Tourism’s Landscape of Knowledge



by | Dec 25, 2002

Tourism research and scholarship is a fairly new interdisciplinary field, and I hope to offer an abbreviated pastiche of this expanding field of knowledge, culled from my own experience. I’m using my own entrance to and journey through tourism scholarship as the basis for streamlined comments and observations on the subject. Although not my style, I’m writing this article in the first person. The format and overall scope were suggested by the editor of ReVista, to which I agreed, especially upon learning that it would be published in the issue devoted to tourism studies. I always welcome opportunities that allow discussion of advancements in this field with outside audiences, such as those typically reached by ReVista.

Tourism as an industry has a long and illustrious history to its own credit. Among other things, it traces its evolution from early days when a privileged few traveled once in a life time, to eras when this practice became relatively more popular due to improved economic conditions and increased knowledge of other peoples and places, to times when technology (particularly transportation) took its many small and giant leaps, and to the present when mass tourism is experienced in practically all countries, either as generating markets, receiving destinations, or both. In 2000, according to published sources, some 698 million international tourists spent $476 billion to see the world. Significantly this volume excludes domestic tourism practiced within national boundaries, which actually constitutes the bulk of what this industry represents globally.

This continuous growth and expansion over many centuries eventually led to an initially modest vista which revealed tourism as a field of investigation, a phenomenon to be studied and understood. Its emergence, as a thrust or a by-product, became more evident after World War II, when many countries (re)discovered the industry as a tool for rebuilding and re-energizing tired and exhausted economies. During the post-war years, particularly in the 60s, studies championed tourism chiefly for its economic properties, such as its contribution to growth and development, its ability to generate jobs, and its “natural” disposition to earn foreign exchange, badly needed to import goods and services for economic diversification. Elsewhere I have labeled this monodisciplinary treatment and somewhat orchestrated voice as the Advocacy Platform for the industry, which broadcast (and is still doing so) all that is considered good about it and hence advocating its worldwide development and expansion.

This one-sided economic position led to the Cautionary Platform, representing studies and views which argue that tourism is not all benefits and, significantly, comes with many sociocultural and even economic costs. Researchers mostly from other social science fields such as anthropology occupied this position. Their resulting publications, especially characteristic of the 70s, mainly focused on the “dark side” of the industry and cautioned host countries against its perceived and documented costs and unwanted consequences.

After the advocacy and cautionary voices were heard, many researchers began to examine different forms of tourism development, arguing that all are not equal and indeed some are more desirable than others. This voice was heard from the Adaptancy Platform, favoring one alternative over another, with its loudest pitch during the 80s. The resulting writings favored such forms as agritourism, cultural tourism, ecotourism, rural tourism, small-scale tourism, sustainable tourism, among others, without forgetting to name mass tourism of today—dominant even during earlier decades—as a form or alternative in its own right.

These three voices, at times being heard simultaneously—both then and today—led to the formation of the Knowledge-based Platform in the 90s. This development marks the beginning of an informed visionary mission of utilizing scientific research processes for a scientification journey into the landscape of knowledge that was unorchestratedly and fragmentedly formed during years preceding it. By this time, the advocacy, cautionary, and adaptancy positions had been articulated and their combined terrains formed the basis of the fourth platform which favored a holistic/multidisciplinary treatment and understanding of tourism: to reveal its structures and functions, to formulate concepts or theories that explain it, to apply research tools and methods which best suggest its nature and substance, and more. This journey of expedition for making pathways into the landscape, marking and mapping its fields, and naming and celebrating its achievements has been marshaled by a growing army of mainly academic researchers. Many are heading every which way, but all intend to expand the knowledge boundaries and to fortify the scientific constitution of the field.

Today’s researchers did not all start their tourism work at the same times and actually each entered the landscape through different “back doors” for diverse stated and unstated reasons. To take my case as an example, its distance vista opened to me with my first job as a tour guide, an activity that by its very nature sees various sectors of the industry interactively. This experience in itself suggested the big picture and the prospects of entering it by studying tourism at university level. In the mid-60s, as no US universities offered degrees in this field, I found my way to Cornell University, where I pursued a BS degree in Hotel Management. Soon it became evident that the day-to-day operational aspects of the hotel sector did not appeal to me. By the time I was a senior, I had decided that graduate school was my game, but not knowing how I could find entrance to fields broader than hotel management, I sought a social sciences approach which would open multidisciplinary perspectives on tourism to me.

