Photo: NASA, Rocket Launching (Some rights reserved)

by Herb Hiller

From the archives

The objective of this initiative that follows the Media, Environment and Tourism Conference is to make travel and travel writing more respectful of place rather than treat places simply as destinations or, even less desirably, as attractions or theme parks.

The initiative seeks to move travel away from mainstream tourism’s tendency to objectify places and, in the first instance, to characterize places more in their own terms, using the presence of outsiders, temporarily at leisure, as a way to help satisfy local priorities.

When mainstream tourism defines places, the visitor experience tends to be driven by ‘heads in beds’ and pushing turnstiles. Places tend to collapse into attractions with gated admissions. Journeying, exploration, informal encounters tend to be marginalized. Locals drop out of the equation except as they contribute to sales and service functions.

As travel has evolved and as most newspaper travel sections and travel magazines represent it, travel tends to mean tourism with its control by airlines, chain hotels, rental car agencies and their consolidated power to influence. Although travel writing, influenced by conservation and preservation, has diversified, travel advertising creates a dominant context of brand names and centralized influence, of what’s standard, predictable and safe.

Yet most travel writing as well remains focused on attractions, theme parks, new hotels, changes in transportation services – on places as sources of things to see and do. Significant dates and personalities drive history.

In the same way that history is the record of winners, places tend to be represented by dominant forces, tourism chief among them.

Irreverently, place in the first instance suggests that people don’t have to travel at all to enjoy what traditionally has made leisure travel important. Place represents an orientation to wherever we find ourselves. This can be as close to home as a neighborhood we haven’t come to know well — perhaps even our own with whose history and, except for its most routine patterns, with even its day-to-day life we are unfamiliar.

In terms of quick getaways, place might mean overnighting where we live but elsewhere than under our own roof. Place suggests visitors who are willingly drawn in, defining where we find ourselves by first hand experience that results from a good degree of exploration, rather than transactionally moved about by prescribed options.

Historically, leisure travel and its bundled effect as tourism has been driven by forces largely extraneous to the place traveled. These forces include travel agents, tour operators and travel advertisers that in turn include carriers and lodgings. Destinations have represented themselves chiefly through travel marketing that aligns with these interests. Mostly travel industry figures represent the world’s places and they speak of places as destinations.

How might things be different and why should they be?
Looked at from within, places seethe with their own dynamics we call politics. Groups vie to re-define the past of their places and direct its future. Three main interests tend to represent the integrity of place: interests of conservation, preservation and culture. These represent the natural environment, the built environment and how people define themselves with regard to each other apart from outsiders as well as interactively with them. All three interests concern themselves with heritage. All work to balance out economic determinism, which in most of the world’s places finds mainstream tourism a significant partner if not a driving force.At least in the United States, these three forces operate separately. All concern place but don’t come together around this concept. Yet for the average citizen, place is what most often is in issue. People tend to respond the same way when an historic building gets torn down as when a stream or lake becomes polluted and no longer fully available for recreation. It’s the loss of the familiar that people react to. Culture figures in the same way. People tend to be welcoming but suspicious of outsiders who seek to impose change. Visitors may be welcomed by the ones and tens but not by the thousands and tens of thousands. Over time, places tend to work out their ethnic differences. In time, immigrant neighborhoods, once maybe shunned, become integrated with the mainstream and valued for their integrity. People don’t like to see traditional neighborhoods disrupted by new highways or by other forced dislocations.

These forces of conservation, preservation and culture represent a significant bulwark against how mainstream tourism tends to objectify places by narrow touristic value. But their effectiveness is diluted when they operate independently of each other. Each has its local partisans who tend to get involved with environmental causes, with saving landmark structures from demolition, with conserving historical artifacts and art.

At a time when homogenizing influences ascend with great power, place represents a counterforce. And, as already indicated, place also represents an important way of viewing travel.

Therefore, place as a concept joins what is local and long term in contrast to what is outside and short term as invoked by leisure travel. When locals address place instead of only its separate aspects, the values of place strengthen. When travelers become more aware of place rather than simply as destination, they become more respectful of where they find themselves.

