What is Tourism Geography?

There are many theories and definitions to what can be understood through the term of tourism geography and researchers are still debating on what is and isn’t included in this rather large field of study. The content of tourism geography is complex, making a connection between the two concepts of geography and tourism, being rather new compared especially with the term of geography. The beginning of the science can be traced at the beginning of the 20th century, although tourism was being used inside the study of geography long before. By the 1950s, tourism geography began to be accepted as its own domain, especially in scientific works from USA and Germany. The first definitions were pretty vague and incomplete, G. Chabot (1964) stating that geography and tourism are two terms predestined to be joined because every geographer has to necessarily be doubled by the qualities of a tourist and also reciprocally, we can say that in every tourist there is a hidden geographer, because the intelligent tourist is actually a geographer that has not discovered himself. As more and more researchers began to study this new field, the accuracy and depth of the definitions began to improve.

The Role of Tourism Geography

As the importance and popularity of tourism increased, especially in the last two or three decades, becoming one of the biggest industries in the world, so did the role of tourism in geography and its study. While before there were few mentions of tourism related facts in any book or research of geography, today we cannot imagine any geographical descriptions without a separate chapter on tourism. Still rather raw and simple, L. Merlo (1969) considers this science as being a branch of geography that studies the position and appearance of tourist centers, their individual natural and cultural-historical characteristics, the attractions and traditions in the context of the area where they are found, the transportation network assuring the accessibility and the links with other tourist centers. Tourism is essentially a geographical phenomenon, regarding the transfer of people and services through space and time, so a special domain dedicated to the research of the interconnections between tourism and geography was inevitable. Although the scientific field is new, the connections of geography and travel can be traced to ancient times, when geographers had no other way of describing the world than traveling and seeing it for themselves.

The Connect Between Tourism and Geography

The connections between tourism and geography are linked to specific terms such as place, location, space, accessibility, scale and others. This science also has an integrative character, containing key elements from all fields of geography, physical, human and economic. Besides this, tourism geography also has many common points with other sciences, including history, geology, biology, art, economy and so on. In more modern times, the tourism geography has become to achieve a broader definition, regarding the study of the spatial and temporal genesis, repartition and unfolding of the tourism phenomenon, being considered as a complex and specific interaction at the level of the geographic environment. As such, tourism geography studies things like the tourist resources (natural or man-made), the tourism infrastructure (transportation, accommodation, etc.), the types and forms of tourism, the tourist circulation (statistical research), tourist markets, as well as other domains. The areas of geographical interest in tourism are stated by S. Williams (1998), including the effect of scale, spatial distributions of tourist phenomena, tourism impacts, planning for tourism and spatial modeling of tourism development.

Flow map showing the increase in number of tourists around Mount Everest between 1980 (red line) and 2000 (pink).

Flow map showing the increase in number of tourists around Mount Everest between 1980 (red line) and 2000 (pink). © Sémhur / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

There is also another link between the two domains, as the primary factor which attracts tourists to a certain area is geography, with all its specific elements. The interconnections go a lot deeper, as tourists usually choose a certain destination primarily through the perceived experience of that place, as they envision its geographical characteristics, they use means of transportation to travel over the land or water surface, creating what we call tourism fluxes or the tourist circulation. While visiting a certain place, tourists actively discover and appreciate the geography of that place, from the landscapes with their typical forms, to the traditions of the local population, all while benefiting the local economy and using its resources. In conclusion, tourism geography studies the relations between places, landscapes and people, describing travel and tourism as an economic, social and cultural activity. More concisely, it is all about the spatial and temporal dynamics, as well as the interactions between the tourism resources.

Increase in world tourism.  Source: World Tourism Organisation

Increase in world tourism. Source: World Tourism Organisation

Tourism Geography References 

George Chabot (1964) – La Geographie du Tourisme en France, Paris

Luciano Merlo (1969) – Geografia Turistica, Rome

Stephen Williams (1998) – Tourism Geography, Routledge, London

Velvet Nelson (2013) – An Introduction to the Geography of Tourism