Tourism Theories and Practices
“What do tourists do and why?” Critically discuss
Tourism industry has emerged as one of the fastest growing industry and largest employers in the modern world. This sheer vastness of the industry is understood from the fact that the numbers of tourists worldwide are anticipated to be doubled to one billion plus by the end of 2010.(Kamra, p 184)
This essay will discuss in brief the different theories of tourism which define tourist behavior, their roles, activities and motivations which in turn influence the industry.
Thesis statement: Tourists and their thought process, their behavior and motivations are centrifugal to the concept of tourism. Many scholars have tried to define the typology of the tourists, their classifications in order to understand the concept of tourism.
The essay will outline some of the old theories and the modern day approach and why there is a need for more research based studies to exploit the potential of this industry.
Meaning of tourism-What is tourism
Michel Eyquem De Montaigne said, “A man should ever be ready booted to take his journey.”
Man because of his gregarious nature is bound to travel from one place to another to fulfill his various needs be it social, emotional or physical. Traveling is thus characteristic to human society on the whole.
Travel and tourism was traditionally considered as a luxury item. But with the turn of the century, definition of travel and tourism has evolved. Tourism no longer stands for simple traveling or temporary journeys and stays mainly for pleasure, leisure and or recreational purposes or a luxury element. Twentieth century ushered in the paradigm shift in the concept of tourism. In fact it will not be unjustified to say that there has been transition from the 19th and early 20th century concept of tourism as an exercise in leisure and pleasure domain to the concept of tourism as an exercise in business, economics. It is more of a consumer product; tourism industry is a vibrant market where tourism products can be sold now as any other consumer product, consumer here is the tourist. (Kamra, p 157)
According to statistics brought out by the statistics of the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) in 1994, tourism contributed 12 per cent of the world’s Gross National Product. (Kamra, 12)
Tourism industry is one of the fastest growing industry employing hundreds of millions of people worldwide, which explains the reason why the study of the tourism and tourism research has become so important in not only the academic field but also for the economy on the whole.
Modern day tourism is much more than simple traveling; it is pure economics, which is determined by theories of demand, and supply, which brings in the question of sustainability. Tourism is no more synonymous to traveling.
Today tourism is just like a normal consumer product, which is driven by market dynamics, demand supply, sold through retail outlets. It no longer remains a luxury of the upper class but has become a mass product for the growing consumer market, in this case the growing tourist community. (Swarbrooke and Horner – p 4)
In fact there has been a combination of factors which have resulted in the proliferation of tourism industry. The prime being increased leisure, higher incomes of burgeoning middle class. One of the main drivers to growth in the coming era would be the growing middle class.
The study of tourism theories and practices therefore would mainly revolve around the needs, motivations, role, experiences of the the tourists. What do tourists do and why?
The most general classification of tourists is on the basis of the needs of the tourist. This would mainly classify the entire tourist community into two groups-the traveler and the tourist.
While the former is mainly conceived as one who would basically travel to understand the place and thus would rather prefer longer trips and would plan it individually. The latter classified, as a tourist in layman’s version would be characterized as one with superficial interest. One who would indulge in shorter trips and group tours or charters and would mainly depend on tour agents. But this classification is very vague.
Most of the tourists travel for change of environment because of which new concepts of tourism like eco-tourism, rural tourism have come into existence. Cultural attractions, education, gaining knowledge about new cultures might be other important motivations. For example attraction towards Buddhist culture has made Myanmar and some parts of North East India a major hub for Buddhist tourists from all around the world. People from all around the world travel to these places to get experience the Buddhist spirit. There can be other motivations also like quest for new experience, personal visits etc.
Some of the most prevalent theories of destination development and classification of tourists
Some scholars have tried to classify the tourist on the basis of their needs, which explains the reason for their travel. For example a tourist can be classified as explorer, elite, offbeat, unusual, mass or charter on the basis of his/her demand.
