Wednesday, 30 January 2008

An attempt to define "mass tourism"

Who can tell what
mass tourism really is?

Mallorca, Cancún, Pattaya – all those place are commonly referred as destinations with a massive influx of tourists. The phenomenon is known as mass tourism, and almost everybody who has ever gone on holiday is able to place a picture tag to this word.

However, when digging deeper into the occurrence, the observant reader is quite quickly faced with a dilemma: no definition seems to exist as to what mass tourism really is, what it actually means and what its characteristics are in order to distinguish it from other forms of tourism!

No definition of mass tourism is currently postulated

Wikipedia describes mass tourism rather unspecified as the “accumulated appearance of tourists in a special destination”. The World Tourism Organization UNWTO, usually the main provider of academic research in the field, does not propose a definition on its websites, neither does the World Travel & Tourism Council.

A number of sources attempt a description by referring to the timely relation with the leisure tourism boom in the 1960s and 70s to the Mediterranean, specifically the island of Mallorca. Others use descriptors for the frame of mind of the tourists themselves, attributing them with passivity, lack of preparation, hurriedness or no interest in local customs. Again others start by listing symptoms in supposedly affected areas such as large constructions, shopping areas, foreign languages, noise or garbage. And even the late Pope Paul II joined in the chorus of branding mass tourism back in 2001, without clearly stating his understanding of what it actually is.

While many examples exist for alternative forms of tourism as opposed to a mass phenomenon (e.g. sustainable tourism, eco-tourism, slow tourism, soft tourism, responsible tourism), no one appears to have bothered with a clear definition of what these new forms should differ from?

And when taking a closer look at alternative forms of tourism, it becomes pretty quickly obvious that each one of them is able to produce the same or even worse effects than mass tourism – it only depends on the relative or absolute numbers or participants.

Critics of the tendency to differentiate forms of tourism state that alternative tourism is only a more budgetary version of mass tourism. Others consider that almost all tourism is produced in masses, with some destinations already having moved over to the phenomenon of mega-mass tourism. So who is right and who is wrong? How can mass tourism be identified individually to a destination in which it takes place?

Approaching a definition of mass tourism

Several paths present themselves as possible approaches to defining mass tourism. Sheer quantity of tourists certainly plays a part. The intensity of the visitors in their interaction with local conditions must be considered. Yet an important approach appears to lie in the concept of carrying capacity, which defines the limits of usage of social, ecological and economic resources. And another factor of influence lies in the temporary or permanent character of the occurring impacts.

When taking all these trains of thought into consideration, a central question related to the impacts of mass tourism appears to emerge: Does tourism in a destination corrupt the local system irreversibly by exceed the carrying capacity? And if so, how can that be measured and in what way?

Carrying capacity has always been a critical issue when it comes to establishing definite limits or guidelines for a maximum use of resources. It must be taken as a fact that no absolute indicators can be established to measure the impacts of tourism activity. Better than relying only on concrete quantitative facts and figures, a certain qualitative aspect will have to be involved, especially in the case of a mass tourism definition.

Setting up of four evaluation criteria

This needs to be kept in mind when drawing up a definition attempt. For the purpose of this task, only the occurrence of leisure tourism
as opposed to business tourism, which constitutes a separate and albeit different form of travelling – is taken into consideration.

In order to tackle the issue, an attempt is made to define the resulting impacts of non-mass leisure tourism. The following four criteria have been established, with each needing to be necessarily fulfilled from a quantitative and qualitative point of view. In case of non-fulfillment of only one of them, the existing phenomenon is consequently considered to fall under the term of mass tourism.

1.) The local culture remains intrinsic, i.e. is also displayed in absence of tourism.
2.) The local environmental impacts can be mitigated, i.e. their appearance causes no permanent damage.
3.) The local economic system remains independent, i.e. it also functions without tourism activity.
4.) The majority of the tourists shows interest in genuine local surrounding, i.e. they have an intention to learn about history, culture and people.

The first three criteria can – to a good extent – be underlain by quantitative indicators that are measured once in the presence and once the absence of tourism. A subsequent comparison between them indicates whether the criteria can be considered as ‘fulfilled’ or ‘not fulfilled’. As previously stated, this requires a certain qualitative element or expert opinion, as unbiased as possible.