Indeed, travelers might easily be seen as people who respect their own places while visiting places elsewhere, sensitized at home by values they bring to the places they visit and that they share with people resident there.

Locals everywhere, then, might well strengthen their capacity to slow the impacts of change that mainstream tourism represents by emphasizing their qualities of place. Of course, for this to work, mainstream tourism will have to entertain these qualities more willingly. One way to consider what might happen is to look analogously at how organic foods and other natural products increasingly show up on supermarket shelves. Market forces are driving markets to expand what they have historically either not supplied at all or in too small regard.

The question becomes, how to broaden the idea of travel by the concept of place. The sequence for effecting change suggests a start by demonstrating greater demand in the marketplace for place – what the travel industry would call ‘product’ — that is everywhere available. Simultaneously, the separate elements of place need to come together. Conservation viewed as ‘environment’ carries pejorative baggage. Preservation viewed as elitist carries the same. Ditto culture as Culture. Place carries no baggage. Granted that the term at least at first appears awkward. It wouldn’t be the first that nonetheless captured popular imagination. ‘Lipstick’ made it. So did ‘tourism.’

The Market for Place
Surveys increasingly show that the market for what place embraces is greater than ever. Travel editors and travel writers can be critical to popular embrace of this new regard for place.Although we know that travel has been contextually absorbed by tourism, the lurch necessary to effect change may come from how place opens the way to more profitable newspaper travel sections. Already the most profitable sections of newspapers, their focus on place may help them become more profitable. These sections represent the pivot around which tourism might be redefined as a way that influences the mindset of readers about place and, in the first instance, about their own resident places.

Place for the first time would encourage local businesses that traditionally have advertised only in out of town newspapers to advertise locally as well.

For example, imagine if instead of Travel these sections of newspapers were now called Place.

This would encourage the advertising of local bed-and-breakfasts and every other kind of lodging because of a new emphasis on local people “getting away” in and discovering their own cities. Restaurants have long promoted dinners out. What if coupled with staying overnight at a local B&B, not just for a wedding anniversary but also at whim? What if museums and galleries got behind the effort and packaged art opening, dinner and room for the night? Books, and even guidebooks, about where people live would become products for local advertising. This wouldn’t draw book advertising away from book sections. This would be added opportunistic advertising. Neighborhood shopping districts, antiques districts, amusement districts and other sources of products for sale distinct in their setting would become additional prospects. Some restaurants would want to appear in Place instead of (or in addition to) dining sections.

As the concept takes hold, writers would be assigned articles that treat places more fully, telling more about what makes places tick, more about issues, more about living history that, without choosing up political sides, talks to popular expression. Instead of just reporting on major attractions, writing would report on situations in process of becoming.

People to People Connections
Place, as an essential determinant of how we live, would resonate with travelers who are already drawn to the idea of place at home. In the same way that travelers in recent years have moved beyond the beach as a way to spend tropical vacations, visiting museums, historic districts and natural attractions that include trails and preserved landscapes, so they might be drawn to visit people in their myriad representational groups, people genuinely of their place who, by drawing in visitors of like mind, help strengthen local commitment to values of place.Tourism has never effectively tapped into people-to-people opportunities. Yet newly sensitized tourist agencies might find enormous opportunity in diversifying the appeal of their places. At a time when a limited number of international carriers, chain hotels, mass tour operators and the like tend to duplicate the travel experience endlessly, less well budgeted places, including less commercial attractions everywhere, find themselves disadvantaged in getting word out.

Place offers an alternative sector that’s more local and authentic, which, in a world increasingly motivated by conservation, preservation and culture seeks authenticity, can help make local experience more valuable. It’s easy to imagine this alternative become a powerful transnational influence in tourism. Accordingly, work has to be directed to bring together preservation, conservation and cultural groups in what we think of as ‘destinations’ (which of course today means everywhere) and work has to be done from within travel. Both need to re-focus on place. Reoriented, travel writing – and travel writers — can provide a nexus.

