Resting is a tourist practice, alongside discovering, playing, shopping, and socialising. Its core feature is the “stay” i.e., staying in a given place for several days or weeks. The goal is “taking care of oneself” (MIT team, 2011).

One of the foundations of tourism practices

The practice of tourism has two sides to it: discovery, on the one hand, with its roots in the Grand Tour, and rest, in the sense of “self-care”, on the other, a notion which has changed over time. In the early days of tourism, self-care had a curative purpose concerned with restoring health.

With the 18th century came progress and medical developments, paving the way for a new approach to healing and leaving behind favoured treatments from the past, such as bloodletting. The new methods harnessed water (thermal water and salt water), air and light, prescribing baths and therapies: sea-dipping, graduated bathing, special drinks, walks along promenades and heliotherapy (Ill. 1). Coupled with this discovery, the coastline and the mountains appeared to be the places where these resources are available. Bathers and spa clients were now flocking to destinations they had never frequented before.

Ill. 1. Self-care and rest as the driver of tourism practices (source: Vacher and Sacareau, in Équipe MIT, 2011)

Thus, a system of practice was built around health hinging on rest. To this end, many places became tourist destinations and transformed themselves into resorts, where the ample equipment and facilities available reflected the new trend: spas or baths, and promenades. Casinos were also built as the festive addition essential to any course of treatment (Cossik, 2000). People therefore frequented cooler seaside destinations (on the coasts of the English Channel, the North Sea and the Atlantic) and mountain destinations in summer; they only visited the Mediterranean coasts in winter, as it was considered too hot, at the time, in summer. The destinations therefore complemented each other in a seasonal sense.

This was how people practised tourism for a long time until the advent of winter sports in the 1860s in the mountains, and the emergence of the three S’s (sun, sea, and sand) in the 1920s and 1930s on the coast.

From a therapeutic to a hedonistic practice

In both cases, practices emerged that were no longer only intended for the sick but also for the healthy. With winter sports, the offer was based on sports. The seaside model was one where the pleasure of the naked body tanning by a warm seashore disrupted the established tourism seasons and the hierarchy of destinations (MIT team, 2011). The French Riviera was now competing with other European coastlines (Burnet, 1963). This explains the partial decline of some resorts. Spain, previously on the periphery of this quest for rest gradually became a flagship destination thanks to its “sol y playa” model. Following in its wake were numerous countries on both sides of the Mediterranean and in the Caribbean, as well as oceanic islands around the world, ushering in the age of globalised seaside tourism.

Here, the practice is to rest at the beach, to sleep there, read there, take care of the children, spend time with family and friends; a far cry from obsessive tanning, which remains a die-hard phenomenon and suggests a very great misunderstanding of what else is going on at the beach. In terms of time in the water, playing and walking punctuate tanning sessions on the beach. There is hardly any swimming or sea-dipping (the 18th-century practice of accompanying a bather and dipping them in water), the only tourist practice to have completely disappeared.

A socially condemned practice. Not that this means much.

For resting, individuals choose a single spot to get down to the business of relaxing and for no fixed amount of time. While the media pushes useful, intellectual, and sporting holidays, the idle relaxation to which most Europeans aspire is not socially valued and is seen as a waste of time. However, Jean-Didier Urbain (2006) insists on the benefits of this time for construction of the self and for social bonding.

But he loses us when he stigmatises, in our opinion, what he calls “simple transplantation” (2006). In fact, a tourist’s main act of relocation, i.e., travelling to the place they are staying, then enables multiple secondary trips to nearby cities, museums, other beaches, and places of biophysical interest such as islands, natural parks, or bird sanctuaries. From giant aquariums to maritime museums, countless establishments now open their doors to coastal visitors. Some towns formerly neglected by tourists are making a come-back. In Boulogne-sur-Mer, for example (a tourist hotspot from 1790 which then shifted its focus to industrial fishing and steel milling once warm-water bathing and tanning had taken over), tourism initiatives reappeared in 1996 including, more recently, a project offering accommodation and relaxation areas.

A practice associated with bathing

However, resorts and comptoirs (tourist areas created by and for tourism, controlled by a single actor) continue to welcome most tourists and for longer stays. These types of places are spatial forms of the conquest of territories on the margins that tourism will help integrate into the territory of Western societies. With the help of the excellent Géoportail website, we can reproduce the process by which the resorts sprang up on coastal dunes or along the riverbanks where fishing boats had easy access to the bounties of the sea.

In Cabourg for example, the old site is located on the banks of the Dives, while the development of the resort would involve creating a new seafront and eradicating the massive stretch of sand dunes. However, it seems that sometimes the creation of comptoirs preceded the creation of resorts. These are simple places with no permanent residents, which are closed to non-residents and where specific rules apply. In La Baule-Escoublac for example, private housing estates were created before the whole development was finally integrated into the municipality. In fact, the name of the town combines, first, that of the tourist site (La Baule) and, in second place, the name of the historic municipality. Comptoirs became widespread on islands and along tropical coastlines, wherever such reassurance is required for tourists to get their rest. Thus, resorts and comptoirs are the destinations of choice for stays dedicated to rest.

The hybrid form

A stay whose purpose is to rest is sometimes referred to as a “reward” after a discovery tour, with the two forming a combined tourist product. This is the case with tours that involve exhausting activities, encouraging participants to extend their visit with restorative stays. This formula is offered for safaris and cruises along the Nile. For the former, the pace is dictated by the natural rhythms of the animals, who can be seen in the morning and at sunset. The latter alternate sunrise and sunset panoramas, which exhaust even the most enthusiastic tourists and allow the tour operator to sell a seaside “extension”.

Philippe VIOLIER


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