While an explorer tourist group will want discovery, adventure, exploration, a elite tourist might have a special personally customized tailored trip to any exotic places. Or for example an offbeat tourist might travel to get away from the crowds.
The classification according to demand describes the main purpose of travel. There can be a pure mass group also under the demand-based classification where the tourist might prefer normal tour packages and holiday trips to conventional places.
Thus classification on the basis of demand to a large extent determines the needs and the activities of the tourists.
There can also be classification on the basis of the meaning and requirement, where tourists might travel for the sake of simple recreation, diversion, experiential, experimental reasons. There can be also motivational based classification. Understanding the motive behind traveling might help to predict consumer psyche.
An American researcher named Plog (Mason 26) put forth his theory based on the psychology of tourists and these were published in 1973. Plog’s theory was based on a case study conducted on New York residents and their attitudes to travel.
Plog’s discussed the tourist behavior and motivations based on the psychology of the tourists. Thus there are two types of tourists, the allo-centric and psycho-centric types of tourist. He argued that there are particular psychological types who do not like unfamiliar environments or cultures, so when they select a holiday they will seek the familiar regions than unfamiliar remote regions (these he termed psycho-centric).
Plog further added that there are still some groups in society who will be prepared to risk a far more uncertain holiday destination. These tourists will search for strange or unfamiliar and these he termed allo-centric.
While the psycho-centric would not travel far from the local environment the allo-centric would travel long distances to unfamiliar locations. He concluded that the majority of the tourists were neither fully psycho- centric nor fully allo-centric.
Rather most of the tourists were located in the center point between the two extremes of psycho-centric and allo-centric.And that majority of the tourists would seek the familiar and prefer not to travel great distances to get there.
An important point that emerged from the destination development of Plog’s theory is that different tourists destinations are attractive to different types of tourists based on the kind of traveler they are, psycho or allo-centric and that majority of the tourists will prefer to travel for short distances than longer ones to go for holidays.
Thus it suggests that the tourist destinations in most of the developed countries which are in close proximity to major population areas, busy areas, markets, residential areas are likely to be developed and grow more quickly than those in the distant remote areas.
However, in actual practice, sometimes this theory may also prove wrong. On the contrary many of the remote areas are now getting faster developed than those near the major population areas.
While Plog’s theory was based more on the psychological part of tourists, Erik Cohen’s theory relate to the behavior of the tourists. Erik Cohen who developed a classification of tourists where there was a four chief classification.
First was the organized mass tourists who travel in groups, who prefer packaged holiday (travel, accommodation, food etc.) usually arranged by a travel agent.
The second type was the individual mass tourists who use the same facilities as the organized mass tourists, but the difference lies only in decision making. This group makes more individual based decisions about their activity and trip. There are also the explorers and the drifters.
While explorers would most often arrange their own trips, meet and interact with the locals drifters avoid all contact with other tourists and leave with the locals. This classification of tourists lives longer than the other groups.
If both the above mentioned tourist theories which basically delve into the characteristics of human behavioral aspects are combined then we would see that majority of Cohen’s mass tourist and independent mass tourists would converge with Plog’s psycho-centric tourists.
Later in the mid 1970s, Doxey proposed the Irritation Index or the Irridex. The Irridex was based on the relationship between the tourists and the locals.
The fundamental idea as it is evident from the name of the index itself is that over a time period as the number of tourist increase in a particular area, a greater irritation and hatred would build up amongst the locals towards the tourists.
So, over the time as the locals gets more irritant with the visitors and become hostile, the number of visitors might actually decline or might not continue to grow at the same rate as previously.
But the problem with most of these theories was that most of them were not based on proper field research but on discussions.
Butler’s Tourist Area Life Cycle (TALC) (Mason, 33) model on tourism which is still the most widely accepted and important theory deals with a particular destination, his theory explains how a destination emerge as a tourist destination after several stages.
