A stay is one of the forms of presence of a tourist in a destination, the other being a visit. The term “stay” means that the person spends more than one night in the destination. This concept should not be confused with the Schengen “short-stay” visa, which allows foreigners to reside for a maximum of three months in a European country, with some exceptions, while the long-stay visa extends the same right to one year.

The variable length of stay

Therefore, a stay is expressed in overnight stays. Public or private tourism operators calculate the average length of stay to understand the patterns of attendance of a given destination or a given accommodation.

A short stay is to be distinguished from a long stay. The first is between one and three overnight stays, while the second has no upper limit. This distinction may seem arbitrary but it serves to identify weekend mobilities that can indicate a particular behaviour. While some individuals do not restrict themselves to short stays only, others prefer short stays which become their only form of free time mobility. Thus, in the survey on non-holiday goers carried out at the request of Agence Nationale pour les Chèques Vacances (French National Agency for holiday vouchers) in 2009, 10% of this target population declared that they prefer short stays.

In practice, the average length of stay rarely exceeds ten days or so, thus forming the underlying principles of our tourism practices: the fragmentation of travel although there are five weeks of paid holidays in France. However, the law explicitly excludes the possibility for an employee to take them all at the same time. The fifth week is kept separate, in most cases, in particular “for special geographical constraints (for example, foreign employees or those from overseas territories) or the presence at home of a disabled child or adult or a dependant elderly person” (Website of the French Ministry of Labour, viewed on 29 June 2022).

The duration of stays tends to decrease over time, at least for France (Ill. 1). This decrease can be due to the evolution of transportation characterised by more efficient propulsion systems, more comfortable vehicle interiors and improved infrastructures. The duration of trips to and from the destination has reduced, and so has the level of fatigue for an equal distance.

Ill. 1 Decline between 2006 and 2017 in the average length of stay of persons residing in France for personal trips (as opposed to business trips) to France in Europe and to a foreign country and Overseas France (source: DGE Memos)

Staying does not mean doing nothing

However, a stay does not exclude mobilities that we call second mobility as compared to the originator trip, or first mobility, which refers to the journey between the main residence and the place of stay. Second mobilities can be called tours, although this term is rather vague as it also includes short trips from the place of residence without involving an overnight stay outside. They involve departure and return on the same day. This reality shows that individuals are not necessarily sedentary once they have settled in the holiday accommodation or the place where they will stay for a variable period of time.

This disqualifies the dichotomy established by Jean-Didier Urbain between the “true tourist” and the “sojourner” in an interview with journalist Pascale Krémer (published on 10 June 2006) and that also cuts across part of his work between the character of Robinson Crusoe and that of Phileas Fogg. In fact, individuals move or settle down based on combinations that vary according to periods, time, their practices, etc. In his thesis, Jerome Piriou (2012) points to tours to Brest by people who have settled along the Côte d’Émeraude (in Brittany). As we have already noted, a discovery stay in a big city involves great mobility, admittedly over short distances but in all directions, which is often an exhausting footwork.

Stay and rest go hand in hand

Stays are linked to rest and self-care, without excluding the practice of play driven by physical activities, particularly where some spots are deemed to be must-see places for symbolic reasons. However, they can also be discovery stays, when individuals spend more time in a place that they justify based on their representations of that place. Thus, tourist metropolises are included in tour operator catalogues as well as in the collective imagination in the form of programmes requiring staying there for several days. Some Western tour operators offer Beijing-Shanghai combinations, of a total duration of one week involving alternating stays in each of the two cities.

Philippe VIOLIER


  • ANCV-BVA, 2009, Étude sur les publics non-partants en vacances. ANCV, 21 p., en ligne [pdf].
  • Piriou Jérôme, 2012, Enquête sur la région touristique: une recherche sur les pratiques spatiales de dimension régionale des acteurs du tourisme. Thèse de Géographie, Université d’Angers, 2 vol., 775 p.
  • «Entretien avec l’anthropologue Jean-Didier Urbain, 1936-2006: il était une fois les vacances», Propos recueillis par Pascale Krémer, Le Monde du 29 juin 2006.