The term “tourism industry” covers a wide range of services, activities, and commodities, bound together in a complex network of relationships that involves the temporary migration of people for leisure purposes. There has always been an element of the global within tourism. Since the first worldwide figures were gathered in the early 1950s, tourism has continued to grow year on year. In common with many other forms of economic activity, the increasing reach and spread of tourism has gathered pace since the 1990s to the extent that it is now firmly embedded as an established and important sector in many economies of the world, and consequently has had considerable socio-economic and cultural impacts on localities.
One of the basic building blocks of modernity was the nation-state, which by and large framed a distinct economic and social realm that defined a particular way of life, a distinct cultural constellation. Under the present conditions of globalization, where money, commodities, and people move more rapidly than they have ever done before, economic and cultural relations are being reordered. Among other elements, globalization involves increasing connectivity both horizontally, across space, and vertically, within local economic and cultural realms. As a consequence both economic and cultural boundaries are more permeable and fluid than they have been in the recent past, to the extent that parts of the third world have been brought into the economic core, while at the same time segments of the first world, such as redundant industrial areas, have been relegated to peripheral status. Tourism also exemplifies these developments, since it involves the global flow of people to specific tourist locales, and the embedding of global economic networks in those locales, as well as offering the opportunity for regions and localities to remake themselves as arenas of consumption.
Economic Specifics Of Tourism
Tourism is, however, distinct from other forms of production and consumption in a number of significant ways. First, the tourist destination is conceptually and spatially marked as distinct from the realm of work and home. Second, this distinction itself relies on the commodification of place, people, and culture, which together create sites of leisure consumption, or tourist space. As a tourist, one becomes involved, even if only superficially, in the worlds and lives of others. Third, linked as it is to specificity of place, the tourist product itself is not movable. It is people rather than goods that are imported and exported. As a tourist one is mobile and transient, and engages in the conspicuous consumption of time and in some cases hedonistic excess. Fourth, tourism also cuts across a number of sectoral boundaries, as it involves a bundle of services and commodities, such as insurance and currency exchange, transportation, accommodation, food, and entertainment. The purchase and consumption of these goods and services can be seen as a circuit that runs from point of origin via mode of transit to the destination, then a return to the point of origin. Both the production chains and the consumption of goods and services involved in tourism are cyclical and also spread across space and time.
The differentiation between work and leisure spaces can be seen as a consequence of modernity, in which the dominant Fordist mode of mass production was matched by a Fordist mode of mass leisure consumption. While today’s form of tourism has changed, the basic pattern outlined above was originally established with the development of modernity and urban industrialization in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, with the creation of resorts that tended to cater for national markets. Tourism was also seasonal, peaking in the summer months and almost nonexistent at other times of the year. In the latter part of the twentieth century, the advent of mass air travel gave rise to charter flight tourism and the creation of mass resorts in places such as the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, which catered respectively for European and North American markets, and thus saw the growing internationalization of mass tourism.
However, Fordist production and consumption has been eroded and partly replaced by a shift into post-Fordist modes of niche consumption and a consequent diversification of tourism. In part this is a consequence of the reordering of global economic relations with the near-universal adoption of deregulated markets and neo-liberal economic policies. As many cities and regions in the developed economies began to lose their traditional industrial base, there was a need to find alternative forms of employment. One of the ways in which this was achieved was the revaluation and regeneration of urban space. This not only encouraged inward investment, but also opened up opportunities for new forms of tourism such as the short city break and leisure shopping. As a consequence, the distinction which had previously existed between work and leisure spaces was replaced by more complex and diverse patterns.
The Globalization Of Tourism
Parallel to such changes in the developed economies was the globalization of tourism. The increase in long-haul flights in the latter part of the twentieth century meant that tourism began to expand beyond the confines of the developed states and regions, especially in South-East Asia, although the trajectory of resort development was somewhat different to that in the west. Unlike other forms of development, tourism requires relatively low capital investment, continues to increase its potential exponentially as an invisible export and foreign currency earner, and is thus a relatively low cost way to balance payments. However, tourism is also vulnerable to short-term economic fluctuations and heightened perceptions of risk, such as those due to terrorist activity or political instability.
One of the features of contemporary globalization is the growth and influence of multinational corporations (MNCs). Both their number and importance have increased significantly since the 1970s, most notably in terms of finance capital, and especially during the deregulatory wave of the 1980s. However, as distinct from some other economic sectors, the influence of MNCs is not as great as may be thought, and extends mainly to three sub-sectors: airlines, hotel chains, and to a lesser extent, travel agents and tour operators. In air travel, we find a trend towards strategic alliances among a number of different carriers. Using a system of code-sharing, onward and connecting flights can be booked as a single ticket. Airlines may also offer other services such as hotel booking and car hire. Such developments are only possible through the advent of sophisticated ICT systems, which also allow individuals to create their own itineraries through online booking. Such developments undermine the traditional role of the tour operators and travel agents, and are of great benefit to airlines and hotel chains. It is at this level that we see the emergence of global standards of service that consumers increasingly expect.
