Tourism Teacher

Leiper’s Tourism System: A simple explanation

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Leiper’s Tourism System is a basic conceptualisation of the structure of the tourism industry . It is one of the most widely accepted and most well-known models used in tourism research when attempting to understand the tourism system.

Many tourism students will learn about Leiper’s Tourism System towards the beginning of their studies alongside the history of tourism and the importance of tourism . Many people working within the industry learn about Leiper’s Tourism System in order to underpin and inform their operational plans.

But what is Leiper’s Tourism System? In this article I will tell you about who Leiper was, why he was a credible scholar (and why people listen(ed) to him) and how his Tourism System model works in the context of tourism management.

Who was Leiper?

Why was leiper’s tourism system developed, leiper’s tourism system – how does it work, the tourists, the geographical features, the tourism industry, the traveller generating region, the tourist destination region, the tourist transit region, the benefits of leiper’s tourism system, the disadvantages of leiper’s tourism system, to conclude, further reading.

Neil Leiper was an Australian tourism scholar who died in February 2010. His work was extremely influential and continues to be well cited throughout the tourism literature.

Leiper has four major areas in which he focussed his research: tourism systems, partial industrialisation, tourist attraction systems and strategy. It is his work on tourism systems that I will discuss in this post.

Leiper’s research was identified as having a significant influence on travel and tourism academic literature, as well as the conceptualisation of tourism as a discipline. This applies to both research and educational contexts.

Leiper was famed for the connections that he made between theory and strategy, which helped to bridge the gap between theory, policy and practice.

You can read more about Neil Leiper and his academic contributions in this paper .

Leiper's Tourism System

Discussions about what tourism is and how tourism is defined have been ongoing for many years.

Leiper’s contribution to the debate was to adopt a systems approach towards understanding tourism.

Leiper (1979) defined tourism as:

‘…the system involving the discretionary travel and temporary stay of persons away from their usual place of residence for one or more nights, excepting tours made for the primary purpose of earning remuneration from points en route. The elements of the system are tourists , generating regions, transit routes, destination regions and a tourist industry. These five elements are arranged in spatial and functional connections. Having the characteristics of an open system, the organization of five elements operates within broader environments: physical, cultural, social, economic, political, technological with which it interacts.’

Rather than viewing each part of the tourism system as independent and separate, Leiper’s definition was intended to allow for the understanding of destinations, generating areas, transit zones, the environment and flows within the context of a wider tourism system.

In essence, therefore, Leiper’s Tourism System was developed to encourage people to view tourism as an interconnected system, and to make relevant assessments, decisions, developments etc based upon this notion.

So now that we understand who Neil Leiper was (and that he was a credible tourism scholar), lets take a deeper look at his Tourism System.

Leiper's Tourism System

In the diagram above you can see the way in which Leiper depicted tourism as being a system.

Leiper did not want people to view each part of the tourism industry as being separate and independent, because it is not. Rather, each component of tourism is closely interrelated.

This means that each part of the system relies strongly upon other parts in order to function properly.

Lets take an unrelated example of a car engine. If one part of the engine isn’t working properly, the car won’t run efficiently or may not run at all…

Lets put this into the context of travel and tourism. If the airline isn’t running flights to a destination, then the hotel will have no business. And if there are no available hotels in the destination, then people will not book flights there.

Now, this is a very simplistic example, but hopefully that helps to provide a clearer picture of how the ‘tourism system’ is interconnected.

The basic elements of Leiper’s Tourism System

There are three major elements in Leiper’s Tourism System: the tourists, the geographical features and the tourism industry.

The tourist is the actor in Leiper’s tourism system. They move around the tourism system, consuming various elements along the way.

In Leiper’s tourism system he identifies three major geographical features: the traveller generating region, the tourist destination region and the tourist transit region.

I will explain which each of these geographical features means short.

The tourism industry is, of course, at the heart of the tourism system. All of the parts that make up the structure of tourism , are found within the tourism system.

The geographical features of Leiper’s Tourism System model

Leiper identifies three main geographical regions in his tourism system. These are visually depicted in the diagram above.

I will explain what each of the geographical features mean below.

Other posts that you may be interested in: – What is tourism? A definition of tourism – The importance of tourism – The history of tourism – Stakeholders in tourism – The structure of tourism – Types of tourism: A glossary

The traveller generating region is the destination in which the tourist comes from.

Exactly what this means, is not entirely clear. Does it mean the departure airport? The home country? The area of the world? The home town? Well in part, I think that this depends on the nature of the tourism that is taking place.

If, for example, a person is taking a domestic holiday , then their home town will almost certainly be classified as the ‘traveller generating region’.

However, when we travel further away, the precise details of our home locations become less important. For example, you may refer instead to the country or district in which you live. Or you may simply refer to the country.

For example, if I were to travel to Spain, I may refer to my traveller generating region as the United Kingdom.

Similarly, sometimes we refer to areas of the world. This is especially the case with travellers from Asia. Some countries in Asia (such as China ) are substantial tourist generating regions. Rightly or wrongly, however, the traveller destination region is often given the vague description of simply being ‘Asia’.

Within the traveller generating region there are many components of tourism.

Here you will often find stakeholders i n tourism such as travel agents and tour operators, who promote outbound or domestic tourism.

The tourist destination region can largely be described in the same vain.

In Leiper’s tourism system, the tourism destination region is the area that the tourist is visiting.

This could be a small area, such as a village or tourist resort. For example, Bentota in Sri Lanka or Dahab in Egypt.

The tourist destination region could be an entire province. For example, Washington State.

Likewise, it could be a country, such as Jordan . Or it could even be an area of the World, such as The Middle East.

In the tourist destination region you will find many components of tourism. Here you will likely find hotels, tourist attractions, tourist information centres etc.

The last geographical region identified in Leiper’s Tourism System is the tourist transit region.

The tourist transit region is the space between when the tourist leaves the traveller generating region and when they arrive at the tourist destination region. This is effectively the time that they are in transit.

The tourist transit region is largely made up of transport infrastructure. This could be by road, rail, air or sea. It involves a large number of transport operators as well as the organisations that work within them, such as catering establishments (think Burger King at the airport).

The tourist transit region is an integral part of Leiper’s Tourism System.

There are many benefits of Leiper’s tourism system.

Leiper’s model allows for a visual depiction of the tourism system. The model is relatively simple, enabling the many to comprehend and use this model.

Leiper’s Tourism System model has been widely cited within the academic literature and widely taught within tourism-based programmes at universities and colleges for many years.

The way in which this model demonstrates that the different parts of the tourism industry are interrelated and dependent upon each other provides scope for better planning and development of tourism .

There are, however, also some disadvantages to Leiper’s Tourism System model.

Whilst the simplicity of this model can be seen as advantageous, as it means that it can be understood by the many rather than the few, it can be argued that it is too simple.

Because the model is so simple, it is subject to interpretation, which could result in different people understanding it in different ways – I demonstrated when I discussed what ‘region’ meant.

Leiper developed this model back in 1979 and a lot has changed in travel and tourism since then. Take, for example, the use of the Internet.

Lets say that a person lives in Italy and books a trip to Thailand through an online travel agent who is based in the USA. Where in the model does the travel agent fit? Because they have little place in either the traveller generating region or the tourist destination region….

The post-modern tourism industry is not accounted for in this model, thus it can be argued that it is limited in scope because it is outdated.

Likewise, this model fails to address the way in which the tourism system is actually part of a network of interrelated systems. What about the agriculture sector? Or the construction industry? Or the media? All of these areas play an essential role in [feeding, building, promoting] tourism, but they are not represented in the model.

Leiper’s Tourism System is a key part of the foundation literature in travel and tourism.

It provides a good representation of the way that the many parts of the tourism industry work together as a system, rather than individually. However, it fails to account for many of the complexities of the industry and its ties with associated industries.

Nonetheless, this is an interesting model that is widely applicable both in an academic and practical sense.

If you would like to learn more about the fundamentals of the travel and tourism industry, I have listed some key texts below.