Facing the realities of the time, and the unseated position of tourism on U.S. university campuses, I decided to pursue an MS in Hotel Administration at the same institution, but with the intent of reaching out beyond the academic confines of the program, something that my academic advisor enthusiastically accommodated. I selected a minor in international relations and informally worked with a cultural anthropologist on the campus. Probably this amounted to the extent of my outreach without raising unwanted questions from the traditional graduate program in which I was registered. These calculated outreaches afforded me the basic scope and substance for writing a 1973 thesis on the role of tourism in developing countries.

At this juncture, I decided to contribute to the industry by entering the tourism education and training field. Thus, I joined University of Wisconsin-Stout whose Hotel Management program was five years old at the time. I was attracted to this campus because of its willingness to feature tourism in its curriculum. The earlier years of graduate studies had already frustrated me with the single-minded advocacy voices and positions, leading me to strongly feel that a new medium was needed to foster development of other perspectives on tourism, especially the non-economic, whether positive or negative. The missing treatment became the focus and thrust of Annals of Tourism Research, which I started in late 1973, one semester after my entering the teaching field.

As expected, especially the advocacy/industry-oriented players or voices of the time did not receive the journal sympathetically. But then the cautionary platform had gained strength and Annals started receiving increasing attention, almost totally among members of the academic community. After some five years, the strategies of the journal led to the adoption of “A Social Sciences Journal” as its subtitle, to further encourage importation of theories and methods to tourism from these and other related fields. With an obvious tendency to favor research for the sake of research, with or without immediate applications in the industry, Annals parted way from the mainstreams of the time; and with a definite commitment to the formation of knowledge as its raison d’etre, the journal was on its own. The then favored quantitative research methods, used to articulate/substantiate the economic contributions of tourism as an industry, started to make room in Annals for qualitative applications to the sociocultural dimensions of tourism as a phenomenon. Since this quarterly journal did not want to be an advocacy voice, it started with the cautionary and quickly found its way to the knowledge-based platform (almost bypassing the adaptancy calls). During the formative years of Annals, I completed my doctoral studies in cultural anthropology, a discipline which regularly brought nourishment to and inspiration for the journal’s making and shaping.

Now in its 29th year of publication, Annals has some 100 editors from over 30 countries, representing diverse multidisciplinary fields. Its 25th Silver Anniversary Supplement (which appeared in 1998) features its 1973-1998 subject index, as well as a complete list of over 2,000 authors and referees who, together with the editors, represent a dedicated army of “explorers” and “excavators” in this field. In the meantime, many new tourism journals have appeared, with each pushing the frontiers in a different direction, resulting in a fast-growing knowledge-based landscape. Presently some 40 journals are engaged in the scientification journey, as well as a growing population of books. For example, in the early 70s, there were only two or three tourism textbooks. Today, practically every week a few new books appear, produced by some very prestigious publishing houses worldwide. The number is much larger if one accounts for books (and journals) published in other languages.

In addition, other forces have been present and pushing the frontiers outward. For instance, initially tourism associations were doing their part in contributing to applied research. But there was need for a group exclusively committed to the advancement of knowledge in this field, without being necessarily concerned with immediate applications or feeling obligated to please business-oriented audiences. Thus, in the early 80s this need led me to think about the formation of an independent academy. After discussion and work with a circle of recognized tourism scholars for a few years, the International Academy for the Study of Tourism was formed in 1988. Admission to this Academy is judged on the basis of one’s scholarly contribution to the advancement of tourism knowledge, requiring the entire membership to vote on each candidate for admission. With 75 positions as its maximum capacity, presently the Academy has about 70 members from some 25 countries. Its biennial meetings, open to the membership and their invited guests only, have already resulted in several scholarly books.

The production of diverse tourism reference books is another example of the maturation of tourism studies. One primary need was for an academic encyclopedia on the subject. After discussing this idea with a couple of publishers in mid-90s, I committed myself to act as its Chief Editor. Through the efforts of some 25 Associate Editors and over 350 authors worldwide to contribute to the making and shaping of its contents, the Encyclopedia of Tourism finally appeared in 2000. Its 1,200 plus entries (of various length) cover the building blocks of knowledge which structure and explain the study of tourism, more as a field of research than practice. With its publication another goal on this expedition was reached.

