The era of the ‘alternative’

The concept and dynamics of ‘mass tourism’ with its associated problems as portrayed in The Golden Hordes (Turner and Ash, 1975) have been interpreted as phenomena in need of critical analysis. In the search to minimize the problems thrown up by mass tourism and for a conceptual framework which is more destination friendly (Weiler and Davis, 1993) new ideas of what tourism should be have emerged. These ideas have also increasingly found favor in postmodern societies, in search of ‘the alternative’ as a means of giving new meaning and values to social order, and a form of self-identification. The notion of the new ‘consumer with a social and environmental conscience’ extend to buying holidays, as well as buying toilet paper or cosmetics. There s little doubt that the tourism market has become greener in response to this trend in society of heightened environmental awareness and environmental concern. Wright (1993) states that the consumer market is ‘becoming greener or more environmentally sensitive’ and a recent poll demonstrated that 85% of the industrialized world’s citizens believe that the environment is the number one public issue facing the world today. In the UK as survey carried out by Crown-Burge (Smith and Jenner, 1989) found that 40% of the population expressed concern about the destruction of the environment, almost as many as were worried about AIDS. Consumers are demanding alternative forms of products and this has presented the opportunity and need for the tourism industry to respond to this market-led approach.

Alternative tourism also implies that a form of tourism is being developed which is more environmentally friendly, in both its physical and cultural form, than the mass tourism that went before it. Sometimes the alternative forms merge together to be represented as the new form of tourism that will make its development sustainable, through minimising damage to resources and allowing for their future replenishment. Under this generic form of alternative, we can introduce a number of other tourism terminologies including: eco, green, rural, farm, sports and adventure. Within them, there seems to be environmental balance than the existing model of mass tourism. The implication is that by promoting forms of ‘alternative tourism’ or calling ourselves ‘alternative tourists’ we are encouraging a type of tourism that is ‘better’ and more ‘sustainable’ than what has gone before it.
Cater (1993:85) describes most of the characteristics of alternative tourism as being in direct contrast to those of conventional mass tourism. She states: ‘Activities are likely to be small scale, locally owned with consequently low impact, leakages and a high proportion of profits retained locally. These contrast with the large-scale multinational concerns typified by high leakages which characterise mass tourism’.
An important difference about alternative tourism, vis-a-vis mass tourism, is that it is smaller scale. For example, in place of the International Hilton or the Hyatt, smaller hotels and pensions would be developed. The actual supply of beds and rooms may total the same number as a grand hotel but, by implication, ownership is likely to be of a more local and indigenous nature. In turn this should mean a higher retention of revenues locally, employment of more local people, and a higher demand for locally produced goods and services.
Alternative tourism therefore poses a threat to, or at least offers another variety of, metatourism. Although destinations may still be dependent upon the core for their tourist markets, the ownership will be more local than in the more traditional forms of metatourism dominated by transnational corporations. By implication, this form of alternative tourism development will require a high input of planning and regulation so as not to replicate the spontaneous development seen around the Mediterranean coastline and other areas of the world, where local ownership may be high, but many destinations have suffered the ‘boom-bust’ experience.
Source: Burns and Holden, TOURISM a new perspective, 1995

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