  • An Introduction to Tourism : a comprehensive and authoritative introduction to all facets of tourism including: the history of tourism; factors influencing the tourism industry; tourism in developing countries; sustainable tourism; forecasting future trends.
  • The Business of Tourism Management : an introduction to key aspects of tourism, and to the practice of managing a tourism business.
  • Tourism Management: An Introduction : gives its reader a strong understanding of the dimensions of tourism, the industries of which it is comprised, the issues that affect its success, and the management of its impact on destination economies, environments and communities.

Tourism Beast

Tourism System

A system consists of several parts that are interconnected and interrelated, each part influencing each other through its dynamic nature while responding to the external influences as well.  All the components within the system work to attain a common goal or purpose.  

An influence in one part of the system will be felt throughout the system.  It can be also referred to a spider’s web.   Ludwig von Bertalanffy,  a biologist has defined ‘ General system theory’  as a set of elements that experience interrelationship among themselves and with their external environments.

A system is an assemblage or interrelated combination of things or elements or components forming a unitary whole (Hall 2008).  Tourism can be referred to as a system as it reacts to the external environments like the social, political, technological and ecological.  Elements like attraction, transport, accommodation, facilities interact with each other while it interacts with the external environment too.

Concept of Tourism as a System

Tourism is conceptualized as a system by many scholars.  It was in the 1970s that the General Systems Theory was applied to the concept of tourism and it has resulted in a number of system theories of tourism.  Scholars like Leiper, Getz, Gunn and Mill and Morrison have suggested systems model for tourism.   In his book, tourism planning

(1979), Gunn put forth the “tourism fundamental system” that involved five components: tourist, transportation, attractions, services-facilities, and information-direction. Leiper (1979) developed the whole tourism systems based on the systems theory and identified   five basic components: tourists, generating regions, transit routes, destination regions, and a tourist industry operating within physical, cultural, social, economic, political, and technological environments. He conceptualized tourism as an open system.

Neil Leiper’s Whole Tourism System Model

Neil Leiper devised a Whole Tourism System Model in the year 1979 and the same was restructured in the year 1990.  It is completely based on the Systems Approach consisting of three major components or elements.  The following are the four components embedded in the Leiper’s model. 

Whole Tourism System Model- Neil Leiper

Pic credit-

I.  The Human Component:

 The Tourist

II.  The Geographical Component:

•      The Generating Region

•      Transit Route Region

•      The Destination Region

III. The Industrial Component 

Iv. the environmental component.

Leiper proposed six aspects within the model which are interrelated, interdependent and interact with each other and function as a group while responding to the external influences.  Thus it is an open system where influences are found within the system as well as external to the system. 

The human component consists of the tourists, the geographical component consists of traveler-generating regions, transit route regions and tourist-destination regions, the industrial component involving the various business and organizations that provide services and finally, the environmental component comprising of the social, technological, legal and ecological aspects.  

All these aspects weave together as a whole tourism system in a structural manner.  Figure-1 provides the pictorial representation of the Leiper’s model of the components of the tourism system.

1. The Human Component

The human component specified in the model is the tourists who undertake tourism to a destination of their interests.  A tourist is a person who traverses away from his place of residence to another place for a short span of stay with an aim to spend his holidays.  

A person can be called as a tourist if he stays for at least 24 hours and not more than one year in a destination either within the country or outside the country of residence not involving in any remunerative activity.   Tourism, according to the Oxford dictionary, is “the theory and practice of touring or travelling for pleasure”.

Tourists undertake different forms of tourism as per their need like recreation, pleasure, business, education, health, pilgrimage, culture and they are called as recreational tourists, pleasure tourists, business tourists, education tourists, health tourists, pilgrimage tourists and cultural tourists in that order.  

It is based on the motivational push that tourists undertake their trip to a particular destination.  It all happens with the available forms of tourism.  Therefore, it completely depends on the purposes of travel.

As per the definition of UNWTO’s (United Nations World Tourism Organization), “tourism comprises the activities of persons travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure, business, and other purposes”. It is clear from the definition that tourists are temporary residents of the destination of visit.  

After touring, they return to their original place of residence or their place of departure. According to Leiper (1979), the fundamentals of tourism are traced back to Greek origins, likened to a circle, reflecting a key component of tourism and returning to the point of departure.

2. The Geographic Component.

The geographic component refers to the geographical area involved in the tourism process.  Tourists depart from a geographical area – the place of origin, utilize a geographical route and reach a geographical area – the place of arrival or destination of visit.  

Similarly, they reach their area of origin after completion of the trip taking a complete cycle of the geographical components.  Thus, there are three geographical areas involved in the conduct of tourism.

The geographic components comprise of the following three aspects:

1.      Tourist Generating Region(TGR)

2.      Travel Route Region(TRR) and

3.      Tourist Destination Region(TDR) 

2.1 Tourism Generating Regions (TGR).

Tourism Generating Region refers to the place where the tourist starts and ends his tour.  It is the location of permanent residence from where he departs for tour and reaches after completion of trip. It is also referred to the source region of journey as well as the geographical area of demand. According to Dann (1977), it is the geographical setting pertaining to the motivational and behavioral pattern termed as “Push” factors.

‘Push’ factors are the intangible wishes or desires arising in the minds of a person. These are influenced by the social, psychological, and economic forces generated from within the person.

The aspects like mundane environment, exploration, self-evaluation, relaxation, prestige, family relations, and social interaction are found within the minds of the people of the tourist-generating region.  These pertain to the psychological push factors.  Influence of family, reference groups, social classes, culture, and sub-cultures are the factors pertaining to the social push factors.  

The demographic aspects like age, sex, educational qualification, income and marital status also contribute to the push factors.  The economic push factors are the disposable income added with the available leisure time joint together that play vital role in the tourist-generating region.  

Apart from the above mentioned factors in the tourist generating region, the aspects like ticketing services, tour operators, travel agents and marketing and promotional activities present in the departure area play a major role as push components.

2.2. Transit Route Region (TRR).

Transit route refers to the path throughout the region across which the tourist travels to reach his or her destination.  It is the path that links the tourist generating regions and the tourist destination regions, along which the tourists travel.  

When the tourists undertake a long haul, travel it is necessary to take a temporary stoppage called a transit route.  The transit route includes stopover points, which might be used for convenience of the tourist or due to the presence of various attractions throughout the travel route that can be visited by the tourists.

The transit route enables the tourists to change flight or stop for some time for refueling. The transit route might differ from the start of the travel from the generating region and ending of the travel from the destination region.  

The transit route may be crossed with the different types of transportation like air transport or rail transport or water transport or road transport or a combination of all these types of transports according to the necessity of the tourist. Thus, the transit rout region is a vital component in the tourism system.

2.3 Tourist Destination Region (TDR).

Tourist Destination Region refers to the destination, which the tourists prefer to visit during their travel.  It is the location, which attracts tourists for their temporary stay.  The destination region is the core component of tourism, as it is the region, which the tourist chooses to visit, and which the core element of tourism is based on.  It is the supply side of the tourism products that pull the tourists.

This component includes the natural attractions, cultural attraction, and various entertainment factors, accommodation, facilities, services, amenities, safety and security available in the destination of visit that ultimately pull the tourists. The new age tourists mostly demand now-a-days special interest tourism products available in the destination region. 

The qualitative aspects that are absent or lacking in the tourist-generating region and available in the tourist destination region form as the basic attractions that pull the tourists towards TDR.  The location has the attributes as anticipated by the tourists that retains loyal tourists from the generating regions

3. The Industrial Component..

The next important component in the Lieper’s model is the industry.  Industrial component refers to the businesses and organizations that promote tourism related products.  These firms thrive to cater to the needs and wants of the tourists.They impart full-fledged products and services to the tourists through attractions, accommodation, accessibility and amenities.

