Tourist location

In geography, a place can be ‘a space in which distance is irrelevant’ (Lévy, 2013). Therefore, a place is a tourist area when it is transformed or created by tourism. It cannot be a place that is simply passed through, because in large, busy national spaces like France, there are tourists everywhere, sometimes heading to a destination, or lost. A tourist location is by definition either created by tourism — in the sense that there is no significant pre-existing human use of the place itself, as with private resorts and tourist resortsor transformed, if an investment by tourism of a historically established place, such as sites or towns and villages, which are already inhabited.

The common features: places transformed by tourism

Tourist inhabitation produces radical transformations to the point where tourist appeal is clear. The mutations are due to several causes that do not always occur simultaneously. As tourism is a deterritorialisation, the necessary reterritorialisation contributes to marking the place as it is a question of inhabiting it. Thus, the different types of accommodation occupy, totally or partially, the space. Furthermore, as individuals seek means of recreation this also helps to shape places, if we use the concept of tourism in the sense of a system that has this purpose (see the entry Tourism). Thus, the place incorporates elements necessary for the practices to happen. If a place is dedicated to skiing, there will be slopes, facilities for ski lifts, warehouses for storing snowploughs, etc.

As soon as a place is visited, and its population increases significantly, at least seasonally, it acquires urban features such as the density and diversity of the people who live there, even if their presence is seasonal, and material indicators such as larger buildings, commercial and transport infrastructure, urbanisation, etc.

The diversity of tourist locations in relation to the circumstances of their creation

There is a diversity of places that can be classified beyond the apparent variety of forms, place names, locations… This nomothetic approach is based on Max Weber’s ideal type (1908). It is relatively recent. In 1993 Daniel Clary wrote about the ‘resort system’ as the archetype of a tourist location, despite the four spatial categories used in tourism geography, and in particular by the author himself, namely the city, the countryside, the mountains and the coastline. Vincent Vlès, in his book entitled La station touristique, released in 1996, limits himself to describing the resort as a place where tourists ‘stay’ and lists Cannes, Paris and Lourdes as examples, even though they are based on different approaches, which illustrates the dead end of using such a term.

Tourist location typology (Ill. 1) developed by the MIT Research Group, originally published in Tourismes 1. Lieux communs (2002), and adjusted here, proposed a classification based on the circumstances of emergence. It distinguishes between places created by tourism and those transformed by it.

Ill. 1. Tourist location typology (source: MIT Research Group, 2002, adapted)

Places created by tourism

Resorts are characterised by the absence of human settlement on a site, in the geographical sense of the term, invented by tourists, which leads to spatial duplication. For example, in Cabourg (Ill. 2), the foundation of the tourist area faces the sea, while the village is situated inland on the banks of the Dives, as shown on the map. This original dichotomy can be explained in two ways. First, tourists want to see the sea, while the inhabitants feared it. The villagers, especially fishermen, would sail up the estuaries to find shelter a bit further inland, or simply take the boats up the beaches. Their dwellings were located beyond and protected by the dunes. Second, the 19th century bourgeoisie saw the locals as ‘uncivilised’. In his 2016 film Ma Loute, Bruno Dumont evokes the seaside life of northern France’s bourgeois residents in Ambleteuse, while scenes of anthropophagy underline the strong sense of otherness between the two worlds at the time. Resorts have since had a geometric layout like a planned city.

Ill. 2. Cabourg in the first half of the 19th century and Cabourg in 1950 (source: IGN-Géoportail). The first map clearly shows that the village was located along the banks of the Dive, providing a refuge for fishermen. However the 1950 map shows the location along the beaches and facing the sea, preferred by tourists. The fan-shaped layout indicates the planning of housing estate. The figure bears the name Cabourg-Les-Bains, which is no longer used.

The resort town is a special type of resort in which the tourist district is juxtaposed with an old town. Boulogne-sur-Mer, Les Sables d’Olonne, Dieppe, Nice and Rio de Janeiro are examples. Unlike a resort, the location is already a city when tourism is developed, with port activity in particular. Tourists settle in the surrounding areas of buildings and their presence accentuates the urban nature of the place.

The trading post is another case of a place founded by tourism but which is not a living space, unlike the previous type. They are run by a single manager, such as establishments like Center Parc or Club Med. A distinction can be made based on accommodation capacity. Either it is on par with visitor numbers — all the tourists who stay there spend the night — or it is low, or even non-existent.

Places transformed by tourism

Historically established places have been taken over by tourism. Several subtypes can be distinguished. First, the sites of isolated locations without accommodation originally not intended for tourism that have been taken over at some point in their history, such as Château de Chambord and Mont Saint-Michel, and dedicated to the implementation of tourist practice. The creation of value can lead to accommodation. In Chambord, for example, a few beds are available in lodgings set up in old outbuildings, or in Fontevraud, the old inn was modernised, restoring its original function.

Second, towns and villages are incorporated through the perspective and use by tourists. Tourism has in fact found its way into the historical heart of cities because the urban location of various powers has endowed them with prestigious buildings (notably palaces and cathedrals) which in turn mutate into material heritage (Lazzarotti, 2011). Then, particularly in cities, the ‘Central Touristic District’ (Duhamel and Knafou, 2007) is added to stimulate tourist activity by elements located in its orbit, from the neighbourhood (Montmartre), to isolated buildings created by those in power at the time (Versailles), to more distant places (e.g., for Paris: Giverny, the D-Day landing beaches, Chambord, etc.). An identical process of investment by tourism in a place historically created for another function can be observed in villages. Such changes are all the more radical because the location was originally small in size. Agricultural activity has been frequently reorganised from isolated farms, more recently founded, while the heart has been transformed by tourism.

Tourist city subtypes can then be distinguished. Stopover towns are a distinct case in which tourists use accommodation in a given town but do not visit it for its own sake, or at least not to the extent of surrounding areas. In the city of Tours, for example, establishments open to the public are little used if we compare them with visitor data from the Loire Valley châteaux. This subtype is characterised by a fairly dense supply of accommodation and by the fact that it is more popular in the evening, when surrounding sites are closed to visitors.

The final subtype which can be distinguished involves places completely subverted by tourism, following the decline of non-tourist activities, as in Venice, Bruges, Toledo and Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Bavaria, which have become touristified cities.

A typology enriched by the evolution of places

However, places evolve and technical complexity is needed to integrate this dynamic. Resorts therefore become resort cities when non-tourist activities are developed there. A resort city is a step towards a city. In some cases, the tourist dimension has even practically disappeared, and the place is no longer part of this typology, as in Malo-les-Bains, a place founded by Gaspard Malo, which today offers very little in the way of accommodation; instead it has become a residential area in Dunkirk. Elsewhere, locations continue to function as a tourist destination — inhabited at certain times by a population that lives elsewhere and visits for recreation. However, there is little activity in the rental market for commercial accommodation and even property. The location is therefore closed off for regulars who cultivate inter-knowledge and stay amongst themselves. The tourist community, studied by Philippe Duhamel (2008), seems to be rather frequent in tourist regions downgraded through the evolution of practices, such as along Côte d’Albâtre, after the practices of hot baths and tanning have supplanted cold baths and the aesthetics of white skin.

Philippe Violier


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