It’s an unfamiliar task for travel writers to become engaged in something of pivotal importance. Yet we shouldn’t be daunted just because the idea is novel. Innovation makes sense at a time when the profession is hurting from the fallout of 9/11. At least in the short term, travel is altogether turning more regional and local. People are looking for what’s more authentic. Most vacations remain matters of only a few days. The new emphasis on travel nearer home is likely to capture a larger, lasting market share.

Thoughtfully driven, this proposal to effect change might succeed.

Herb Hiller is a freelance writer and author of Highway A1A. He is a former VP of Norwegian Caribbean Lines, executive director of the Caribbean Travel Association, and initiator of today’s Caribbean Tourism Organization. He also coordinates workshops for the Society for American Travel Writers.


One recent survey by the National Endowment for the Arts shows that:

a.. 92.4 million, or 46 percent, of the 199.8 million U.S. adult travelers included a cultural, arts, heritage or historic activity while on a one-way trip of 50 miles or more during the previous year.

b.. Among these 92.4 million travelers, visiting an historic site such as an historic community or building was the most popular cultural activity (31 percent), followed by visiting a museum (24 percent), visiting an art gallery (15 percent) and seeing live theater (14 percent).
c.. Of the same group of travelers, 29 percent (26.7 million) added extra time to their trip because of a cultural activity or event, pumping more dollars into local economies. Of the 26.7 million travelers who added time:
a.. 61 percent added part of one day
b.. 30 percent added one night
c.. 5 percent added two extra nights
d.. 4 percent added three or more extra nights
Characteristics of Cultural Tourists

According to the TIA 1998 National Travel Survey, travelers who include cultural events on their trips differ from other U.S. travelers in a number of ways. They are more likely to:

a.. Have higher average household incomes: $48,000 vs. $37,000
b.. Have completed college: 41% vs. 32%
c.. Have managerial or professional occupations: 31% vs. 24%

In 1997, the TIA released a landmark report, The Profile of Travelers Who Participate in Historic and Cultural Activities, profiling the cultural tourist. It documented that compared to all U.S. travelers, those who participate in a cultural event: a.. Spend more money ($615 per trip) than the average U.S. traveler ($425)
b.. Are more likely to stay at a hotel, motel or bed and breakfast (56 percent) than the average U.S. traveler (42 percent)
c.. Travel for longer periods of time: 4.7 nights vs. 3.3 nights
d.. Are more likely to have a graduate degree: 21% vs. 18%
e.. Are more likely to spend over $1,000 when they travel: 17% vs. 11%

A series of reports in 2001 by the Travel Industry Association of America reveal the following:

Adventure travelers are everywhere. One-half of U.S. adults, or 98 million people, have taken an adventure trip in the past five years. This includes 31 million adults who engaged in hard adventure activities like whitewater rafting, scuba diving and mountain biking. Adventure travelers are more likely to be young, single and employed compared to all U.S. adults.

Biking vacations attracted more than 27 million travelers in the past five years and they rank as the third most popular outdoor vacation activity in America (following camping and hiking). People who take biking trips tend to be young and affluent. About have are between the ages of 18 and 34 and one-fourth are from households with an annual income of $75,000 or more. More than 80% of biking travelers took a camping trip in the past five years and 72% took hiking trips in the past five years.

Garden Tours. Nearly 40 million Americans or one-fifth of U.S. residents (20%) went on a garden tour, visited a botanical garden, attended a gardening show or festival, or participated in some other garden-related activity in the past five years. College graduates (33%), travelers with an annual household income of $75,000 or more $33%), residents of the New England census region (31%), married travelers (28%) and travelers 55-64 years of age (28%) are most likely to take in a garden-related activity while traveling.

From a report of The Ecotourism Society (now the International Ecotourism Society:

ECOTOURISM STATISTICAL FACT SHEET General Tourism Statistics The World Tourism Organization (WTO) estimaties that there were more than 595 million international travelers in 1997. Spending by these tourists was estimated at more than US$425 billion. Tourist arrivals are predicted to grow by an average 4.3% a year over the next two decades, while receipts from international tourism will climb by 6.7% a year.