However, such alliances and franchise arrangements are not entirely the result of a deregulated global economy. Both national and regional policies will also have some effect in shaping the form and development of tourist space and the flows of both investment capital and people, since a major incentive for governments to pursue tourism development policies is the lure of foreign exchange earnings. Despite globalization, the state has clearly not withered away. Rather its role can be crucial in mediating and directing the political economy. MNCs may exert considerable economic leverage, more so perhaps in relation to the less developed economies, but they are not doing so in a totally unfettered marketplace.
The main issue in terms of the global political economy is the degree to which the state either pursues interventionist policies, or deregulates and opens up development to the play of market forces, even if these are mediated at a number of spatial and administrative levels. The net result is that competition for tourist spend is now played out in a global arena, and culture, in the wider anthropological sense of the word, is the means through which places market themselves for tourist spend. In order to attract tourists, destinations need to be marked out as distinct, and this often involves policy and marketing strategy development at a number of institutional levels, from the national state to the region and the locality.
Culture And Symbolism
Both policies and marketing strategies, working within the confines of the global economy, assign symbolic value to selected attributes of place. Through such processes cultures are essentialized and commoditized as representations for the global market place. These representations of people, place, and culture assume an exchange value as objects of consumption along with the other material goods and commodities consumed in the tourist circuit.
Global marketing inevitably impinges on the lives of people in tourist destinations. Tourism can provide employment and income in areas that previously, for example, had been dominated by agricultural patterns of production. Development requires land, and the building of hotels and infrastructure may displace local inhabitants. The gender division of labor within local societies may also change as new employment and entrepreneurial opportunities are opened up to locals. On a more negative note, we also need to take account of the exploitative relationships that may develop between locals and tourists, most notably perhaps in sex tourism. This is a phenomenon most commonly associated with developing nations, where the disparity of wealth between hosts and guests gives rise to widespread prostitution, which in turn develops into the tourist attraction itself.
The possibility that the bulk of profits will flow overseas rather than feed into the local economy is an ever-present problem, albeit one neither confined to the tourism sector nor to the less developed economies; it is an aspect of globalization itself. For example, profits may well flow from the western economies to those of the east, as they may flow in the other direction.
Tourists not only bring with them money, but also particular expectations of the destination and its people, as well as culturally specific norms and ways of acting that can, in some cases, go against local norms and expectations of acceptable behavior. Many criticisms of tourism are based on the notion that it exports “western” values and ways of life that impinge on more vulnerable societies in the less developed world. While changes to local social and economic patterns are an inevitable consequence of tourism development, however we judge them, the flow and pattern of tourism itself has also been changing. Many of the less developed or newly emerging economies now have growing domestic tourism markets, as well as contributing to the net flow of overseas tourists. Some smaller nations, though, for example the island states of Micronesia and the Caribbean, will be more dependent on tourism. Even in the developed economies some cities and regions are also more reliant on tourism spend than they have been in the past. In other words, the new order of globalization appears to cut across and redefine the old pattern of geographical and cultural fixities, to the extent that binary models of center versus periphery or modernization versus underdevelopment cannot deal with the complex contemporary situation.
This can be seen in the often-voiced assumption that both globalization and tourism will lead to the homogenization of cultures to the detriment of more localized forms of cultural identity and expression. So far the evidence is rather mixed, even contradictory. For example, it is often assumed, particularly in relation to developing countries and culturally peripheral regions, that contact with tourism creates markets for handicrafts, and the intrusion of market mechanisms inevitably leads to the production of tourist goods that are inauthentic representations of local cultures. However, such arguments and their variants rely on an outmoded and static model of culture, and ignore both internal and external dynamics of cultural change. Nonetheless, in certain sub-sectors of the tourism industry, such as travel and accommodation for instance, there are global standards of service provision by which individual providers are judged. At the same time, certain aspects of a destination may well be valued precisely because they are perceived to be “free” of global influences.
The contemporary tourism industry comprises a complex circuit of production and consumption that extends across spatial and cultural boundaries. The dominant Fordist model of production and consumption, exemplified by the mass holiday resort, has, in common with other spheres of consumption, gradually but not entirely been superseded by a more fragmented and niched market. As a globalized phenomenon, it encompasses both the macro and global with the micro and local levels of specific places and destinations.
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