It is a composition of many small firms that provide tourist attractions and services to the tourists in an affordable manner. Tourism industry is not an individual entity and all the industrial components of the tourism industry function together as an amalgam as tourism cannot function in the absence of even a single aspect of the industrial component.  Tourism industry is a mixture of many industries.  They are:

•      Tourist Services Industry

•      Accommodation Industry

•      Transport Industry

•      Entertainment Industry

•      Tourist Attraction Industry

•      Shopping Industry

These industries are located in different places some in the tourist generating region and some in the destination region. The travel agents and tour operators are located in the tourist generating region who help in the arrangement of travel for the tourists.  

They do marketing activities motivating the tourists to visit specific destination regions while designing tailor made tourism products.  The travel agents and tour operators in  the destination region are facilitators of the tourists.  Thus, they form to be the tourist services industry.

The accommodation industry, the sub-component comprises of hotels, motels, resorts, guest- houses and home stays that provide temporary residential facility for the tourists.  There is variety of options in the accommodation sector affordable to the different category of tourists. The transport industry consists of four forms of transport like air, rail, sea and road transport.

A number of carriers are there in the transport industry transporting the tourists from the tourist-generating region to the tourist destination region through the transit route region.  It is one of the most indispensable components as tourism cannot happen without movement of people and transport industry solely takes care of it.

The entertainment industry pertains to the products provided in the destination region by the service providers with a motive to bring enjoyment, pleasure, fun, excitement, amusement and recreation to make the tourists’ leisure time fruitful and lively. Theaters, games, sports, gambling, bars and pubs are some of the products in the entertainment industry available in the destination region

The attraction industry comprises of the tourism experiences based on which tourists ultimately gets high level of satisfaction. Nature, culture, heritage, monuments, climate, beaches, events, sunshine, snow, are some of the attractions which pull the tourists towards the tourist destination region. Attractions are unique to the destinations, as these will not be found in the tourist-generating region.

Shopping Industry is another sub-component, which is unique to the destination region as tourists wish to shop products that are traditional or famous to that particular destination.  For example, Kashmir is famous for shawls and Gujarat is famous for saris.  

Therefore, tourists wish to buy souvenirs from the destinations and wherever they travel, they desire to go to some of the shopping malls to buy their choice products selected from souvenirs which happen to be ready-made wear, cosmetics / skin-care products, snacks / confectioneries, shoes/ other footwear, handbag /wallets/belts, souvenirs / handicrafts, medicine/ herbs, perfume, personal care and jewelry.

Tourism System

4. The Environmental Component.

The last component in the Leiper’s model of tourism system is the environment component that surrounds the three geographical regions.  Tourism is an open system and it interacts with the external environment. Environment is the surrounding circumstances that affect the tourism system and vice versa. These forces either induce positive or negative influences on the tourism system.  The environmental components that affect the tourism system are as follows:

1.      Political Factors

2.      Economic Factors

3.      Social/Cultural Factors

4.      Technological Factors

5.      Environmental Factors

6.      Legal Factors 

4.1 Political Factors

Political factors influences the tourism system according the available political situation.  An unstable political situation will hamstring the tourism development.  Tourism system will function effectively if there is political harmony and law and order are executed in a proper manner.  

It will further get developed in case the government enforces tourism policy planning, makes more investments in the tourism industry and ensures tax benefits.  If there is good relationship existing between the countries of the tourist generating region and tourist destination region tourism will flourish.  Otherwise tourism growth will be adversely affected.

4.2 Economic Factors

The economic factors influence the system of tourism as it is directly related to the per capita income of the tourist generating region, their disposable income and standard of living.  On the other hand if tourist destination region provides affordable tourism products and services tourism development is likely to go up.  

Therefore, the income and expenditure of the tourists will be balanced ensuring tourist flow.  Economic factors are also directly related to the general global financial situation.  The financial depression that was prevalent in the year 2008 had severely affected the tourism industry as the per capita income decreased all over the world.

4.3 Social/Cultural Factors

Social or cultural factors spell significant influences on the tourism system.  Based on the attitude of the local people in the tourism destination region the tourists of the generating region will be pulled towards it.  The experience of the tourists depends upon the receptive nature of the hosts of the destination.  

If aversion prevails over the behavior of the tourists in the minds of the host people, loyal tourists cannot be pulled by the destination region.  The tourists will not prefer to visit a destination which is not tourist friendly.

4.4 Technological Factors

Technology is another important factor that affects the tourism system.  Technology has been developing swiftly and it has spread its wings in all the sectors especially in tourism.  It has changed the travel behavior of the tourist of the generating region and the organizations of the tourism industry are using technology to market their their services and products of the tourist destination region.  

Internet is used by the tourists to gather information about the destinations, the transit routes and the attractions to decide on their travel.  They make reservations online instead of approaching the travel agents and tour operators – traditional methods of  distribution system.  The suppliers of the destination region and the transit route region like the airlines, hotels, and tourism attraction operators make direct contact with the tourists generating region and create great challenge to the intermediaries.

4.5 Environmental Factors

The environmental factors are related to the rich biodiversity existing in the tourist destination region.  The more the pressure given to the environmental chasteness more will be the impact on the biodiversity.  The ecosystem of the destination region is affected by the tourists of the generating region and the tourism industrial operators.

Negative impacts like pollution, loss of greeneries, congestion, over utilization creates the imperatives for making tourism sustainable for the future.  Therefore, such negative impacts have to be eliminated or reduced by the government creating awareness about sustainability of tourism resources in the minds of the stakeholders otherwise severe loss will be exerted on the tourism system.

4.6 Legal Factors

The legal factors refer to the prevalent law and order in the tourist generating region, transit route region and the tourist destination region. These laws act as a framework  to protect the tourists and the organizations of the tourism industry.  It leads to the proper development and management of tourism and the components of the tourism system.  There are laws pertaining to tourism infrastructure, conservation of natural rich biodiversity and the cultural resources.

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leipers tourism model

Revue belge de géographie

Home Numéros 1-2 The tourist route system – models...

The tourist route system – models of travelling patterns

Examining tourism is mostly taking place on a site or regional level. Travel, however, is a movement between such sites – from home to destination(s) and back to home again (Leiper, 1979). Trying to view tourism as a movement and a dynamic function means challenges. This paper is an attempt of modelling a “tourist route system” and to show what the use of different travelling pattern models means to “tourism route research” The aim is to show what dimensions will be lacking if studies only are focused on markets, sites or destinations.

L’analyse du tourisme se place avant tout au niveau d’un site ou d’une région, mais le voyage représente un déplacement entre ces lieux – du domicile jusqu’à destination et retour (Leiper, 1979). Tenter de voir le tourisme comme un mouvement et une fonction dynamique représente un défi. Dans cet article, nous essayons de modéliser un “système d’itinéraire touristique” et de démontrer ce que l’utilisation de différents modèles de schémas de voyage signifie pour la recherche en matière d’itinéraires touristiques. Notre objectif est de montrer quelles dimensions seront manquantes si les études ne se focalisent que sur les marchés, les sites ou les destinations.

Index terms

Mots-clés : , keywords: , the tourist route system – models of traveling patterns.

“Travel to and from the destination site and experiences associated with these phases have been ignored. A better understanding of travel behaviour could assist in the marketing of secondary trips, staging areas, and minor attractions located in the vicinity of larger, more popular destinations. Such relationship requires the cooperation of the psychologist and the tourist professional. Travellers, not laboratory subjects, must be studied in transit, at hotels, in their homes, and on site. The tourist professional can make this integrative work possible by being sensitive to the importance and implications of this type of research.” (Fridgen, 1984, p. 33).

1 Even though Fridgen is a social psychologist and this author is a geographer, our shared interest is in studying what happens during travel to and from a destination as an attempt of trying to understand the whole trip behaviour. Without such an understanding of the complete trip my view is that much of the on destination studies will be lacking important information. Since most tourists “like travelling”, their en route behaviour must be regarded as an integrated part of their complete travel experiences.

