Domestic tourism, internal tourism

Domestic, or internal, tourism refers to tourism practised by the inhabitants of a country within the country. Other than a statistical definition based on the place of residence, debatable in some ways, the recognition of this flow compared to international tourism flows raises questions: while domestic tourism concerns massive numbers of tourists, it has long been underestimated and not much explored. However, it involves important issues, from an economic, social and political point of view, and it enriches our perspective of the globalisation of tourism.

Official statistical definition and common confusions

Domestic tourism is defined as tourism practised by the inhabitants of a country within the country. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the term is synonymous with domestic tourism. The glossary of this institution states that it “comprises the activities of a resident visitor within the country of reference, either as part of a domestic tourism trip or part of an outbound tourism trip” (International Recommendations on Tourism Statistics 2008, paragraph 2.39). If we take the example of France, tourist trips made not only by the French living in France, but by all the people residing in France, whether French or foreign citizens, should be counted, since the UNWTO’s criterion is the principal residence and not the nationality.

There is no full consensus on the use of the term “tourisme domestique” (domestic tourism) in French. It is true that “domestic” refers to the familiar sphere of the home, while tourism is fundamentally not part of ordinary life. The term is an Anglicism, as “domestic tourism” is commonly used in English literature. This explains why it is rejected by the French Academy, and not recommended by TERMIUM, the Canadian terminology and linguistic data bank. In principle, the term “tourisme interne” (domestic tourism) should be used in French, but it can be confused with “tourisme intérieur” (internal tourism).

Indeed, tourisme domestique (domestic tourism) should not be confused with the terms tourisme intérieur (internal tourism) and tourisme national (national tourism) (Ill. no. 1). According to the UNWTO, internal tourism “comprises domestic tourism and inbound tourism, that is, the activities of resident and non-resident visitors within the country of reference as part of domestic or international tourism trips” (International Recommendations on Tourism Statistics 2008, para. 2.40 (a)). If we take the example of France, tourist trips made by people residing in France and by foreigners, that is, all tourist flows within the country, should be counted

Domestic tourism is not synonymous with national tourism either. According to the UNWTO, national tourism “comprises domestic tourism and outbound tourism, that is, the activities of resident visitors within and outside the country of reference, either as part of domestic or outbound tourism trips” (International Recommendations on Tourism Statistics 2008, para. 2.40 (a)). If we take the example of France again, tourist trips by people residing in France, made in France and abroad, should be counted.

Ill. 1. Distinction between domestic, internal, and national tourism (source: Brunello Pascal and Vacher Luc, 2022, Cartes et graphiques, approche géographique du tourisme, Centre de Traitement de l’Information Géoréférencée (CTIG), University of La Rochelle,

Considerable numerical strength

Domestic tourism represents massive flows of people, much larger than international tourism flows, as illustrated in Figure 1. According to the UNWTO, in 2018, nine billion trips were made by domestic tourists worldwide, that is six times more than those made by international tourists (1.4 billion in the same year). In the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, three-quarters of total tourism revenues come from domestic tourism, with Spain and France representing the largest markets.

Conversely, countries with much higher international tourism than domestic tourism remain rare and are mostly small extroverted territories, such as these Caribbean islands geared to international customers, to which we can add the Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius. Andorra, Monaco as well as Macao are also to be included in this category, for reasons of visit related to shopping and casinos. The small wealthy states of Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg, also register a structural imbalance between domestic and international tourism, but the magnitude is lower.

This structural importance of domestic tourism compared to international tourism puts into perspective the place occupied by otherness in a tourism project. It shows that we practice tourism first at home, then in other countries. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, domestic tourism generally costs less, not only because of the shorter distance travelled, but also because tourists can rely on more extensive networks of family and friends for free accommodation and cost sharing. Secondly, the management of otherness must be mastered and remains socially very discriminating (see Learning). Going abroad is far from representing the norm in tourism.

Nevertheless, there is a need to critically analyse statistics on domestic tourism. The size of countries can introduce a bias, especially in countries such as the United States, Canada, Brazil, China, and Australia. Trips are counted as domestic tourism, whereas in Europe, for a comparable distance, they would be considered as international tourism. This explains why these countries appear among the leaders in Figure 2. This again shows that, in tourism measurement, it is not the number of border crossings that should be counted but the fact of going to a tourist destination. However, this graph shows that even in the biggest international tourism destinations, domestic tourism remains predominant. In France, for example, the number one destination in terms of international tourist arrivals, domestic tourism is twice the size of international tourism, even though the latter is overestimated because of the position of France as a transit point between Northern and Southern Europe.

Ill. 2. Share of domestic tourist trips relative to international tourist arrivals (2018) (source: E. Peyvel, 2022, from OMT, 2020, Understanding domestic tourism and seizing its opportunities)

Added to this is the fact that it is difficult to accurately count the inhabitants of a country who become tourists within the country for a few days. They do not have visas, and it is more difficult to count them at strategic border crossings, such as international airports. In addition to the risk of double counting, there is the fact that they are more difficult to count at certain merchant points (such as hotels or paid tourist sites) because they generally frequent these less, hence the interest of cordon point surveys (Terrier, 2006). Finally, it is not actually a homogeneous category. It aggregates people who are very different in terms of their characteristics (social, age or gender) and their practices.

For this reason, it is important to exercise caution when exploring this category and not to make direct comparisons with international tourism (Vincent and Evanno, 2022). On the contrary, it is more helpful to see the movements and sharing of places, practices and perceptions among tourists, especially for populations from the diaspora. Between internal and external, the delimitation of domestic tourism can indeed be complex, as in the case of the French overseas territories, where arrivals of tourists from metropolitan France, often the majority, are generally counted separately, and not as part of domestic tourism (Gay, 2021).

