Tourism boom and bust

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of Spain and Canary Islands  , Balearic Islands,
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tourism is a very seasonal affair.

Most destinations have high seasons, when visitor numbers peak, as well as low seasons, when visitors are few.

Not only do destinations have to contend with a fluctuating yearly cycle, but also destinations have their own life cycles: they are 'discovered' (often by backpackers), then developed, then overrun with mass tourism, and then decline.

At the end of this cycle, a place has to reinvent itself to survive sustainably. Problem is, tourists are fickle. Last year's top destination this year might be considered trashed, or dated.

A greater problem occurs for those who invest in tourism, particularly those poor people who see tourists as their only way out of poverty. While these forced entrepreneurs risk a lot to get their businesses up and running (often without much capital, knowledge or experience), they are often not able to move to the new destination.

I came across an interesting article about Miami Beach and its development, which concluded:

Universal Lessons
Cities of quality preserve the past and use it as a guide to build the future. Cities of quality preserve the past and use it as a guide to build the future. Historic Districts and Heritage Tourism are a phenomenon as well as an economic success. Cities must have an identity to distinguish them from the rest.

Living in a preserved old town, I wonder if the local authorities have traveled much, or in fact, if they have taken on board any of the lessons learnt in other countries, where tourism is more developed. Because here in Lijiang, despite its World Heritage status, it seems to have moved into a leisure centre rather than a place to appreciate its unique heritage. Every day a new shop or hotel or guesthouse opens in the old town that diminishes its appeal and authenticity.

Going back to this ebb and flow of visitors, (and supply and demand [to use economists speak]), tourist numbers are also influenced heavily by both small and large events. Small localised events could be natural disasters and the associated perceived danger. Larger nationwide events could be going into recession. Tourism seems heavily affected by economic factors, not just the state of the economy, but also exchange rates.

One piece of research in The Economic Geography of the Tourist Industry concludes that if the economy goes up, tourism goes up, if the economy goes down, tourism goes down. And not just equal to the economic fortunes either. It is more like a rubber band, going higher in good times, and going twice as low as the economy during bad times. There is also a lag effect, with people making their travel plans before other events mean it is not such a good time to travel.

There's more about sustainable tourism, at London School of Economics

The Impact of Tourism

Fathom: Can tourism be a destructive force? Can you give some examples of where tourism has impacted negatively on an area or community?

Tourism can be a very destructive force. Over years it can lead to the development of certain coastal areas and other sites, to become dedicated almost entirely to the business of tourism. Once the tourist demand changes and heads elsewhere, all that is left is an area full of hotels, bars and over used parks, that are basically degraded and not attractive for more tourists. One good example of this is the East Coast of Spain, which became very popular with tourists during the 1970s, but during the 1980s Spain fell out of favour. Everyone considered that particular coastline to be very degraded and so the crowds headed to Turkey instead.
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