2 This paper is about “routes”, “sites” and “tourists”. Numerous volumes have defined “the tourist”, and those will not be repeated here. The focus of this presentation will, instead, mainly be on the routes used by the tourists and sometimes also about the sites along these routes. Of course, definitions of tourist and traveller types and segments will be used in connection with models and analysis.

3 Routes were important parts of the tourist products even long before tourism was defined. Some of the ancient routes are very well known, and among those is the name of the country this author comes from – Norge – or Norway – meaning the route north­wards. That route was, of course, the waterway along the long coastline northwards. Transport by boats was the only way of moving rapidly in a mountainous country, before building the railways.

4 The early travel routes were either parts of a trading system or connected to religious prac­tices. Most of the route names are created later on, to explain the subject of a route or the direction. The Silk Route through Asia is one example, the pilgrimage routes from Central Europe to Nidaros (present day Trondheim) in Norway might be another. The first real system of tourism routes might have been the Grand Tour, a complex network of routes more or less all leading to Rome (Towner, 1996).

5 The tour operated routes are just one and a half century old. The first organized tours were Ths. Cook’s from 1841. In Norway Ths. Bennett started his similar practice not long afterwards.

6 The invention of cars and later on motor coaches meant new possibilities of travel. Roads, however, were mainly built for other than tourism and recreation purposes. The system of Scenic Byways in the US started as early as 1913 (Lew, 1991). Since then the system is developed to be present in most US states. In addition to signs and maps, there are specialized handbooks available for some of those routes. Green routes were first just an indication on maps (i.e., maps provided by Michelin or Hallwag). The summer of 1998 marked the first official use of such sign-posted routes in Norway – named National Tourist Roads.

7 The explosion of travel guidebooks and travel programmes on TV, in some countries also separate travel channels, have also contributed to the rapid emerging systems of themed routes. Both media are in the need of “telling a story” – and a travel along a touristic route fills well into such needs.

8 Another route system is those used by the world around travellers. According to Pryer (1997) is there a group of “mature adventurists” who have been travelling around the world for years either because they have financial means for this or they are “working their way around”. This group does not need travel handbooks and so on, but might later on be handbook authors. They are in a way setting up routes for others to use.

9 Governing was also an important reason for travel in Norway as elsewhere in Europe, and a system of inns (in Norwegian “skysstasjoner”) were located along the routes, mainly to cater for the travel of the King’s men. Providing accommodation or meals and changing horses were the duties of innkeepers, who in addition could sell their beds to other prosperous travellers.

10 Such inns are well known and their location documented, as are the routes these travellers used. At the same time there existed another accommodation system less known – “travellers rest houses” (in Norwergian “ferdmannskviler”). This was a system giving permits to some small farms or houses along the roads to accommodate travellers needing a shelter and a meal. Such shelters could be a single room with one large bed or some beds. Travelling salesmen, transpor­ters, farmers bringing their goods to far away markets and migrants mingled together is such shelters. Those who grew up in such house were often well educated in national and international events, since the travellers had very much to tell (Forfang, 1978-85). Today, both inns and rest houses still might be part of the en route accommodation system, even though their names have changed and the houses are rebuilt or improved.

11 During the last two decades specially designed touristic routes have come more into focus all over the world – especially themed routes like Wine Tours, Bier Route (Bavaria, Germany), Malt Whisky Trail (Scotland), Belgian Textile Route, Franco-Swiss Clock Route, Glass Trail (Sweden) and Romantische Strasse (Germany). But also more general Scenic or Green Routes has been pro­moted, often to get tourists to drive outside the main highways. Even old Pilgrimage tracks have been reopened and designed for both tourists and “new” pilgrims (Maier, Ludwig & Oergel, 1994; Dewailly, 1998; Delbaere, 1994)

12 Tourism and travel as research themes are not based on a single theory, but a series of models of which some contains basic definitions that most researchers agree on. One of these common agreements is that being a tourist means leaving home, then travelling on a route, and at last returning home. Leiper (1979, 1989) has described this process in a basic model (figures 2 and 3).

13 Sites are also important parts of the trips. They must, however, be viewed and sorted accor­ding to their roles within the complete trip, not always as the site of the trip. Our findings show that every site on a specified route might also have something that makes a stop at this site special for at least one segment of travellers. Most tourism studies and textbooks, however, still “seem to pretend” that tourism is happening at a single site or in a single attraction. Of course, every author is well aware that every trip is a dynamic journey containing at least both a stay and two moves. Still this “stay-and-movement part of the travel” is seldom focused in the wider sense. Even books about tourism and sustainability often concentrate their examples on destinations or sites, not telling anything about how the tourists has travelled to these destination or how they are travelling back home.

14 The aim of this paper is to combine research of tourists’ behaviour at sites or within destina­tion areas with research based characteristics from the movement along the route itself. By doing so this author hopes that the readers could become more aware of the impor­tance that routing behaviour has on other types of tourism behaviour – both at desti­nations and sites. The first discussion is based on some general models of regional systems, transportation and tourism systems. Later more specific models explaining tourism development and tourists’ behaviour will be introduced.

15 This paper has at least four analytic dimensions:

The history of routes in the tourism products.

The diversification of routes into modes of travelling or thematic travel.

The behaviour of travelling segments on the routes or at destinations based on the routes chosen for the trip.

Strategies for future analysis of travellers and destination based on these findings will also be focused.

16 Before starting these analyses, a presentation of some models and theories based on the route dimension of tourism is needed, starting with the simple ones and then proceed to some more complicated. In the more descriptive analyses later in this paper, a return to these models is needed, sometimes supplied by new and more thematic models.

From “movement” to “surfaces” – from tracks to routes to destination areas

17 To start describing what focusing on routes have meant to the development of tourism, going back to general geographical location models is important. During the sixties and seventies, Haggett (1965) completed a series of textbooks on “Models in Geography”. His aim was to build a science of geography as opposed to the more descriptive stages of the subject. His illustration of stages in the analysis of a regional system, figure 1, could also be used to show the development of routes and regions in tourism. It is important to stress that even before tourism was regarded as a field of studies, transport and movements was examined by geographers like Haggett, some of those did also choose tourism as a subject for studies (in Scandinavia by Nordstrom & Mårtenson, 1965; Sømme, 1965 & 1970; elsewhere by Christaller, 1966).

Figure 1. Stages in the analysis of a regional system. Based on Haggett, 1965.

Figure 1. Stages in the analysis of a regional system. Based on Haggett, 1965.

A Movements B Networks C Nodes D Hierarchies E Surfaces

18 How could the general location model of figure 1 also be seen as a tool for tourism development analysis? The figure must then be regarded as describing stages in a process similar to the one in the Miossec (1976) model. Those stages are described as:

Movements will be the first attempts of leaving the house, but mostly to return the same day or to the same site. The movements are not on a registered track or a sea route, but just described as a registration of where one has moved. Movements could also be described as discoveries, in the way Miossec (1976) shows.

As soon as a route (or a track) has been used for more than a single organized trip, there will be a registration of a network. Such a registration will normally contain all the three basic elements of the Leiper model (figures 2 and 3). A network, however, will at this stage basically be viewed as the route in the Leiper model.

When adding the destination region and the home to the Leiper models, stage C in figure 1 shows a system of nodes with equal strength. Still the tourist development is only based on “home -> route -> destination and return”, where each part of the trips is as important as the other.

When some parts of a route either are visited longer than the others or has more visitors, a system of hierarchies is developed. Most route systems will be based on hierarchies, either as primary attractions (Leiper, 1990) to visit or as main destinations. But hierarchies might also be viewed as markets.

The use of surfaces might be viewed as time zones from the homes or as price zones away from a tourism centre. Surfaces in this figure might also be viewed as zones of different markets: the inner zone as the reach of afternoon activities like evening skiing or cultural recreation; the next zone as a limit of week end travel and the outer as a holiday zone.

19 The stages of resort development in the Miossec model are:

Discovery of the area

Pioneer resort development starts

Multiplication of resorts within a destination area

Organization of the holiday space

Hierarchical specialization or saturation

20 All the development stages of Miossec are also examined for: access or transport, tourism behaviour and attitudes. The later both viewed from the decision makers’ and local population’s points.

