Rethinking tourism

Hard hit by the covid pandemic, tourism is also constrained by environmental requirements. For their part, social networks are changing our practices, right down to the Instagramming of places and landscapes. And if, to tourism, we had to prefer travel?

From 1950 to 2019, tourism could judge the currency Citius, Altius, Fortiuswhich means Faster, higher, stronger. The covid-19 crisis, which disrupted the pace of growth in tourism, led all stakeholders to deploy new strategies, new offers, for new audiences. Tourism stakeholders did this in a hurry. It seems now is the time for reflection among tourism researchers: reflection on past tourism, tourism in times of covid-19 and possible futures after the pandemic.

This is the ambition of the work of Franck Michel, renowned anthropologist and author of numerous books on tourism. In two stages, he gives us his analysis. It begins with the issues surrounding the journey. Then, he offers some ideas for inventing the world to come.

Memorial, humanitarian or last chance tourism

From the first lines, the author takes a position: tourism is dead, long live travel! According to him, from the Grand Tour until the dawn of XXIe century, the tourism industry has evolved towards its death by crisscrossing the entire Earth, raising destinations, places, sites to the rank of icons, spoiling the space of tourists and over-tourists throughout the planet. Covid-19 brought this tourism growth boom to a sudden halt: in 2019, 1.5 billion international tourists, in 2021, 415 million tourists, i.e. the 1990 level.!

The pandemic has also put the entire tourism industry in difficulty. From airlines to cultural institutions, including accommodation and travel structures, Thomas Cook has laid off 22,000 employees, no actor has been spared. There are several paradoxes. The idea is false that going far brings us knowledge. In fact, mass tourism is concentrated, 95%, on 5% of the plant. We are therefore close to the exhaustion of the few hyper-places, but very far from having seen, met, listened to the world. Unlike a common cliché, digital technology does not make us stay put, but encourages us to move.

All variations of tourism are reviewed. Three categories stand out, but can overlap: experiential tourism where we observe without real participation, experimental tourism where we participate, but where we observe little and, finally, existential tourism where the tourist blends into the indigenous mass.

In addition, there are various tourism themes. For example, memorial tourism changes space as much as time and sometimes flirts with the dark tourism. Humanitarian tourism questions our place and our relationship with developing countries: are we really helping them or are we in a condescending post-colonialist approach?? Last chance tourism (or collapse-tourism) is very questionable, because it involves seeing the Arctic and Antarctica melt and, thus, accelerate their disappearance. On the contrary, green, sustainable and responsible tourism must be questioned: do they radically change tourist practices, or do they only constitute a limited cut from mass tourism??

In a sense, the author sees covid as an opportunity. What he calls for and what he defends is the journey far from tour operators, the encounter with the unknown, the real discovery of others and adventure. It is obviously not a question of resuscitating the trips of the 1970s, whose Backpacker's Guide made himself the banner. Health and environmental constraints undoubtedly lead us to rethink travel, where the difficulty of travel, the slowness of night trains or cycling for example, geographical proximity and nomadic encounters are expressed.

Young people, wishing to travel, are participating in this movement with the different digital platforms allowing coachsurfing, THE woofing or Workaway and HelpX allowing access to volunteering projects in more than a hundred countries. Solo travel makes all of these criteria accessible, because alone, you confront yourself first and then with the world.

This reflection on the contestation of tourism extends to broader social phenomena. After all, tourism is part of the order and disorder of the world.

The protests of the new century

If, at XXe century, we saw the new information and communication technologies (NICT) as vectors of solutions, the beginning of XXIe century shows a growing criticism towards them. Digital technology is criticized because it tracks individuals, stupidizes them and essentializes the world full of tweets and Instagrammed moments or places. It is certain that the NICT have radically transformed tourism practice. We no longer photograph landscapes, we take photos of ourselves with the landscape behind: this is the reign of ego-tourism. The outlook changes, and the whole journey is turned upside down. The distance is annihilated between the tourist and his usual everyday space; which makes the change of scenery, the peace, the break with professional and family concerns harder.

A rising criticism of XXIe century, it is the contestation of urbanization. It began with the urban exodus from large cities to medium and small towns. Individuals want a city with a better quality of life, more green spaces, a calmer pace and a balance between social classes. In this sense, tourist practices must be transformed. Over-tourism must disappear to make way for finely crafted tourism for the local and the individual. The museification and gentrification of the hyper-center must be stopped and a subtle balance between growth and heritage must be achieved in urban spaces.

Several other phenomena are under fire from criticism. Liberalism, capitalism and even democracy, because they present limits, are being questioned in new ways. The appearance of democracy in the United States with Trump, in Brazil with Bolsonaro or even in Russia with Putin, underlines the decline of democracy. Capitalism, with the inequalities it propagates between the rich who become even richer and the poor even poorer, gives rise to strong social frictions. These systems and tourism influence each other with harmful consequences. Responsible tourism, partly originating from the social and solidarity economy, is according to the author more than greenwashing : of socialwashing. The construction of the Fortaleza seaside resort in Brazil in the 1970s led to the displacement of local populations for the benefit of foreign tourists. Thus, neither mass tourism nor capitalism must be saved.

The death of tourism?

These various elements, supported by a mass of diverse and varied readings, lead to the proposition of inventing a new world. This starts with greater social and spatial justice by promoting the economy of contribution on a local, individual and collective scale and the growth of critical thinking. The benefits and harms of globalization in its variants (globalization, glocalization, slowbalisation) must be questioned by everyone, individuals and international organizations alike, by varying points of view.

Throughout the chapters, the author does not give ready-made solutions to get into the right trajectory of the XXIe century. Rather, they are reflections from his travels between Asia and Europe and from his readings. Ultimately, Franck Michel delivers a dense work made up of multiple tourist and social paths, specific examples drawn from both the East and the West, and numerous past and contemporary cultural references. He invites us to go beyond tourism and leave it on the side of the road, to prefer the path of travel. In doing so, he is aware that he must think of and propose another society. Indeed, the end of tourism signals the end of work, because the two are intimately linked.

However, the risks of falling back into ant-covid failings are numerous: return of elitist tourism, signals sent by the state which is rushing to save tourism and the automobile. Have two years of virtual immobility disrupted tourist practices?? It's still too early to say. What is certain is that tourism is built on trust. Health conditions, environmental issues and geopolitical tensions are sure to lead to changes in society and the tourism industry.