The Ecotourism Market Market Placement Ecotourism is a nature based form of specialty travel defined by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) as “responsible travel to natural areas which conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of local people.” This definition has been widely accepted, but does not serve as a functional definition for gathering statistics. No global initiative presently exists for the gathering of ecotourism data. Ecotourism should be considered a specialty segment of the larger nature tourism market.

The Size of the Market

Ceballos-Lascurain (1993) reports a WTO estimate that nature tourism generaties 7% of all international travel expenditure (Lindberg, 1997). The World Resources Institute (1990) found that while tourism overall has been growing at an annual rate of 4%, nature travel is increasing at an annual rate between 10% and 30% (Reingold, 1993). Data which supports this growth rate is found in Lew’s (1997) survey of tour operators in the Asia-Pacific region who have experienced annual growth raties of 10% to 25% in recent years (Lindberg, 1997).

Fillion (1994) outlines the magnitude of the ecotourism market through the use of general tourism statistics. Fillion qualifies ecotourism as “travel to enjoy and appreciate nature”. In the opinion of TIES this more closely represents nature tourism, and is identified as such on the table below. Fillion identified, through an analysis of inbound tourist motivations to different worldwide destinations, that 40-60% of all international tourists are nature tourists and that 20-40% are wildlife-related tourists. (Different multipliers were used in these figures.) Nature tourists can be defined as tourists visiting a destination to experience and enjoy nature, and wildlife-related visitors can be defined as tourists visiting a destination to observe wildlife (e.g. bird-watchers).

Total International Tourism Arrivals Nature Tourists Wildlife-related Tourists 1988 – 393 million 157-236 million 79-157 million 1994 – 528.4 million 211-317 million 106-211 million Total International Direct Economic Impact * Nature Tourists Wildlife-related Tourists 1988 – US$388 billion US$93-223 billion US$47-155 billion 1994 – US$416 billion US$166-250 billion US$83-166 billion

* Total International Direct Economic Impact = money spent on travel by tourists traveling abroad.

Ecotourist Market Profile

Based on data collected by a survey completed by HLA and ARA consulting firms of North American travel consumers, TIES has constructed the following ecotourist market profile. Age: 35 – 54 years old, although age varied with activity and other factors such as cost. Gender: 50% female and 50% male, although clear differences by activity were found. Education: 82% were college graduaties, a shift in interest in ecotourism from those who have high levels of education to those with less education was also found, indicating an expansion into mainstream markets.

Household composition: no major differences were found between general tourists and experienced ecotourists.** Party composition: a majority (60%) of experienced ecotourism respondents stated they prefer to travel as a couple, with only 15% stating they preferred to travel with their families, and 13% preferring to travel alone. Trip duration: the largest group of experienced ecotourists (50%) preferred trips lasting 8-14 days. Expenditure: experienced ecotourists were willing to spend more than general tourists, the largest group (26%) stating they were prepared to spend $1,001- $1,500 per trip. Important elements of trip: Experienced ecotourists top three responses were: (1) wilderness setting, (2) wildlife viewing, (3) hiking/trekking. Motivations for taking next trip: Experienced ecotourists top two responses were (1) enjoy scenery/nature, (2) new experiences/places.

** Experienced ecotourists = Tourists that had been on at least one “ecotourism” oriented trip. Ecotourism was defined in this study as nature/adventure/culture oriented travel.

Statistics for Ecotourism Destinations

The United States Travel Data Center 1992 travel survey indicated that 7% (8 million) of US travelers had taken at least one ecotourism trip and 30% (35 million) claimed they would take one within the next three years, therefore potentially some 43 million US adults will have taken an ecotourism trip between 1992 and 1995 (Cook, Stewart and Repass, 1992).

Travel to the United Staties National Parks Service areas generated direct and indirect economic impact for local communities of US$14.2 billion and supported almost 300,000 tourist-related jobs during 1996. It is unknown what portion of these visitors represented participation in ecotourism activities (Tourism Works for America, 1997).