More complex is the fourth criterion. It starts out from the assumption that the mere contact with foreign people is not solely responsible for a negative impact. Rather, it is the attitude of those people that proves to be the decisive factor: if they are in their major part only interested in their own good, they tend to ignore the world that surrounds them; should they, on the other hand, be interested in the salutary character of their stay in the destination, they respect and learn from their surrounding.

This aspect has a central importance in delineating carrying capacity and thereby in defining mass tourism. In order to make it measurable, a threshold of half of the tourists in a destination is suggested as a required minimum. Should more than those 50% of tourists be typically in search of their own good, the criterion is proposed to be considered as not fulfilled and the occurrence should not be regarded as non-mass leisure tourism: it is a mass tourism destination.

In order to make these rather theoretical concepts and the criteria more plausible, two illustrative examples are given.

Mount Everest National Park

1.) It can be safely assumed that the local culture would also be displayed in the total absence of tourism, as it is done e.g. during the off-season winter and summer months.
2.) While some environmental impacts are significant, most experts would agree that a certain time frame would provide enough time for recovery.
3.) The local economic system would be shaken by the absence of tourism, but it would not collapse; rather, it would force alternative means of income generation.
The majority of the trekkers visiting the National Park does so out of a genuine interest for the nature in combination with the local culture and history.

=> In concordance with the above provided definition, the Mount Everest National Park can be regarded a non-mass leisure tourism destination


1.) While certainly some events and festivities are staged for tourism purposes, it is almost certain that culture would continue to exist also without tourists.
2.) Some of the environmental impacts attributed directly or indirectly to tourism development are certainly critical; however, it can be assumed that a mitigation or compensation of the damage done could be applied.
3.) Tourism is a major pillar of the economy, bringing about 15% of the GDP; a cessation of this income would certainly have a negative impact, especially in some beach areas, but it would probably not bring make the entire national economy disintegrate.
4.) More than 50% of tourist arrivals to Barbados come by cruise ships. During their short-term visit of a few hours, it can be safely assumed that their prime interest is not aimed at authentic local culture and people.

=> Despite the not predominantly negative effects on carrying capacity, Barbados should to be regarded as a mass tourism destination

Closing remarks

The author is clearly aware that the above stated remarks, suggestions and interpretations constitute not the end, but rather the beginning of a discussion on how to define mass tourism. While it remains certainly remarkable that one of the predominant phenomena of the tourism industry does not have a clear and delineated definition, an investigation into the matter quickly shows the complexity and the difficulties in the issue.

Any comments, remarks or criticism – positive or negative – is gladly welcome and will be used to further refine and define the concept of mass tourism.

Andreas Hauser

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Destination Report: Old Town Jeddah

The Bride of the Red Sea –
Jeddah’s Mesmerising Old Town

One of the best-kept secrets of Saudi Arabia lies entangled between a bustling port, a busy road system, modern shopping malls and a residential area: the Old Town of Jeddah.

What began around 2,500 years ago as a small fishing settlement, gained major importance as the port for the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. Originally fortified with a high wall to fight off attackers, the 1.5
km² area constitutes today the largest historically grown urban fabric of the entire Arabian Peninsula.

View of the Old Town of Jeddah

Little Squares Dot the Streets

Most of the houses in Old Jeddah are 3- to 4-storey buildings, although some constructions tower up to seven stories high over the cobbled streets. Many of the tall and graceful buildings date back to the 19th century. Constructed of coral limestone and decorated with intricately beautiful wooden facades, they form the main attraction of the Old Town.

One of the Most Beautiful Buildings in Jeddah

A 5-Storey Wooden Facade

Jeddah’s first big boom began in 1869 with the opening of the Suez Canal. The ensuing trade activity linked the city with ports in Europe, the Mediterranean, the Arab World, Africa and via India onto Asia.

Economic wealth ensued and laid the foundation for the rich merchant houses in the town. Still some of the city’s heydays as a commercial hub along the Red Sea can be seen today, although in varying state of preservation.

A Wonderfully Renovated House...

... and its Crumbling Neighbour

With the discovery of oil, the second big boom for Jeddah started in 1947 when the town had no more than 30,000 inhabitants. Today, its size has grown by the factor 100, leading to an estimated population of over 3 million.

It stretches out over 80 km between the sea to the West and the mountains in the East and Modern constructions have since taken over the role of meeting places or commercial areas for most of the population.

