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Definitions of Tourism Essay

Tourism is a booming industry and a driving force in positive economical, ecological, sustainable, social and cultural developments in several countries around the globe. Its complex nature requires sophisticated management in order to reach its full potential. Most people possess an intuitive and basic understanding of tourism, which focuses on an image of people travelling for recreational purposes, however, tourism, goes far beyond this simplistic view. According to Stear (2005), the area of studying tourism has an apparent lack of substance when it comes to defining the basic terms ‘tourism’ and ‘tourist’.

Although the concept of tourism itself has been around for many centuries, the academic study of tourism in the tertiary educational sector is a recent development. There is no single definition of tourism to which everyone adheres. Many definitions have been used over the years, some of which are universal and can be applied to any situation, while others fulfil a specific purpose. This essay aims to define who exactly a ‘tourist’ is and what the term ‘tourism’ means through technical and heuristic definitions from articles written by Stear (2005), Dickman (1997), and McIntosh et al (1995).

Throughout the essay definitions from organisations such as the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) will also be drawn upon. The ambiguity of two seemingly simple concepts in theory – who a tourist is and what tourism entails – will be discussed through a range of academic articles, which will address and highlight the strengths, weaknesses and differences between them. The foci and boundaries of each definition will be determined in order to assess their effectiveness. Whilst each definition is unique in their own right, there are also many similarities, which can be noted.

Weaver (2010) states that “the definition of ‘tourism’ is dependent on the definition of the ‘tourist’ and when defining whom exactly is a ‘tourist’, individuals must simultaneously meet certain spatial, temporal and purposive criteria”, which will be discussed below. First and foremost, Stear (2005) defines tourism as “…Tourism is travel and temporary stay, involving at least one night away from the region of a person’s usual home that is undertaken with the major expectation of satisfying leisure needs that are perceived as being more njoyably able to be satisfied by being at places outside of, and qualitatively different to, the home region ” (Stear 2005, pg. 8).

Stear also has a clear definition of a tourist, which he refers to as “… A tourist is a person engaging in activities directly associated with present or future travel and temporary stay that involves at least one night away from the region of their usual home that is undertaken with the major expectation of satisfying leisure needs that are perceived as being more enjoyably able to be satisfied by places outside of, and qualitatively different to, the home region. (Stear 2005, pg. 11) A clear fault of Stear’s heuristic definitions of ‘tourism’ and ‘tourist’ is the limitation or restriction of the time period of “at least one night away”, in which Stear fails to take into account the temporal element of tourism. The notion of how long, if any time at all, that must be spent away from one’s usual home is an aspect, which is not uniform amongst definitions of tourism. Another weakness of Stear’s definitions is the limitation of “the region of a person’s usual home”, which implies that physically moving away from your home would make you a tourist.

According to the UNWTO (cited in Weaver, 2010), for an individual to qualify as a tourist “travel must occur beyond the individual’s ‘usual environment’”. The spatial boundary of tourism as discussed by Weaver (2010) is unclear in this instance as an individual who lives in Sydney but stays in Canberra during the week for work would then be considered a tourist under this definition. Whilst Stear’s (2005) definition states a minimum stay requirement to be considered a tourist, it does not state a maximum timeframe, unlike that of other definitions, which clearly state a maximum period of time before someone loses the title of ‘tourist’.

The UNWTO (1995) provides a more technical definition and defines tourism as an individual “travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business and other purposes. ” This definition is broader in scope compared to Stear’s (2005), which specifies that an individual who travels is only a tourist when their travel is “undertaken with the major expectation of satisfying leisure needs. ” The UNWTO definition (cited in Weaver, 2010) is complemented by Dickman’s (1997, pg. 7) who identifies a tourist as “…a visitor who travels to a place utside his/her usual environment for at least one night but no more than six months (domestic) or one year (international) and whose main purpose of visit is other than the exercise of an activity remunerated from within the place visited” and tourism as “…a non-essential activity, or one that is predominantly related to leisure activities” (Dickman, 1997 pg. 7). Compared to Stear’s (2005) definition of tourism, Dickman’s (1997) heuristic definition is very brief and extremely vague as spatial relevance and time period are both not addressed.

