Private resorts are a type of tourist destination that falls into the broader category of destinations created by and for tourism, alongside resort towns, as opposed to places that have historically been tourist attractions, such as tourist sites, cities or villages. However, they are distinguished from resort towns by several characteristics: they are private enclaves managed by a single operator, with no permanent residents.
Private resorts are enclaves, whereas resort towns are open. They are isolated from their surrounding environment by some form of physical barrier. The barrier can be a wall, gates, or guarded doors that restrict access to the area, as seen in the photographs of Port-Grimaud (Ill. 1) and Nabeul, Tunisia (Ill. 2). In some cases, the barrier may be less visible, but still present, with a guardhouse screening visitors, but not physically blocking their passage. For example, in the square of Port-Grimaud, which architect François Spoerry designed to look like a village, signs state that the pétanque pitch is reserved for residents (Ill. 3), whereas pedestrians may be allowed to walk through the area provided certain rules are respected (Ill. 4).
This isolation from local society is often pointed out as a contradiction: these individuals want to go out into the world but they keep themselves in a situation of extraterritoriality that separates them from it (Ill. 5). However, this is one of the reasons for the existence of this type of destination because it allows tourists to go anywhere in the world while remaining apart from it. This explains why private resorts are so prevalent in destinations marked by strong alterity, although they also exist in more familiar spaces. In fact, this type of destination works just as well in the nearby countryside as in exotic places. In France, Center-Parc offers destination resorts where urban dwellers can spend a holiday and never get bored.
Managed by a single operator
Secondly, private resorts are typically run by a single operator, unlike resort towns. This management style supports a tourist project aimed at satisfying all the needs of the guests. In reality, tourists looking for other experiences can easily leave the resort. Thus, when risks are non-existent, private resorts are a solution used by organisations to sell their services (Ill. 6). This enables the organisations to secure profits for themselves, even if it is impossible to totally prevent guests from leaving (as shown in the photo of the city of Nabeul (Ill. 7), and making purchases from competitors who take advantage of their proximity to the resort.
No permanent residents
Finally, private resorts have no permanent residents, unlike resort towns. There are no schools, since all the children live elsewhere and only come to the resort during school holidays. Only the staff working at the resort can live on site.
A variant: private resorts without accommodations
Some private resorts are dedicated to a specific tourist practice and offer little or no accommodations. For instance, at the Astérix theme park (Ill. 8) the recently established hotel capacity is not sufficient for the large number of visitors. Three hotels offer 450 rooms, which is too few for the 2.3 million visitors (even at maximum occupancy, assuming five people per room for 365 days, which is optimistic given the seasonality of the destination, only around 800,000 people can be lodged on site). We also categorise the Puy du Fou theme park as a private resort and not as a tourist site. Granted, there are ruins of a castle there, but it does not play a major role in terms of attracting visitors.
In the same vein, large zoos located outside of cities can be considered private resorts, such as the Beauval Zoo. Here too, the innovations and new accommodation offerings have enticed visitors to shift from day trips to longer stays at the zoo hotels to take advantage of special perks such as night or dawn visits.
A system for the diffusion of tourism around the world
The typical private resort can be interpreted as a conquering and exploratory form of tourism in a potentially hostile space. The success of this type of tourism may stem from the guarantee of security offered in an environment marked by strong social tensions. However, it is not necessarily a form of colonisation in the sense that a private resort is not imposed on a nation deprived of its powers. On the contrary, in some cases, the government in place facilitates the opening of private resorts. The Club Med village near Cap Skirring in Senegal was established with the approval of President Senghor. Nusa Dua in Bali was a project carried out by the Indonesian government with the support of international donors. The objective was to limit the expected effects on the inhabitants. This segregation of tourists, accused of threatening “equilibriums”, culminates with the hotel islands studied by the geographer Jean-Christophe Gay (2000). In particular, concerning the Maldives archipelago, the author points out the government’s desire to prevent contamination by a host of more or less imaginary ill effects.
Private resorts also provided a way to penetrate less populated environments, such as the high mountains, with few permanent occupants, or located on the margins of society, and especially when harsh winter conditions made life very difficult. This explains the development of “integrated resort towns” (Knafou, 1978). But they also provided a way for urban dwellers to penetrate more rural areas. Having so many services all in one place reassures tourists who are worried about being bored in a hostile or unfamiliar environment. This is where Marc Augé was incorrect in “L’impossible Voyage” (1997). At the end of his book, he contrasts the real countryside with the fake one (Center Parc). Here, the aim is not so much to propose a different type of countryside as to provide urban dwellers with spatial technology that allows them to fully enjoy their stay, in an environment with which they are not familiar. These private resorts are usually located just an hour and a half from a metropolitan area, so that they are easily accessible for a weekend or a week-long stay.
The dynamics of private resorts
Private resorts have evolved, with more diverse operators and a more open type of operation, thereby transitioning to resort towns. Historically, places like La Baule-Escoublac were initially juxtapositions of private and autonomous subdivisions before becoming resort towns (Vighetti, 1974). Similarly, many retired property owners now live permanently in Port-Grimaud, which is becoming an urban district distinct from the hilltop tourist village of Grimaud.
- Augé Marc, 1997, L’impossible voyage: le tourisme et ses images. Rivages, Rivages-Poche.
- Knafou Rémy, 1978, Les Stations intégrées de sports d’hiver des Alpes françaises: l’aménagement de la montagne à la française. Masson, 379 p.
- Gay Jean-Christophe, 2000, «Deux figures de retranchement touristique: l’île hôtel et la zone franche», Mappemonde. n°59, p.10-16, en ligne [pdf].
- Vighetti Jean-Baptiste, 1974, Le tourisme à la Baule et en presqu’île guérandaise de 1820 à nos jours. La Baule, Édition des Paludiers, 4 vol.