The Urban Sprawl of Modern Jeddah

However, the souq of Old Jeddah is still a most fascinating place to wander around during a winter day or on hot summer evening. And when taking into view one of the old houses, with the aroma of the spice shops around and the sound of haggling in the air, one can easily travel back in time and sense the atmosphere of Old Jeddah.

Street Life in the Old Souq

Prayer Carpets in All Forms and Colours

A truly marvellous and authentic experience in a modernized world.

Andreas Hauser

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Hidden Hotel Gems: Vienna

roomz –
Budget Design Hotel

Finding a good, clean and affordable accommodation in a major city always poses a challenge. Especially the words “budget” and “design” tended to be mutually exclusive – but this is now history.

The self-proclaimed roomz budget design hotel opened its doors in Vienna in September 2007. The claims are high: to provide a high-class ambience for people in motion at a competitive price. And it can be said that it delivers.

Stylish Look from the Outside
© lm hüller

300 rooms houses the stylish new hotel in close proximity to the new shopping and entertainment centre Gasometer. Metro access to the city centre of Vienna is frequent and takes no more than ten minutes. Parking spaces are cheaply available. But while location and transport infrastructure is one major aspect, the real appeal of roomz lies in the combination of design, furnishing and price.

A Welcoming Atmosphere Awaits
© lm hüller

Innovative architecture follows clear design and color schemes throughout the hotel. The rooms are freshly decorated, they look new and appealing, and the bathrooms are a pleasure to be in. TV flat screens are a matter of course and even the breakfast is lavish and plentiful.

Bar and Reception in Style
© lm hüller

And with room rates starting from EUR59 for a double
(excluding breakfast), the price/performance ratio of roomz is simply splendid, be it for business or for holiday travellers.

So all in all: a clear recommendation!

roomz vienna
Paragonstrasse 1
1110 Vienna / Austria
Reservations: +43 (1) 74 31 777

Andreas Hauser

Monday, 14 January 2008

Public-Private Partnership

The Key to Successful PPPs

Challenges in Public-Private Partnerships

PPPs have become a well-established tool to join forces between the public and the private sector. While worldwide experience shows a high success rate in large-scale development projects, a certain ratio of failures or less profitable ventures is inevitable.

The main driver for reaching the established objectives lies in assuring the right equilibrium between the public sector interests (usually low- or non-yield activities) and the benefits of the private sector (typically mid- or high-yield activities). By establishing a firm regulatory framework and an efficient monitoring scheme, these obstacles can be overcome.

The need to clearly define tasks and strictly enforce responsibilities becomes a key factor especially in commodities of daily life such as power, transport, fresh water or solid waste. They are categorized as “public needs”, where the state-owned entities must retain a leading role in securing their availability and the affordability. By transferring too much decision-making power to the private partners, negative results in quality and quantity of the services often follows, especially in long-term investments like maintenance or new technologies.

Positive PPP experiences worldwide

England is considered the mother country of the PPP concept with a total of 700 projects at a volume of UK£53bn since 1993. Failures in the area of health care supply or the recent case of Metronet’s financial problems certainly show the risks of joint undertakings. However, it must be noted that around 75% of all PPP projects are realized within their planned time and budget frames – a figure three times higher than in conventional state projects.

When looking at the service sector, to which tourism and specifically waterfront developments can be counted, the success rate comes to even higher numbers. These projects fulfil some of the key criteria identified in best-practice examples worldwide: mutual private and public interest; pilot projects with multiplier effects; investment volume over US$50mn. Examples from various Middle East countries confirm the high level of market acceptance of the model: Saadiyat Island / Abu Dhabi; Dubailand / Dubai; The Wave Muscat / Oman; or Mina Al-Arab / Ras Al-Khaimah.

Key success factors

The PPP approach is a most promising when centred around growth sectors like tourism or real estate. Joint interests of the public and the private sector foster the financing and the development of partnership initiatives. Of utmost importance is a clear distribution of tasks and responsibilities, usually done on the basis of standard contractual agreements.

Especially in tourist and leisure developments, the knowledge of the market demand and the access to target groups are core competences of the private sector – and when partnered with the support from public institutions, the outcome is very likely to create economic benefits for all partners including the local population.

Andreas Hauser