Furthermore, Dickman’s (1997) definition is limited as it only refers to the activity side of tourism whereas Leiper (2004) discusses a basic tourism system involving the tourist, the generating region, the transit route, the destination and the movement in between. Despite this limitation, a major strength of Dickman’s (1997) definition is that it defines and takes into consideration the differences between domestic and international tourists.

This comparison has also been addressed by Weaver (2010) who declares that a domestic tourist is one that travels within their own country of residence, whilst an international tourist travels outside their usual country of residence. The third and final authors McIntosh et al. (1995) describes tourism as “…the entire world industry of travel, hotels, transportations, and all other components, including promotion, that serves the needs and wants of travellers. Tourism today has been given new meaning and is primary a term of economics referring to the industry”.

On the other hand, ‘tourist’ is defined as “…a person who travels from place to place for non work reasons by U. N. definition, a tourist is someone who stays for more than one night and less than a year. Business and convention travel is included. This thinking is dominated by balance-of-trade concepts. Military personnel, diplomats, immigrants and resident students are not tourists” (McIntosh et al. , 1995). The heuristic definition above of ‘tourism’ incorporates the industry as a whole, which is a major strength in comparison to the other definitions, hich only take into account the physical act of travelling.

The tourism industry is not identifiable as a standard industry but is rather an amalgamation of parts of other conventional industries such as retail, hospitality, accommodation, entertainment and transport (Weaver, 2010). The incorporation of ‘tourism’ as an industry takes on a different approach to defining tourism and makes finding a clarified and universal meaning for ‘tourism’ and ‘tourist’ even more complicated. McIntosh et al. 1995) refer to the tourist in a very specific manner including different types of tourists such as business tourists, which is a strong point, as a tourist can’t be just defined in one aspect.

According to Weaver (2010), “a basic tourist criterion concerns travel purpose which is dominated by three major categories – leisure and recreation, visiting friends and relative and business. ” Compared to Stear (2005) and Dickman’s (1997) narrow definitions, McIntosh et al. (1995) have a much broader, flexible view on defining tourism and the tourist. In both definitions of ‘tourist’ Dickman (1997) and McIntosh et al. 1995) describe an individual moving out of their ‘usual environment’, which is considered a key element in the definition. Weaver (2010) supports this definition in his discussion of fulfilling the spatial component in order to be considered a tourist. Whilst this is considered a highly subjective concept, many tourism bodies specify minimum distance thresholds, which “serve the useful purpose of [differentiating] those who bring outside revenue into the local area from those who circulate revenue internally” (Weaver, 2010, pg. 22-23).

When reviewing the definition by McIntosh et al. 1995), a key downfall is the reference to ‘resident students’ not being considered tourists, which can be questioned. An international student may wish to travel overseas first to experience the culture of the country they plan on studying in, however under this definition, even if they wish to take part in and visit tourist attractions which are recreational and leisure based they aren’t considered tourists. Most people do not intuitively associate study or formal education with tourism however it is considered a qualifying criterion by the UNWTO.

In Australia alone, in 2007-08 international students accounted for around 7% of all inbound arrivals (Weaver, 2010, pg. 29). In conclusion, the complicated task of defining two simple terms ‘tourism’ and ‘tourist’ has been made somewhat clearer through the definitions provided by Stear (2005), Dickman (1997) and McIntosh et al. (1995). Whilst all three authors have different perspectives on how to define these terms, they also have a few aspects that seem to cross over.

Considering all the definitions by the three authors Stear (2005), Dickman (1997) and McIntosh et al. 1995) it is hard to argue which definition is more just and accurate than the other as they all have their strengths and weaknesses. From the research conducted, Stear’s (2005) definition of a ‘tourist’ is the most flexible and relevant in the context of today’s society however; Dickman’s (1997) definition of ‘tourism’ is most accurate as it incorporates the entire tourism industry and not just the physical act of traveling. Ultimately, ‘tourist’ and ‘tourism’ are indefinable as we all have our own personal views and perspectives on which definitions fit the context of the situation.


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