Economic interests and social issues

Domestic tourism has undeniable comparative advantages over international tourism. Firstly, it fluctuates less, as it is less sensitive to crises that can slow international tourism from time to time, whether they are related to health (as the Covid crisis has shown, forcing tourism professionals to focus on the captive market of domestic tourists in order to limit losses), political issues (e.g., the Arab springs in 2011) or financial issues (e.g., the subprime crisis  in 2007-08). In addition, by generally knowing their country better than international tourists and relying on the support of family and friends, domestic tourists venture in a wide variety of destinations. As such, they contribute to a better distribution of tourism flows and revenues compared to international tourism, which tends to concentrate on the most well-known sites.

In addition, domestic tourism is an excellent indicator of the production and sharing of wealth. It is a useful tool to read inequalities and better understand the so-called emerging countries. It is worth noting that 50% of domestic tourism today is in the Asia-Pacific region, with China and India in the lead (UNWTO, 2020), as illustrated in Figure 3. In addition to the usual economic indicators of the production of wealth, studying domestic tourism makes it possible to understand its distribution and practices, to serve well-being. As such, it is a good way to understand social change and to get a finer understanding of social stratifications. Domestic tourism is also a sign of social progress. Correlated with the industrialisation and tertiarisation of our economies, it developed with the introduction of mandatory paid leave and the progressive structuring of labour law, in accordance with Article 24 of the Declaration of Human Rights.

Ill. 3. Domestic tourists at Dasara Falls (Vietnam) (Cl. Emmanuelle Peyvel, 2020)

Domestic tourism, a State affair

These economic and social issues explain why domestic tourism is supported by political regimes that can be very different. It can be used as a tool for nation building. Encouraging domestic tourism creates a sense of civic belonging and encourages participation in economic recovery through nationalism, as was the case in the United States (Shaffer, 2001). Other studies have shown that controlling it in critical places of the Nation, such as history and ethnology museums, mausoleums, and battlefields, makes it possible to convey a narrative of national unity, for example in Indonesia (Cabasset, 2000), in China (Nyri, 2005) and Vietnam (Peyvel, 2016). In socialist countries, domestic tourism was built not as a commercial sector but as a reward offered by the state to deserving heroes and workers, as illustrated in Figure 4. In this sense, it contributed to the building of a New Man (Gorsuch and Koenker, 2006). Totalitarian regimes have also used domestic tourism for propaganda purposes, in order to showcase the success of the system. This explains the construction of the Nazi seaside resort of Prora by the leisure organisation Kraft durch Freude (strength through joy), or the Opera Nazionale del Dopolavoro (National Afterwork Club) in Mussolini’s Italy.

Ill. 4. Tourists in Sochi in 1964 (source: Fond Dupâquier, EHESS Russian and Soviet image library, with the kind permission of the photographic agency La collection;

Even today, many countries use different tools to support domestic tourism: paid holidays, the introduction of double pricing with preferential treatment for inhabitants of a country over international tourists, the financing of holiday camps, support for modest families, etc. These schemes are to be understood as instruments of democratisation of the practice but also as indirect support to the commercial sector. It is in this sense that we must understand the measures adopted in times of crisis, as seen during the Covid crisis. France is one of those countries that put forward specific promotional campaigns. The promotional video “Cet été, je visite la France” (This summer, I am visiting France) (Atout France, 2020) encourages tourism without language barriers, without borders, without jet lag, and finally making it possible paradoxically to feel at home.

A long-underestimated mobility which contributes to a better understanding of the globalisation of tourism

While, as early as 1937, the Council of the League of Nations recommended a definition of international tourism for statistical purposes, it was not until the Manila Declaration (1980) that domestic tourism was officially recognised and it was not until the Ottawa Conference (1991) that the UNWTO published a technical manual to harmonise counting methods, recognising that the need to quantify its scale is all the more pressing as data is scarce, is based on variable definitions and quantify people who are difficult to identify. It is especially in the so-called southern countries that it was difficult for the UNWTO to recognise the existence of domestic tourism, because these flows hardly fit in with its logic, according to which only international tourism can act as a lever for development. For a long time, it seemed unthinkable that the residents of these countries, unanimously considered to be poor, could produce wealth, especially in the tourism sector. It is only recently that the UNWTO has changed its narrative. At the International Meeting on the Development of domestic Tourism (Algiers, 2011), F. Pierret, then Executive Director of the UNWTO, recognised a certain social diversity in these countries, allowing domestic tourism. The same year, the UNWTO initiated its first study on the subject in Asia, the results of which were presented a year later at the 24th Meeting of the South and East Asia Pacific Commissions in Chiang Mai. Finally, it acknowledged that domestic tourism had been neglected.

From a scientific point of view, it was not until the 1980s that domestic tourism in the so-called southern countries was developed as a legitimate subject of research. However, domestic tourism goes back much longer. This meant that these works were part of an epistemological evolution, shifting the focus and renewing analyses long carried out only from Europe and North America (Peyvel, 2017). Denisson Nash (1981) and Nelson Graburn (1983) were the first to insist on the need to analyse so-called non-Western tourism practices. One of the seminal texts deals with China (Tie-Sheng and Li-Cheng, 1985), before the more general study by Jafar Jafari (1987). Domestic tourism in the so-called southern countries became a real focus of research during the 1990s (Berriane, 1992; Hitchcock, King and Parnwell, 1992; Raymond, 1999). Now, production has become more regular and Asia occupies a prominent place, given its tourism growth. These studies enrich our understanding of the globalisation of tourism by renewing the approach to concepts such as exoticism, authenticity, patrimony, and identity affiliations (Sacareau, Taunay and Peyvel, 2015). In this respect, studying domestic tourism is of theoretical interest, besides the monographic interest.

PEYVEL Emmanuelle


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