11 Pages

Niche tourism: an introduction

WithM. Robinson, M. Novelli

By and large, tourists have readily bought into these complex systems because it makes the processes of holidaying easier. As Chaney (2002: 145) observes ‘tourists are, however, in general conforming – and complacent in their conformity – to the expectations of their role and the programmes of their holiday organisers’. Added to this, tourists, via normative processes of socialisation, have adapted to the holidaying mode through, for example, the frequent experiences of actual and virtual travel and increasing multilinguism (Giddens, 1990). However, tourists would swiftly dismiss any notion that they are merely outputs of some vast interconnected global machinery. The ‘mass-ness’ and complexity involved with the production of contemporary tourism can be contrasted with the individual and intimate experiences that are actually being consumed. What has emerged over recent years is a greater awareness of this amongst the producers of tourism. We can interpret this as symptomatic of a re-fashioning of modernity; a move to postindustrial/post-Fordist economies where consumption no longer follows on from production, but rather drives the production process as consumers increasingly consume material objects, signs and symbols to extract value, meaning, and status (see for instance: Urry, 1992, 1994, 1995; Bocock, 1993; Pretes, 1995; Lury, 1996). Seeing tourism in the context of a wider ‘culture’ of consumption is helpful as it

highlights its role in the processes of social differentiation and status seeking, particularly amongst the ‘new middle classes’. The notion that the market extends beyond the concept of mass tourists as

envisioned by producers is not new of course. Cohen (1972), partly in direct recognition of the growth of the packaged holiday at the time, pointed to a basic two-fold typology of ‘tourism roles’; institutionalised tourists which included the individual mass tourist and organised mass tourist, and non-institutionalised tourists which included ‘explorers’ and ‘drifters’. Whilst it was clear that there was a mass market, Cohen highlighted that tourists had needs beyond this. Broadly this analysis holds true today. Mass tourism continues to dominate and characterise the patterns of tourist flows, but with a larger number of more specialised forms of tourism. Visitors are increasingly interested in visiting the places, as much as in discovering, experiencing, participating in, learning about and more intimately being included in the everyday life of the destinations. Moreover, a larger number of tourists would probably argue themselves out of the ‘mass tourism’ category despite engaging in inclusive tours as they like to see themselves as ‘individuals’ even though they are engaging in ‘mass practices’. Always at the core of tourism, however, are a series of subjective, emotional

experiences that actually begin with the first decision and opportunity to travel. Such experiences vary considerably but all tourists seek them, and have them, whether we are considering young tourists getting drunk in the streets of Ibiza, or tourists confronting the Himalayas, or the Mona Lisa for the first time. In this way, in the context of tourism at least, it becomes more meaningful to avoid speaking of discrete breaks between modernity and post-modernity (Harvey, 1989), or any discrete shifts from so-called ‘mass tourists’, to what Feifer (1985) terms, ‘posttourists’. Though there have clearly been economic and social structural shifts in both the way that tourism is produced and consumed, and there are useful frameworks we can use to understand the shifting meanings of tourism – in real and symbolic terms – it is also important to note the continuity around the nature of tourist experiences.