Butler suggested a model where a tourism destination develops over time as a result of several factors. Destination is a very important element in tourism. A destination is defined most widely as a product is marketed to its consumers. And like all other products, tourist destinations also have a life cycle. Butler proposed a model for tourism area life cycle in which he showed how a destination begins as a relatively unknown place and visitors first come in small fractions because of lack of access, facilities and local knowledge (Miller and Galluci, 2004)
The key point in Butler’s model was that planning and proper remedial action by the tourists can help arrest the decline in resorts and tourism infrastructure.
One of the major challenges that the World Tourism Organization made in its Global Forecasts for the year 2000 and beyond is the issue of sustainability, which relates to the absorptive capacity of an economy with respect to tourism.
This does not refer to the physical capacity alone but also to the capacity of a particular area to provide tourism infrastructure, pool in investments, manpower, and natural resources.
While manpower would not be a constraint, other natural resources might be. The theory of sustainable tourism thus off late has emerged of greater relevance, which is necessary to promote environmental awareness and boost tourism industry on the whole.
Sustainable tourism in a nutshell can be explained as a means by which tourist growth is achieved as well as environment and earth’s scarce resources are preserved.
Apart from the environment issue another burning issue, which might emerge as an impediment is lack of trained skilled workforce to deliver value additions.
In conclusion it can be said that although several tourism theories have been put forth by several scholars to determine the roles and activities, the characteristics of tourists to boost the industry. There is a general lack of awareness about these theories amidst the policy makers. Tourism industry is still one of those industries, which is regulated by government administration. There are wide varieties of conceptual and theoretical approaches to tourism, which have to be tested in reality. This apart there is a further need for more field studies and employment of professionals in conducting the research, which will help achieve greater theoretical orientation and practical application.
The tourism industry has been growing at a phenomenal rate for the last fifty year especially, after the Second World War. The recession has had an effect on the industry, but the numbers of tourists worldwide are anticipated to be doubled to one billion plus by the end of 2010.
Keeping in tune with the changing times consumer demands will also change, more classifications based on growing needs of tourists might emerge.
What can be the cultural and social impact of tourism development
Researchers have identified a whole gamut of positive impacts of tourism development on societies. For example the direct outcomes of tourism development would be the modification of the internal structure of the community, increasing employment opportunities of the local residents, social change, economic affluence, improvement of the quality of life through infrastructure development. Similarly the interaction between the host and tourist increases tolerance and communication skills etc.
On the cultural side the arts, crafts and culture of the local area might be revived. Researchers have also identified several cons like deployment of natural resources, increased pressure on existing infrastructure, commodification of culture and its negative effects etc (Beeton 18)
Thus it can be seen in the essay how tourist behavioral needs, motivations, actions directly and indirectly affect tourism development in a place. Only right kind of practices would be able to give the necessary boost to this industry, which alone will contribute the largest chunk in global trade.
Understanding the needs and motivations of the tourists will help boost tourism industry manifolds. What is required is the right approach. Tourists’ behavior research in tourism has to be based on motivations, typologies, destination choices and the decision process. While this is good some scholars criticize it as stereotypical and generalized which might not be the same in reality. The gap between the theories and the reality can be bridged through research and constant study of tourist behavior.
K Kamra 1997, “Tourism: Theory, Planning and Practice”,
Peter Mason, “Tourism Impacts, Planning and Management”
Online book version), Second edition- 2008,
Mason, P. & Cheyne, J. (2000).” Residents’ Attitudes to Proposed Tourism Development, Annals of Tourism Research.”
Peter Mason, “Tourism Impacts, Planning and Management” Second Edition
Abraham Pizam, Yoel Mansfeld, “Consumer behaviour in travel and tourism” Softcover edition published 2000
John Swarbrooke, Susan Horner, 2007, Consumer behaviour in tourism, Edition: 2, p 4, 428 pages
Sue Beeton 2006, “Community Development through Tourism.”, p 18.