Play is a tourist practice alongside restdiscoverysociability and shopping, through which individuals can feel refreshed.

Engaging the body (Coëffé et al., 2016) is one of the modalities of recreation. This modality is the opposite of rest, as walking is different from hiking. The MIT Research Group (2002) proposed examining the notion of sport tourism: ‘An important point to remember: “sport” or “sports tourism” which are often a central category for interpreting tourism practices, are in fact only one form of play’ (page 110).

Observing scenes of canoeing and kayaking in Ardèche underlines the total absence of rules in the execution. While there is a starting point, there is no set line monitored by officials. Rental companies transport the equipment and assist with launching the boats (Ill. 1). All passengers are admitted, far from institutional canons (Ill. 2). There is little measurement of time. The day is about meandering — on the water, where one cannot travel far in a straight line (Ill. 3), and on the banks, where one stops to picnic, explore or simply sunbathe or sit in quiet thought (Ill. 4). Practices work in combination, beyond the primary activity. In Ardèche, this is the only way one can see the gorges from below, i.e. looking up (Ill. 5), while the local departmental authorities have built a road that winds along the top of the gorges (Ill. 6).

Ill. 1. The launch by the rental company: a key moment in the tourist experience that is nothing like the start of a competition (photo by Philippe Violier, August 2015)
Ill. 2. Curious competitors on the water (photo by Philippe Violier, August 2015)
Ill. 3. Canoes in all directions (photo by Philippe Violier, August 2015)
Ill. 4. Stops for swimming; at the foot of the Pont d’Arc (photo by Philippe Violier, August 2015)
Ill. 5. A way to discover the gorges from below (photo by Philippe Violier, August 2015)
Ill. 6. From above, another other way to discover the gorges, using the road and facilities built by local departmental authorities since 1931 (photo by Philippe Violier, August 2015)

This stance is inspired by Huizinga (1951) and René Caillois (1958), who emphasised ‘the consciousness of being other than in everyday life’ (1958, pp. 57-58). ‘Everyday life’ according to Caillois can be compared to the ‘routines’ (Elias and Dunning, 1994) of everyday life that exhaust individuals. Unlike professional sport, this is not a job. Therefore, the body is engaged for recreation during time devoted to leisure activities, which leaves room for amateur practices.

The link between tourism and leisure is due to the fact that if one can play at home, or in everyday life, in short and fragmented moments, the time-space of tourism allows us to access mythical places, with a high symbolic value, or more simply of great quality, to indulge a passion. It can therefore become the main argument of the tourist project without exhausting all possibilities and can be completed in the schedule by a combination of factors, including discovery, sociability and rest.

Beyond this, there is a continuum among individuals who only seize the opportunity once a year, in their holiday destination, and those who repeat at the destination, mastered movements and who feel as though they are competing, with themselves or a limited circle of acquaintances. The quality of tourist locations justifies travel, especially to spots with particular conditions, such as an exceptional wave for surfers, or rich seabeds for divers who usually use swimming pools or quarries abandoned after resources have been exploited.

The development of athletic activities in tourism began in the 19th century with the advent of winter sports in Saint Moritz, Switzerland, where the affluent had the opportunity to experience snow and ice. At that time, curling, ice skating, sledging and skating races were enough to keep tourists happy. Later, skiing was introduced, initially as a complementary practice, before the era of skiing came about after World War II when numerous resorts were built from the ground up under a project known as Plan Neige which would profoundly transform many French alpine peaks (Knafou, 1978).

Winter sport practices are matched by summer activities such as mountaineering and hiking, a practice greatly developed at the end of the 19th century. This movement explains how they spread and the emergence of other mountaineering cultures such as those in the Pyrenees, Andes and Himalayas. Hiking can be done by the sea and throughout the countryside; nowadays even the term ‘urban hiking’ exists. Exploration via walking was further developed in the 1970s with a new practice — trekking — which sprung from Himalayan mountaineering and backpacking, Kathmandu in Nepal being the locus of innovation (Sacareau, 1997).

But sport is not the only facet of ‘tourist play’. Two others can be identified. All that is related to ‘gambling’ and which, in tourism, is embodied by casinos. This involves the history of Monaco in the 1850s, Las Vegas a century later and more recently Macau and Singapore, which the businessman Sheldon Adelson wanted to turn into a new gambling hub, the cornerstone being the opening of Marina Bay Sands in 2010.

‘Play’ is also a simulacrum, which is where fairs, amusement parks and all the theme parks in the world — dominated by Disney — come in. These places are special time-spaces where everyone, once they have agreed to go, rekindle the feeling of childhood. These are also very lively places where bright lights and shouting are par for the course.

Philippe Violier and Philippe Duhamel


  • Caillois René, 1958 [1967, éd. revue et augmentée], Les Jeux et les Hommes: le masque et le vertige. Gallimard, Idées, Paris, 306 pages
  • Élias Norbert et Éric Dunning, 1994, Sport et civilisation. La violence maîtrisée. Paris, Payot, 396 p.
  • Huizinga Johan, 1951, Homo Ludens – Essai sur la fonction sociale du jeu. Paris, Gallimard, 340 p.
  • Sacareau Isabelle, Porteurs de l’Himalaya. Le trekking au Népal. Paris, Éditions Belin, 271 p.
  • Vincent Coëffé, Duhamel Philippe, Guibert Christophe, Taunay Benjamin, Violier Philippe, 2016, «Mens sana in corpore turistico: le corps “dé-routinisé” au prisme des pratiques touristiques», L’Information géographique. vol. 80, n°2, p. 32-55, en ligne.