A joint survey by government agencies and the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association shows that in the United Staties 54 million people took part in birdwatching in 1994, a 157% increase over the 21 million counted in 1982-83 (Gustaitis, 1997). In a 1994 study of North American travel consumers, 77% had already taken a vacation involving activities related to nature, outdoor adventure, or learning about another culture in the countryside or wilderness. Of the 23% remaining who had not, all but one respondent stated that they were interested in doing so (Wight, 1996).

In Nepal there has been an explosion of trekking tourism over the last two decades. From 1980 to 1991, the number of trekkers increased 255% (Wight, from Gurung and De Corsey, 1994). In Costa Rica, one of the top ecotourism destinations in the world during the 1990s, tourism arrivals totaled over 781 thousand in 1996. More than 66% of all tourists traveling in Costa Rica during 1996 visited a natural protected area (Instituto Costarricense de Turismo, 1996).

In Honduras, experts estimate that the number of nature-loving visitors grew nearly 15% (for a total of 200,000 tourists) in 1995; a 13-15% increase in visitor numbers was anticipated for 1996 (Dempsey, 1996).

From 1983 to 1993 visitor arrivals to Kenya grew by 45% (372,000 to 826,000). The Kenya Wildlife Service (1995) estimaties that 80% of Kenya’s tourist market is drawn by wildlife and that the tourism industry generaties one-third of the country’s foreign exchange earnings. Revenue from Kenya’s wildlife parks increased to Ksh. 711 million in 1995. (In 1997 US$1=60KSH.)


The ARA Consulting Group The Marine Building 355 Burrand, Suite 350 Vancouver, British Columbia V6C 2G8 Canada Tel: 604-681-7577 / Fax: 604-669-7390

Journal of Travel Research University of Colorado Campus 420 Boulder, Colorado 80309-0420 USA Tel: 303-492-8227 / Fax: 303-492-3620 Tourism Works for America Council 1100 New York Avenue, NW, Suite 450 Washington, D.C. 20005-3934 USA Tel: 202-408-8422 / Fax: 202-408-1255

E-mail: [email protected] U.S. Travel Data Center 1100 New York Avenue NW #450 Lafayette Center #800 Washington D.C. 20005-3934 USA Tel: 202-408-1832 / Fax: 202-293-3155

World Tourism Organization Capitan Haya, 42 28020 Madrid, SPAIN


Cook, Suzanne D., Elizabeth Stewart and Kelly Repass (1992) Discover America: Tourism and the Environment. Washington, D.C.: The US Travel Data Center for the Travel Industry Association of America and Discover America Implementation Task Force.

Dempsey, Mary (1996) “Turtles and Tourists Get Special Attention.” Profiles, The Magazine of Continental Airlines, April: 17.

Fillion, Fern L., Foley, James P., and Jacquemot, Andre J. (1992) “The Economics of Global Ecotourism.” Paper presented at the Fourth World Congress on National Parks and Protected Areas, Caracas, Venezuela, February 10-21, 1992.

Gustaitis, Rasa (1997) “Catering to Wild Desires.” California Coast & Ocean, Summer, 13(2): 2-5.

KWS Tourism Development Policy and Pricing Study: Tourism Development Plan and Strategy: Draft Final Report. Kenya Wildlife Service, July 1995.

Lindberg, K., Furze, B., Staff, M., Black, R. (1997) Ecotourism in the Asia-Pacific Region: Issues and Outlook. Bennington, VT: The International Ecotourism Society.

Reingold, Lester (1993) “Identifying the Elusive Ecotourist.”

Going Green: A Supplement to Tour & Travel News, October 25: 36-37.

Tourism Works for America Council (1997) Tourism Works for America: 1997 Report.

Wight, Pamela A. (1996) “North American Ecotourists: Market Profile and Trip Characteristics.” Journal of Travel Research. Spring, 24(4): 2-10.

Ecotourism Statistical Fact Sheet The International Ecotourism Society, 1998 The International Ecotourism Society

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