature Review of:

Are We There Yet? The Golden Age of American Family Vacations by Susan Sessions Rugh (University of Kansas Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-7006-1588-9)
- and -
Theme Park by Scott A. Lukas (Reaktion Books, 2008, ISBN 978-1-86189-394-9)

One of the stories that I tell people about how and why I became a scholar of geography and tourism has to do with my childhood upbringing. Summer family vacations were an important part of my early experiences, and may have contributed to my adult interest in tourism and travel as both a vocation and an avocation. ...

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Published in: Tourism Geographies, Volume 12, Issue November 2010 , pages 568 - 571

A Review of “Tourism in the USA: A Spatial and Social Synthesis”

Tourism in the USA: A Spatial and Social Synthesis

by Dimitri Ioannides & Dallen J. Timothypublished by Routledge, London and New York, 2010, ISBN 0-415-95685-4 

Reviewed by Patrick BrouderDepartment of Social & Economic Geography, Umearing University, Sweden 

This 222-page book sets out to give a comprehensive overview of tourism in the USA. The title hints that the book is not only about tourism studies but includes many elements of geography, in particular, and social sciences, in general. Ioannides and Timothy state that their 'aim is to provide an overview and detailed account of the workings of tourism as a modern-day phenomenon in the United States of America' (p. 3). Their rationale is, at least in part, an attempt to address the fact that 'despite all the fuss about tourism in the USA, it is more than clear that it is a misunderstood phenomenon' (p. 3). In short, Tourism in the USA: A spatial and social synthesis offers an excellent overview of its subject and makes the phenomenon of one of the largest tourism economies in the world better understood. 

Access the full article for free at InformaWorld  

Published in Tourism Geographies, Volume 12, Issue November 2010 , pages 575 - 577