"Adjective" Tourism

There is a fashion of over-segmenting tourism on the basis of the activities visitors engage in while traveling. It may have begun as an attempt to describe some targetable interests of travelers: history and culture, outdoor activities, wine and culinary experiences. We hear about rural tourism (visits to the countryside) or agri-tourism (visits to farms) or arts tourism, or nature tourism, or even shopping tourism or outlet-store tourism. Such categories may be useful in targeting particular consumers, and may suggest useful directions for development.

But they are not a reliable tool for describing the impact of tourism. Each of these special kinds of purported tourism comes complete with studies and statistics proving that it brings in millions of dollars in business. But looking at tourism in that way does not serve us well.

Here's the problem. In the real world, people travel for multiple reasons. Their motives are complex, the interests are varied. And they do many different things on a typical trip.

So when travelers go to the county fair they are heritage tourists. If they stop at the farmer's market on the way they are agri-tourists. Take a walk along a stream, nature tourists. Attend a concert, arts tourists. Perhaps on the way home they stop at an outlet mall and become retail tourists.

The problem is that advocates for each kind of tourism, when they count up its impact, claim all the spending of those travelers. So when you hear all those big numbers about some kind of adjective-tourism, take it with a grain of salt. What those numbers really describe is the economic impact of tourism, not of some particular small slice of tourism.

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