Tourism development

A concept that expresses the idea that a place has become a tourist area following a process initiated and prolonged by one or more stakeholders, resulting in a change of state. Previously untouched by tourism, the place mutates and its irrevocably changed appearance betrays its tourist appeal, even in the temporary absence of tourists. Thus, contrary to assertions made in the 1970s and 1980s, a place is not a tourist area by nature or potential, but as a result of a process initiated by stakeholders.

Preliminary clarification

The meaning of the term ‘tourism development’ obviously depends on the content associated with the social practice. There are two competing uses. More authors, it seems, retain without discussion — an original feature of the field within the social sciences which are accustomed to deconstruction — the definition adopted by the World Tourism Organization, according to which an individual is a tourist when he or she leaves his or her day-to-day environment for a period of at least one night, for various reasons, including the category ‘other reasons’. It is therefore an extensive definition.

This position was challenged at the end of the 20th century by members of the MIT Research Group, who proposed interpreting the practice as a system in which the ultimate aim is recreation (Knafou et al., 1997; MIT Research Group, 2002; Knafou and Stock, 2013; Stock et al., 2003). In doing so, they used the term ‘recreation’. In French, the word récréation, a break from time devoted to instruction in school, poorly conveys the idea of deroutinisation proposed by Norbert Élias and Eric Dunning (1994). Élias and Dunning analysed the invention of sport in the 18th century as a leisure practice which enables individuals exhausted by the constraints of daily life, which were heightened with the advent of industrial civilisation, to feel refreshed. The meaning of these practices therefore becomes clearer. They are co-constitutive and have enabled a new civilisation to unfold. The term ‘tourism development’ takes on its full meaning of a change of state, whereas basing it on a vague notion, in the sense of the WTO, with all its disparate motives, takes away its content, explanatory value and clarity.

Moreover, even if historians, notably Marc Boyer and Laurent Tissot, have established that tourism was indeed invented in the late 17th century and the early 18th century, there are still authors who claim that tourism has always existed and for whom tourism development does not make sense.

A process of transformation

The development of tourism of places or objects is a process by which tourism transforms the historically constituted state — i.e. the town or village or site or establishment becomes a tourist area. This also includes the changes through which a new place is invented and created, based on a new way of looking at a reality excluded from a given society. This may be a resort or trading post, located in the mountains or along the coast. In this way, tourism is linked to the concept of invention. The latter would be a prelude to tourism, which would be a longer process with several phases.

The idea that realities are invented by individuals who are precursors, pioneers or adventurers can be found in the models of Butler, Cohen and Plog. It has also been developed by Rémy Knafou (1992). Tourism development is therefore inseparable from the invention of new territories, a change of perspective which, according to Rémy Knafou, occurred in the mid-17th century for the beach, within the urban bourgeoisie of the Dutch Republic (2000). Philippe Joutard (1986) dates this back to 1786 for the mountains. This initial period then triggered innovations by craftsmen before the industrialists intervened in turn, according to the analysis carried out by Micheline Cassou-Mounat (1977) on Arcachon (see the entry on the Pereire brothers).

Tourists true or false, the true ones being uniformly called ‘Parisians’, have two quirks that never fail to attract derision. First of all, they like to carry around picture-taking devices called Kodaks. They are the Kodakarians. They always want to take your picture when you’re working and poorly dressed, which is not a good thing to do. When you want to have your picture taken, you dress your best (you ‘dress to the nines’) and go to the photographer. Or there are weddings and that’s enough. One is never at ease in front of this clicking device, by God! And what will happen to your image afterwards? It’s all right when it’s your children who do it, but soon it could be anyone. One’s face is no longer one’s own, goddamn!

Second of all, tourists can’t last three days in town without going to Penhors for a dip in the sea. They don’t just dip their feet in, but everything else, even when they don’t know how to swim. Are their arses really that filthy?

Pierre-Jaquez Hélias, 1975, Le cheval d’orgueil, Plon: p.489-491

Rethinking the geographer’s approach to tourism

This idea of tourism development is contrary to approaches which assert that a place is destined to be a tourist area by nature (Mirloup, 1981), or based on something already there, a potential or matter, being activated (Dewailly and Flament, 2000) in conditions which are little explained. Rather, it posits that this state is the result of a mutation provoked by stakeholders. For some authors, tourism development would be the effect of an approach emanating from entrepreneurs who act on the offering, whether it be on infrastructure (Dewailly and Flament, 1993) or on promotion.

However, work based on the methods and approaches used by historians and geographers (Cassou-Mounat, 1977), notably the use of archives, shows in several cases that the changes were originally brought about through discovery by tourists. They settle in the place, to the surprise of the inhabitants who welcome them. Then entrepreneurs (particularly local) amplified the process or initiated it elsewhere by utilising techniques which are akin to reproducing a proven model. Public intervention at the local level can be identified at an early stage. In 1867, the municipal council of Saint-Jean-de-Monts, in Vendée, voted to acquire a parcel of state-owned forest to open access to the beach in an effort to draw tourists. States at the central level, however, sometimes with the support of international organisations, joined in during the 20th century so that their territory could benefit from the economic impact of tourism.

Ill. 1. Tourism development in Cabourg between 1853 and 1854 (coll. IGN-Géoportail). The mid-19th century map shows a peaceful village on the banks of the Dives. The inhabitants lived from fishing and farming.

It is then emphasised that tourists are indeed the primary stakeholders a detail that Kadri et al. overlooked (2019). In any case, by effectively being there, tourists confirm the initiatives taken by other stakeholders (Sacareau and Vacher, 2001). Various failures or adjustments testify to the fact that they retain a sanctioning role, although not systematically taking the initiative, once tourism has become a capitalist market. In this way, the theme park Futuroscope ensured its longevity by adapting to the tourist response. The initial project was an ode to new technologies. This turned into a fun take on modernity. Vulcania originally relied on the prestige of a scientific committee, but never fulfilled the promises of the initial project, because tourists are not primarily concerned with learning. The adventure quickly ended for Le Bioscope, however; after three years the park closed and was sold (Violier, 2017). This is proof that tourists have the deciding power.

Other terms used

The word touristification is also used. The term touristisation is also appropriate, whereas touristification has a different meaning. Touristisation appears to have been originally used by a specialist in management sciences, Bruce Young, in 1983. Jean-Marie Miossec seems to have first used it in French and in the context of geography in 1994. Other authors, notably after Cazes (1992), have used other words such as ‘production’ and ‘subversion’ to express the idea that places and objects are not tourist areas by nature or potential.

However, production implies an intentional action, at least partially so. When a fisherman named Malo, who became a fishmonger and later a politician, launched the resort that was to bear his name as ‘Malo-les-Bains’, this was indeed the intention of a stakeholder who converted the dunes purchased from the city of Dunkirk, after failed agricultural production, into a tourist resort. Therefore, the concept of production becomes an option of tourism development, when a stakeholder creates a resort or trading post from scratch, next to the variant due to invention or creation by tourists. Tourism product also has another meaning, which is discussed in the relevant entry. Subversion can be applied as a synonym, especially in the case of historically constituted places. Therefore, the different concepts are linked.

Philippe Violier


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