21 Though tourism has developed distinctive stages through stages, even Before Christ, tourism routes were well developed within both the Egyptian, Helenistic and Roman empires. Each stage of development could be found a couple of thousand years ago, and could be found when describing what has happened the last fifty years.

22 Butler’s (1980) resort cycle model could also fit in here. But since this is only telling about a destination and not representing a travel-pattern model a further presentation must come later. Pryer (1997) has viewed the international en route tourists, especially those leaving the usual “highways” for new discoveries. He has set up some stages, mostly by focusing on the two initial ones:

Following the footsteps of early pioneers

23 After this stage reporters take over by publishing travel handbooks and survival kits (Lonely Planet) and semi-organized tourism takes over from early travellers. Pryer (1997) is also segmenting the travellers into budget travellers and credit card travellers.

24 In accordance with the node development in Haggett’s model, Pryer (1997) is quoting Vogt (1976) who identified an important aspect of the traveller culture as being the need of “gathering places” along the touring routes, mostly for the purpose of relaxation and socializing. These gathering places have later developed as travel centres. Such developments are taking different direction both due to segments of travellers visiting the site and due to the local adjustment to these travellers’ needs. Four centres are identified by Pryer:

Gateway reception centres

Attraction reception centres

“Freak centres”

Traveller sanctuaries

25 Many other centre types might be added, when describing travelling patterns of different segments.

Tourism and travelling on routes as a dynamic Geographical System

26 For a long time many attempts have been made of describing tourism as a system. Viewing travelling along routes is a dynamic approach to such descriptions. As a geographer I would like to start with “movement”, starting from a place often called “home” and by some “market”, or more correctly by Leiper (1979) called a “tourist generating region”, and then showing the routes and destinations from the travellers point of view.

27 Leiper (1979, 1989) himself and many others have tried to reproduce the original model (figure 2) into new ones (figures 3 and 4). Others have tried to widen the content of the travel experience (figures 5 and 6).

Figure 2. The geographical elements of tourism – A.

Figure 2. The geographical elements of tourism – A.

Figure 3. The geographical elements of a tourist system – B.

Figure 3. The geographical elements of a tourist system – B.

Figure 4. The tourism system of Mill & Morrison 1985.

Figure 4. The tourism system of Mill & Morrison 1985.

Figure 5. The Tourism Environment System.

Figure 5. The Tourism Environment System.

Figure 6. Destination area’s perspective of a vacation experience.

Figure 6. Destination area’s perspective of a vacation experience.

Source: Murphy, 1985

28 In his original article from 1979 Leiper points out that he has taken his elements partly from Gunn’s (1972) “tourism environment”. His description of each element is important since many authors later on are “quoting” this article. A long passage is therefore quoted here:

“A basic model of the geographic element is shown in Figure 2. The following discussion of roles and consequences of each geographical element in the system shows that the model can be developed beyond a representation of tourist flow patterns. It can serve as an analytical tool for describing the resources involved in the tourism process, in particular the industrialized resources. Moreover it facilitates delineation of areas of touristic impact.
Tourist generation regions can be defined as the permanent residential bases of tourists, the place where tours begin and end, and in particular those features of the region which incidentally cause or stimulate temporary outflow. This definition includes the basic geographical setting, together with the necessary behavioural factors pertaining to motivation. The existence and significance of ”push“ factors in tourist generation regions has been recognized in causal studies.
The generation region is the location of the basic market of the tourist industry, the source of potential tourism demand. Accordingly the major marketing functions of the tourist industry are conducted there: promotion, advertising, wholesaling, and retailing, underlying the marketing function is the question of why certain regions exhibit a tourist exodus, an issue with commercial and sociological relevance. There is correspondingly the matter of impact. What are the economic, social, and cultural effects in a community when a significant number of its members depart for tours into other regions?
Tourist destination regions can be defined as locations which attract tourists to stay temporarily, and in particular those features which inherently contribute to that attraction. In this context the attraction can be regarded as the anticipation by tourist of some qualitative charac­teristic, lacking in the tourist generation region, which the tourist wishes to experience personally. In a broader context, a definition of a tourist attraction would recognize that not all attractions draw tourists to a region: some are discovered en route.
Most tourism studies have been directed at the destination region. It is where the most significant and dramatic aspects occur. It is also the location of many parts of the tourist business: accommodation establishments, services, entertainment and recreational facilities.
Transit routes are paths linking tourist generating regions with tourist destination regions, along with tourists travel. They include stopover points which might be used for convenience or because of the existence of attractions. Transit routes are a vital element in the system. Their efficiency and characteristics influence the quality of access to particular destinations and accordingly they influence the size and direction of tourist flows. They are also a special case of tourism impacts, i.e., when changes arising from faster or longer haul transport cause stopover points to be bypassed. Transit routes are the location of the main transport component of the tourist industry.” (Leiper, 1979, pp. 396-397).

29 Even though Leiper is showing that transit routes might include attraction stopovers too little efforts is made in showing the importance of the route itself. During the last two decades the development of thematic routes like “die Romatische Strasse”, the Malt Whisky Trail, Scenic Routes, has been as an important element in travel as resort development. In the US this development started very early, the first Scenic Road came in 1913 (Lew, 1991). When adding boating, sailing, biking and trekking to the use of cars and coaches to move around, en route travel is not merely “transit”.

30 In Norway, however, such official designated “tourist route road” status were not obtained by any road until the summer of 1998 when four National Tourist Roads were selected. They are the Hardanger Fjord road, the Sognefjell Mountain Road, the Old Strynefjell road and the Coastal Road in Nordland county. All of these are situated close to our field study areas, and will be commented later as an information system.

31 Of course some roads have had an “unofficial name” presented in brochures, and sometimes even at road signs. Most of these were roads crossing the border between Norway and Sweden (the Blue Road, the Copper trail, etc.), but even some roads like the Atlantic road, the Golden route and the North Sea Road).

32 Leiper himself and others have later redrawn or extended the figure. In figure 3 the transit region or “the route environment” is more clearly defined, and the routes are indicated by direction lines. In this way the three main geogra­phical elements are still shown:

Tourist generation region or home, sometimes described as “market”

Transit region or routes, sometimes described as “the travelling environment”

Tourist destination region or sometimes described as destination and resort attractions.

33 This view has later been extended by many other authors, still the key elements will always be found! The next step might be to include further destination development first based on marketing or the transfer of information, later by including destination behaviour, and at the end – the aim of this paper – an extension to en route behaviour.

34 Some tourism development models are shown under the name of “the tourism system”. The first textbook using that name was by Mill & Morrison (1985). That book is mostly regarded as a marketing book, showing two “highways of communications”:

The awareness or marketing highway – where a destination tries to sell its image or products to a market

The transport highway ­ – where tourist actually are on the route, trying to reach the destination.

35 The content of the Mill & Morrison systems model (figure 4) does not differ much from the Leiper models, but add “marketing” as a specified tool of convincing people to travel to a certain destination. As a system of a spider web, an analysis could start at any box in the model.

36 Mill & Morrison (1985, p. xviii) gave each part a subscript:

Market – A consumer behaviour approach to market demand emphasizing both the external and internal influences on travel including the alternatives to travel, the market inputs of tourism suppliers, and the process by which a buying decision is reached.

Marketing – An examination of the process by which the destination area and individual suppliers market their products and services to potential customers with an emphasis on the effective use of distribution channels

Destination – An identification of the procedures that the destination area should follow to research, plan, regulate, develop, and service tourism activity

Travel – A description and analysis of major travel segments, travel flows, and modes of transportation used.

37 In the previous presented models, destinations have not been described and either the products or the stakeholders in destination development processes have been shown.

