How can we distinguish the different ways of being a tourist? The traditional approach is to categorise the various types of tourism, but as we demonstrate in the section on this, in the dedicated entry on types of tourism, the inventory is hardly conclusive. Another approach is to identify different practices.

Emergence of a new concept

The concept of tourism practice was originally proposed by Pascal Cuvelier (1998) based on a proposal of Kurt Krapf, whose work on tourism consumption (1964) stated that “tourism is a typical example of the satisfaction of needs that corresponds to the idea that one has of a lifestyle appropriate to one’s standing. Tourism therefore extends beyond utilitarian considerations to include a great many non-economic, and therefore irrational, elements. To accurately capture this, a tourism survey must in a way rise above objective data and institutions, and extend to a person’s emotional life, as well as their chosen way of life” (pp. 30-31). Cuvelier was also inspired by research conducted in the field of culture, in particular by Pascal Moati (1993) and Françoise Benhamou (1996 for the first edition). He proposed a conceptualisation as part of a line of thinking that some authors call the tourist product.

“We define the concept of “practice” as the set of actions that an individual will experience in an area of freedom, seeking to make sense of it and which make sense to him. From this perspective, the consumption of goods and services, interpersonal relations, symbolic languages, values etc. are all elements and means placed at his disposal to express his identity. Choosing to talk about “practice” rather than “consumption” could benefit our study in several ways. Not only could we then focus on the different dimensions constituting the depth of the “tourist product” (consumption of time, consumption linked to a symbolic universe etc.), but we could also incorporate the fact that, in the development of certain components of the tourist product, the degree of participation by the tourist can play a significant role. It is also common in the field of culture and leisure to favour the concept of practice over that of consumption (Benhamou, 1996).

Cuvelier, 1998, p. 89

Practices are therefore what “individuals do and the meaning they give to what they do” (Cuvelier, 1998). Accordingly, they inhabit the world according to this interpretative framework. But this proposal has not really been accepted by economists.

From economics to the geographical approach to tourism

On the contrary, it helped inspire the work conducted by Équipe MIT (the team working on Mobilities, Itineraries and Tourism), who proposed a critical approach to “the geography of tourism” at the end of the 1990s. In their work published in 2002, these geographers devoted an entire section to this subject. After the first part, which identifies and denounces the clichés in the scientific literature on tourism, the second part, which precedes a third part dedicated to places, explores this question of practices. Thus, they established a fairly logical sequence, and an original one for geography specialists, by putting people and social groups on centre stage before places. They suggested breaking down these practices into different types: discovery, play, rest, and socialising.

To justify the coherence of this typology and the relationship that these practices have with tourism, Équipe MIT (2002) also examined the work of Norbert Élias and Erich Dünning (1994). In their book, these two authors explore the emergence of sports in British society during the industrial revolution. They also question its role in the process of civilisation and in particular in controlling the violence arising from the social tension and from the increasing constraints imposed on individuals by the new order.

After demonstrating that the practice of sports is indeed a product of the industrial revolution, the authors construct a spectrum of leisure that identifies three degrees of activity undertaken during free time. The third degree, which comprises “leisure activities”, is the most effective in terms of relaxing individuals, exhausted by social constraints, and their development within an increasingly sophisticated society. The authors include “travelling during the holidays” in this third, most effective, category. Indeed, holidays are effectively extended periods of free time; free time that is uninterrupted, unlike leisure time in daily life.

We therefore sought to go further (Équipe MIT, 2002) by identifying what individuals do during this time away from their daily routine, the meaning they give to it and, in particular, where they do it, a question that sociologists Elias and Dünning do not address. Therefore, the function of practices is to facilitate the relative relaxation of constraints that allows individuals to reconstruct themselves.

This relative relaxation (relaxing while keeping desires under control) is accompanied by a certain assertiveness, through more or less distinctive practices, as a conscious actor (Veblen, 1898). Some practices thus have demonstrative effects, through the ostentatious consumption highlighted by Thorstein Veblen at the end of the 19th century (Veblen, 1899).

Practices actually work in combination, as most tourists do a bit of everything (Équipe MIT, 2002 and 2011), in line with the work of Soh and McAvoy (2006) (Ill. 1). Despite the numerous possible combinations, one or more emerge as dominant: those which, within a systemic approach, explain the choice of destination or destinations (Mondou and Violier, 2009) (Ill. 2).

Ill. 1. Practices work in combinations (source: Équipe MIT, 2011).
Ill. 2. Tourism as a system: relations between practices and spaces (source: Mondou and Violier, 2009)

Benjamin Taunay and Philippe Violier (2015) have shown, by analysing behaviours among Chinese tourists, that this dimension can be described as universal and “a-bit-of-everything”. Beyond that, connections between practices and spaces in this society differ from those of Western societies, as do various social codes. According to current research, it is not clear whether there are differences among Chinese individuals, but behavioural differences within the population could emerge in the long term.

Ill. 3. Tourism practices and the social codes at work in tourism: comparing Western and Chinese tourists. Red: Dominant destination or dominant interest; Green:
Secondary destination.

This taxonomy of practices is practical and has the advantage, over the so-called “types of tourism”, of being far less extensive. A fifth appeared much later in relation to East Asian societies’ access to tourism: shopping.

Philippe VIOLIER


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