To retrace the earlier phases of the journey in order to acknowledge a land-shaping force in the field, during the advocacy era of the 60s only a handful of colleges and universities in the United States and elsewhere offered predominantly hotel management programs. Then suddenly came a shift in favor of combined hotel/tourism curricula and later freestanding tourism programs. These now offer BS, MS, and PhD programs and research opportunities, each acting as an academic fountain flowing into rivers of knowledge, together irrigating multidisciplinary fields for rewarding harvests. The pattern is international and this development is especially striking when compared with the popularity and growth of other fields.

Where is tourism heading from the present vantage point or conquered grounds? As already noted, its rapid growth and development as an industry has received plenty of attention. Its occasional slow-downs in some parts of the world, even as exceptional as the recent incident of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York City, will prove to be short-term pain for long-term gain, especially as governments, policymakers, and citizens of the world are now recognizing its multidimensional global importance. Hearing U.S. policymakers speak on behalf of tourism, and even seeing President Bush in television ads promoting travel and tourism, all suggests how strong the economic poles and fortresses of the industry have become and heading to. But, again, a discussion of tourism as an industry (its present shape and future prospects) belongs to another paper, and so does its full institutionalization in the everyday social fabric of peoples everywhere. What marks the boundaries of this commentary is its focus on tourism as a field of study and scholarship. So what does lie ahead within the already established and outlying academic parameters?

To me, this forward movement will continue zealously, now more than before with a better sense of direction and informed vision. I see more scholarly journals taking their debuts in immediate years ahead, each wanting to carve out and contribute to a niche territory for itself, each trying to compete for a (the) lead position—a necessary academic exercise that should expedite the scientification course of tourism. The number of universities committing to the study will continue to grow, with many accommodating research rather than application of it as their thrusts. Various disciplines, especially social sciences, will more openly adopt tourism as a research area, both on campuses and in various disciplinary membership associations (a process which is already on its way). Other fields or disciplines will (re)discover tourism in new ways, as for example the deep-seated but unexplored relationship of medicine/health care/healthy lifestyle and tourism will be fully explored and exploited. In a different vein, tourism—as a regular importer of knowledge from other fields in order to form its own building blocks—will more forcefully export knowledge to the very fields from which has been generously borrowing, with more heavy flows ahead.

Further, it will become more evident to governments that tourism is not just a trade or an industry, but a phenomenon, a sociocultural right and privilege, a must for healthy life and economy, which must be studied and understood, and its uses and applications should not and cannot be limited to the economic fortune that it reportedly generates. With this recognition, government tourism offices (whether called Ministry, Secretary, or Board of Tourism) will employ people who have studied tourism and understand it both as an industry and a phenomenon, a development that would be a drastic departure from the present profile of their personnel. The industry itself will finally be meeting its academic partner—which it has hardly noticed so far—and will begin to offer energizing support for its maintenance and the fueling of its forward mission, including financing graduate students in this field, funding more specialized endowed chairs, and confidently anchoring upon the multidisciplinary foundation that tourism has amassed during the past few decades.

To conclude, tourism—both as an industry and a sociocultural phenomenon/field of study, with strong national and international economic position and with firm footholds on major university campuses worldwide—is here to stay, with its journey continuing toward its well-deserved summits. The past achievements will soon seem meager as it nears its destined horizons, with many histories to be written to record and celebrate its multidisciplinary scientification, detailing challenges faced, and peaks conquered. This coming of age (with the above undercurrents as examples) promises deserving occasions to celebrate the heightening of scholarship in this academic field.

Winter 2002Volume I, Number 2

Jafar Jafari is Editor-in-Chief of Annals of Tourism Research and Founding President of International Academy for the Study of Tourism. He would like to observe that the substance of this brief paper is in keeping with the invitation extended to him by the editor of ReVista: “Had the same invitation been extended to someone else—to present an outline of the landmarks in his/her academic journey in the field of tourism—a different paper with different examples would have been produced. Although clear, this disclaimer seems especially in order in this burgeoning field of study.”

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