38 Models for analyzing travel patterns in connection to destination or resort development are many. Travis (1989) has integrated Leiper’s basic travel model with another site model looking at the destination experience – including the roles of producers. Another way of explaining this is to say that Travis also has included Mill & Morrison’s system in a destination development model. Communication of different types of information and marketing efforts are also included. The way this model is presented in figure 5 is slightly revised by this author after a personal discus­sion with Travis.

39 The upper circle in Travis’ model is similar to that of Mill & Morrison. But Travis extends the destination block into producing another circle, where “attractions” are regarded as the core of the destination, just because they seem to be the reasons for visiting a “desti­nation”. The two other elements of the lower circle are “services and facilities” and “people and place”. If we try to show the role of different producers or stakeholders in the Travis model, they might be:

People – represented by the tourist population themselves. Often a trip is entirely produced by the travellers, but other producers might be “tour operators”

Transporters – including both the travellers themselves (by own car or recreational vehicles) or different means of transport

Marketing and information persons – and later this part should be viewed in-depth

Destination developers – both including planers, governmental officials and investors

Attraction managers – representing both commercial and non-commercial bodies. Regarding business travel, meeting places and conference venues are the “attractions”.

Service and facility providers – including a group of producers formerly regarded as “the tourist trade”, the accommodation and catering sector. Shopping is also put in this block

40 and at last:

The regional human, culture and nature environment. Of course, in many cases the nature environment is also the main attraction for the travellers, especially those visiting rented or own cottages.

41 This means that the Travis’s model also functions well for describing who might be the stake­holders in a tourism development strategy. In Flognfeldt’s extension of the Travis model (figure 5) the transport part is divided into “en route-transport” and “transport within the destination area”. The latter is important, but was not directly communicated through Travis’s original model.

42 If summing up, the development of Leiper-based models has moved from movements to transit route to transport, and the inclusion of “the highway of information” or “marketing message” is supposed to move in the opposite direction. My way of research will then be to examine if actual tourists on the route adjust their behaviour to fit these models or vice versa.

The extended routes – the trip as a complete event

43 The Leiper model could also be extended to a route system in another way, by viewing the “extended route” as a way of mapping trip behaviour. This is a tradition from the mid-sixties, from before the presentation by Leiper (1979). In a study mainly focusing on how to estimate the value of outdoor recreation, Clawson & Knetsch (1965) described five stages of a trip. Their stages have been of great impor­tance, and been used by several authors in different ways. The comments below of each stage are made by this author, and describe how field work data of Lillehammer students has been used in different analyses.

Anticipation – including personal travel planning and advice from friends and relatives

Travel to site – most of the actual trip, plus things that happens during this trip

On-site experience – there might, of course, be more than one site to visit during a trip

Travel back home – the rest of the actual trip

Recollection – a process that never ends since memories of a specified trip is continuously changing often due to new travel experiences at other destinations.

44 There will most often be more than one site included in a trip. Travel to site might therefore be repeated, but there will only be one stage named “travel back home”.

45 Murphy (1985) has put the stages of Clawson & Knetsch into a more comprehensive model of development (figure 6). The model is separated into three ovals or descriptions. The outer part represent “the destination’s (promotional) point of view”, the middle part “tourists’ point of view” and the inner part an “outdoor recreation experience model” as shown by Clawson & Knetsch (1965). Such a view is very useful when examining both the destinations and the travelling patterns.

46 A similar model by Gunn (1998) is extended to seven phases of travel experience:

Accumulation of mental images about vacation experiences

Modification of those images by further information

Decision to take a vacation trip

Travel to destination

Participation at the destination

Return home

Modification of images based on the vacation experience

47 (Source: Murphy 1985)

48 By transferring Gunn’s (1998) phases 1, 2 and 7 into the Murphy model they could all be seen as destination image formation phases. If all these models should be transformed to a situation of interviewing tourists, figure 7 shows some differences based on where and when the interviews take place. One of the great challenges would be to use the different trip stages in marketing and information strategies.

Figure 7. Stages during the extended trip.

Figure 7. Stages during the extended trip.

Source: Flognfeldt & Onshus, 1998

How can the “tourism systems” knowledge be used in a data collection process?

49 In the paper quoted in the beginning of this paper, Fridgen (1984) discussed every stage in the Clawson & Knetsch model. Fridgen both explained the lack of research based on the whole trip and on the transportation stages and asked for further research. In his discussion of elements in the Travel to Destination stage, Fridgen tells:

“Transit regions and destinations are competitive. The challenge for the transit region is to attract and hold tourists. The built environment is one medium used by a community to express itself, to inform travellers about its attractions and hospitality. Little is known about how empathy and curiosity are elicited in travellers as they encounter a community”.

50 For many repeating visitors to Norway, especially form Germany and the Netherlands, a pattern like this seems to be common:

“The first visit to Norway is a substantially long trip – duration 3 – 5 weeks – including either the Western Fjords, the Lofoten islands or the North Cape. The next trip is a regional one, giving possibilities of longer stay at certain destinations and shorter day stages. If they continue to visit Norway, one or a few sites previously visited are chosen as an accommodation base.” (Flognfeldt, 2000a)

51 Fridgen (1984) was also discussing the directional effects – is there a difference of how tourists view an area on the road to a destination, compared with what they view on the return back. He found no differences when viewing the beauty (of landscapes, nature and villages).

52 The destination phase, however, will both according to Fridgen and to our observation during the last 30 years, be the field which most research is centred on. In this area the roles of hosts are included in many research projects, in contrast to studies of hosts’ communities along the route. They might even be “hosts against their will” – just providing passing through access for caravans of cars on their ways to “green or eco-tourism destination environments” further North (Flognfeldt, 1997a).

53 If the “travel-to stage” has been of little concern to researchers as Fridgen underlines, the returning phase is even less understood. Themes of interest in such studies are: directional effects, social interaction patterns and constraints of time and money. Fridgen also raises a question about the need for examining where in the travelling pattern side-trips are most common? All these questions will be of great importance for those trying to make a living of transit tourist. This also includes studies of effects of local signposting and establishing scenic byways and short information based footpaths.

54 For consumption studies, these geographical areas will be divided into six time main periods (or stages in the consumption process) to show how to get a complete knowledge about all travel expenditures. Examples of such stages might be:

Pre decision stage. The expenditures of this stage are connected to the decision making pro­cess – maps, travel handbooks and other information material are the prime ones. As soon as the decision seems to be close, also some medicare expenditures like brushing up vaccinations, could be added to the “pre-paid expenses”.

Pre travel stage. The route or destination or at least the country to visit – is now chosen. Most expenditures are to pay for whole packages, or tickets, insurance and other parts of the trip. In addition clothing, sport gear, hand­books, film and medicines will complete this stage of expenditures. Some could be payments for services at the destination, others for transport to and from the destination and others are affiliated to take a trip without regards to where this trip will go.

Trip to main destination stage (Norway). In our case trips (for foreigners) from the respondents home address to Norway. Since Scandinavia until this year has been an “insular peninsula”, most foreign visitors must use either car ferries, train ferries or aircraft to enter the area.

Touring in Norway. In our case shall this be separated into three sub-stages:

D-1 On tour, before the interview takes place.

D-2 At interview site.

D-3 On tour, after interview took place.

Returning home from Norway stage.

After returning home – memories . The most focused part of this is film processing.

55 For Norwegian respondents, stages D-1 and D-3 are substitutes for stages C and E.

56 This list of possible stages (and at the same time of geographical areas) during the extended trip should be supplied by a list of possible ways of collecting information or the geographical areas where this collection might take place. Revised models might therefore be drawn to show the accurate stages of each data collection process.

57 The model of figure 7 might be extended for use in the analysis of tourists’ consump­tion. The “anticipation stage” of Clawson & Knetsch is divided into two stages:

Pre decision

58 For many practical uses such a division is important, i.e., when studying the response to different travelling information media (Flognfeldt & Nordgreen, 1999) or on consump­tion patterns (Flognfeldt, 2000).

Segmenting tourists by modes of travel

59 An important question has emerged during the ten years of field work data collecting and analysis of en route behaviour: which types of segments could better be used for explain­ing en route behaviour? The tradition in Norway, as else­where, has exclusively been to focus on nationalities for explaining travel behaviour. Expressions like: “The German do like this, opposed to tourists from the US who act like…”, seem to be widely used, even among professional market analysts. Experiences from field studies and tourism planning show that the nationality stereotypes often presented by marketers should not always be accepted as scientific without a further examina­tion that includes tests of other segments. The task must therefore be to test other types of seg­ments, in addition to nationality, such as modes of travel, use of transport, accommodation and some socio-demographic variables.

60 “Modes of travel” was tested in the first fieldwork (Flognfeldt, 1992 a & b). The origin was a model presented in Pearce (1987) based on Campbell (1966), that I thought could be interesting to use. Oppermann (1995) has been thinking in the same way by showing some models of tourism flow patterns. Figure 8 has to be explained a bit further.

Figure 8. Modes of travel according to the modified Campbell/Flognfeldt model of 1999.

Figure 8. Modes of travel according to the modified Campbell/Flognfeldt model of 1999.

61 Another of the methods of analysis was to look at the patterns of travelling to and through the region by geographical space and time models – like the one describing tour operated trips. Another is to focus on a series of different segments often descri­bed as modes of travelling.

62 This segmentation is based on the Campbell model (1966) – but reversed. Descriptions of trips according to modes of travelling:

Day trips – trips starting and finishing at home during the same day. As visitors they must be described as short time guests. Some times day trips are called “excursions”

Resort trips – trips to a place where the major part of the stay is at the accommodation location. These guest are those often favoured by marketing efforts – the reasons might be the belief that the longer stay in the region, the more profitable those guests are for the area. In some studies resorts are extended to “destination areas”.

Base holiday trips – the prime trip is going from home to a single accommodation unit with a longer stay than three nights. These visitors do take some day trips out of the accommodation area, i. e. to visit attractions, in addition to using on site attractions.

This group of travellers should have been split into two: those staying at a base in the field area and those staying outside. Only the latter group is focused in this paper since they will be short time guests. The bases differ from destination areas by the actual travel behaviour found during the visits.

Tour operated round trips – mainly by coaches – where the travellers are visiting new places every day and night. A few of those trips are based on combining railroads and local scheduled bus routes. These groups are very often staying for a very short time, either visiting an attraction during day time or just to get a nights’ sleep in a local hotel.

Round trips by private cars or recreation vehicles – are in principle organized as the tour operated ones, but those driving in private cars have a bigger freedom of individual choice during the trips. Some round trippers stay at the same site for a couple of days, others are just passing through.

63 The intention of the Campbell model was to examine modes of recreation travel. When regarding the modes of travel patterns from the point of view of the local tourism industry, also other modes of travel have to be included: in most studies, business travel and travel related to work or organizations therefore have to be added to the “Campbell modes of travel model” as important segments.

64 Not all parts of the travel experiences will take place at the area of accommodation. In Norway, types of base experiences may take place at a substantial distance away from the accom­modation bases. For middle of the day visitors to Røros we traced bases up to 250 kms away, telling that the day trips had a length of up to 500 kms plus a 4 – 6 hours stay at the attraction. Similar distances are measured for alpine ski resorts (Hafjell, Trysil, Hovden, Oppdal and Hemsedal) and theme parks like Hunderfossen Family Park.

65 Two different travelling distances or day trip fields are described in figure 9:

Visitor fields – indicating how far away from a base area might an experience take place if the visitors should be able to return to their base the same day

Attraction fields – indicating how long distance are day trippers will to go to an attraction and returning back the same day

Figure 9. Day trip commuting fields.

Figure 9. Day trip commuting fields.

66 Both these distances are of high importance to those marketing accommodation areas.

67 The most usual way of segmenting travel is to use business and pleasure travel as the two different ones. This author has shown a way of segmenting travel according to when travel happens and who is paying for the trip – see figure 10.

68 Figure 10 has three dimensions: Work <-> leisure; who is paying for the trip and education travel. Flognfeldt (1979) includes five different types of travel based on these dimensions:

Holiday and leisure

Travel and commuting to/from work

Incentive travel

Business travel

Seminars and conferences

Figure 10. Segmenting according to work<->leisure and who is paying the trip.

Figure 10. Segmenting according to work&lt;-&gt;leisure and who is paying the trip.

Source: Flognfeldt, 1979

69 When looking at which type of accommodation a person is supposed to use, just examining his socio-demographic status might be lacking important information, like: “who is paying for this trip?”. The use of attractions will be different when an incentive traveller is visiting a resort com­pared to a business traveller, even if both travellers are paid by their employers. At a Saturday night train returning from the rural parts of Norway to Oslo, a group having used their second home for skiing and a commuter going for work on a road construction, will be on different trips.

70 What if the view should be turned – and seen from the local area? Another way of using the modified Campbell/Flognfeldt model is to view different groups of tourists from the way they are using a single site. This is shown in figure 10 where the point of view is from the destination area. In this way the local perception of travelling segments is another than the one regarding the whole trip.

71 At least five different travelling patterns “hit” this model region.

72 The model of figure 11 shows a very common structure of such mountain municipalities in Norway that are highly dependent on tourism. The model originates from studies of alpine ski resorts in mountain valleys. The service centre, which often also is the administrative centre of the municipality, is located down in the valley. In addition one ski resort or more are located further uphill due to better snow conditions. There will often be a competition between these two types of centres, especially on service provision and shopping possibilities (Flognfeldt, 1999 a).

Figure 11. Patterns of tourism travel – viewed from a local focus.

Figure 11. Patterns of tourism travel – viewed from a local focus.

Source: Flognfeldt, 1995 a

73 The model indicates five different travelling patterns named after the most common segments using the pattern:

Resort tourism – where city tourism could be included by drawing the service centre and the resort functions (e.g. RBD) close to each other

En route tourists – either just passing through or choosing a short stop-over

Business travel, among others including:


Service workers

Travel for local service demand

Base tourism

74 Especially when planning service provision to an area this model seems very useful. In addition segmentation based on the actual behaviour of the respondents has been tested, like:

Use of accommodation the night before interview

Use of modes of transport to reach the site of interview

Number of previous visits to the area, including those previously having lived permanently in the area

Trip index groups

75 Also a set of socio-demographic and psychographic descriptors will later in a later extended version of this paper be tested as segmentation tools. They seem very good in studies of attraction behaviour along the tourism routes.

Time geography models

76 The tradition of using time geography models introduced by Hägerstrand (1974 and 1978 a & b) in the early seventies. One of the aims of using such models was to look closer at how different segments of travellers (mostly daily commuters) used different modes of transport between home and office and activities (Mårtensson, 1978).

77 A very specific result of these studies was the introduction of the system of “flexible working hours” in Stockholm, Sweden. This innovation was later on adapted in many other environments resulting in a much more efficient use of transport.

78 Such time geography models were used in studies of local recreation travel behaviour, but in this author’s knowledge, not in any tourism travel behaviour study according to this author’s knowledge?

79 Why are then so few time-geography models used in tourism analyses? One reason might be that the bulk of time geography studies took place in the Seventies, some time before the studies of tourism really took off. Another must be that geographers and others have not been that interested in the dynamics of travel as Fridgen (1984) also has shown for psychologists. Studies taking place at a single resort or a regional level have had the priorities.

80 An attempt of showing three different time geography patterns of travel within a single day is described in figure 11 above.

81 Figure 12 shows the standardized geographic pattern of a day on a tour operated trip. Other figures are constructed to show a typical day trip and a similar day at a resort or an attraction type theme park.

Figure 12. Standardized pattern for a single days trip on a tour operated coach trip visiting a single and very attractive museum – like Maihaugen Open-air museum in Lillehammer or Lom Stave Church.

Figure 12. Standardized pattern for a single days trip on a tour operated coach trip visiting a single and very attractive museum – like Maihaugen Open-air museum in Lillehammer or Lom Stave Church.

82 When trying to generalize these different time geography based travelling patterns into a model of potential site visitation, figure 13 shows an example model used by Flognfeldt (1999) to describe and analyze traffic patterns in the municipality of Lom in the Jotunheimen mountains of Norway.

Figure 13. How sites are located into different routes.

Figure 13. How sites are located into different routes.

83 Travellers belonging to each of the four different visitor patterns described in figure 13 have very different behaviour both on attraction visitation and expenditures. Those on a pattern A trip are much more frequent attraction visitors than those on pattern B. This is seldom understood by local tourism promoters, since their main focus is to attract overnight stayers. Since short time stoppers (persons staying less than one night) are not registered in most statistics, their behaviour is under-focused in most consumption studies and other studies based on accommodation statistics.

84 Most often short time visitors are completely neglected as customers in such studies. When trying to combine economic studies based on expenditures with those based on the income of firms belonging to the tourism trade, this lack of measuring short time stoppers might be one of the reasons why there is a discrepancy between the two methods (Onshus, 1997).

Tourist that are visiting site Y just during daytime

Tourist that are just staying overnight at site Y

Tourists that are just going to visit site Y on a day-trip from home or holiday base

Tourist that are choosing site Y as a destination/resort for more than one night’s stay

85 Flognfeldt (1999) presented a survey conducted in Ottadalen 1995. On of his hypotheses was that those interviewed at a site between 1200 and 1700 hours were more likely to have been visiting a museum at the spot they were interviewed, than those interviewed later that night at an accom­modation site. The latter, however, could have been museum visitors that same day – at another site.

86 Thus both where an interview takes place and when is of high importance to the results of both consumption and attraction use studies.

87 Figure 14 shows the travel pattern registered in Ottadalen 1995. This region has a variety of nature and culture attractions. Many nature attractions are primary according to Leiper (1990), but only one cultural attraction is so. This is Lom Stave Church, a more that 900 years old church still in use for the local congregation. Lom is therefore a site to be visited by all four categories shown in figure 13.

Figure 14. Ottadalen 1995 Modes of travelling measured for 2368 respondents.

Figure 14. Ottadalen 1995 Modes of travelling measured for 2368 respondents.

Figure 15. Population mobility in space and time.

Figure 15. Population mobility in space and time.

88 When does a long lasting tourism trip become a part of a migration process instead? Bell & Ward (2000) has shown how a time and space diagram could be used to show different types of travel . Most types of movement in time and space are included in that model. Most forms of tourism are found on the shadowed part of the figure, with a duration between a day and a year.

89 This figure allows a much further discussion of time and space dimensions, both in tourism and other types of travel.

90 Measuring en route behaviour at a short stop site or for a wider destination area might also be done by using the trip index (Flognfeldt, 2000). One problem by using the trip index might be when the data collection is restricted to interviews at accommodation units.


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List of illustrations

Bibliographical reference.

Thor Flognfeldt jr. , “ The tourist route system – models of travelling patterns ” ,  Belgeo , 1-2 | 2005, 35-58.

Electronic reference

Thor Flognfeldt jr. , “ The tourist route system – models of travelling patterns ” ,  Belgeo [Online], 1-2 | 2005, Online since 27 October 2013 , connection on 13 November 2023 . URL :; DOI :

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Thor flognfeldt jr..

Lillehammer University College, Norway, [email protected]


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Book cover

ENTER22 e-Tourism Conference

ENTER 2022: Information and Communication Technologies in Tourism 2022 pp 28–40 Cite as

Virtual Reality: A Simple Substitute or New Niche?

  • Victoria-Ann Verkerk   ORCID: 4  
  • Conference paper
  • Open Access
  • First Online: 07 January 2022

16k Accesses

3 Citations

Since 2020, the tourism industry worldwide has been devastated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments across the globe imposed strict national lockdowns in order to curb the spread of the pandemic, with negative effects on tourism. This forced many tourism companies and organizations to turn to virtual reality (VR) to survive. As a consequence, numerous tourism scholars began to question whether VR would replace conventional tourism after COVID-19. The study aims is to address this concern and to determine if VR will be a substitute for conventional tourism or whether it can be considered as a tourism niche. It is a conceptional study which adopts a comparative analysis of conventional tourism models and VR. It uses two popular conventional tourism models, namely N. Leiper’s (1979) tourism system model and R.W. Butler’s (1980) destination life-cycle model. Based on this analysis, this paper suggests that VR will never be a substitute for conventional tourism, but should rather be considered a future tourism niche.

  • Virtual reality
  • Conventional tourism
  • Tourism models

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1 Introduction

Tourism has faced several crises in the past [ 9 , 14 ], however, none of these have had such an impact on tourism as the novel coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) [ 14 ]. To try to minimize the spread of the virus, the majority of governments have implemented non-pharmaceutical measures, such as quarantine, lockdowns, physical distancing, canceling events, and closing land borders to tourists [ 2 , 9 , 14 ]. This caused the tourism industry to come to a literal halt [ 14 ]. The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimated that by the end of 2020, international tourist arrivals declined between 70% to 75%, and as a result, tourism revenue dropped by US$711.94 billion to US$568.6 billion, which represented a loss of 20% [ 20 , 28 ].

It is difficult to predict when, and if, tourism will ever really recover from COVID-19. It is estimated by some that it will take the tourism industry up to 10 months to recover after the pandemic [ 8 ]. Therefore, it is argued that international tourism will only return between 2021 and 2022 [ 28 ]. But the recovery of tourism could take even longer. For example, it took tourism 4.5 years to recover after the 9/11 terrorist attack [ 26 ]. Thus, tourism scholars argue that technology will play a critical role in building resilience in tourism. One such technology is virtual reality (VR) [ 1 , 14 ].

In light of this, tourism scholars have begun debating whether VR will act as a substitute for conventional tourism once the COVID-19 pandemic is under control or is over. This study, however, considers whether VR can be regarded as a substitute for conventional tourism or a tourism niche. This will be determined by comparing the most renowned conventional tourism models with VR, namely: N. Leiper’s tourism system model (1979) and R.W. Butler’s destination life-cycle (TALC) model (1980).

2 Virtual Reality in Tourism

The tourism industry has used VR since the 1990s [ 4 , 15 ]. Despite this, there is no precise definition of VR in tourism literature [ 3 ]. Scholars often rely on and cite the well-known definition of D.A. Guttentag [ 15 ]:

the use of a computer-generated environment [the virtual environment] that one can navigate [the ability to move and explore the virtual environment] and possibly interact [to the ability to select and move objects within the virtual environment] with resulting in real time simulation of one or more of the user’s five senses.

According to Guttentag, there are six main areas where VR provides benefits in tourism, namely: marketing; planning; sustainability and preservation; accessibility; education; and entertainment [ 15 ]. For many tourism scholars, VR is also seen as a benefit to tourism, however, they generally tend to focus on two of these areas, namely marketing and sustainability. In terms of marketing, tourism companies and organizations perceive VR as a superior marketing tool. In fact, VR has been described as having revolutionized the way tourism products, services, and experiences are promoted and sold [ 21 , 29 ]. For example, Tussyadiah et al. [ 27 ] state that VR offers potential tourists a “try before buy” experience, which enables them to experience a destination virtually beforehand [ 7 ]. This is beneficial as it might encourage potential tourists to physically travel to the actual destination [ 15 ].

Tourism scholars and practitioners also regard VR as an ideal sustainable tool. As tourists and tourism-related activities have led to over-tourism, many tourism destinations/sites, especially those that are fragile and sensitive, have been restricted to tourists. However, VR enables tourists to gain “access” to these destinations/sites, without causing physical harm or degradation to the actual destination/site. According to tourism scholars, the reason is that VR provides tourists a substitute, or alternative, version of the real destination/site [ 7 , 15 , 29 ].

On the other hand, for many tourism scholars, VR poses a threat to tourism. According to this view, the major drawback of VR is that it is an individual activity that does not allow tourists any physical interaction with the local community or other tourists. This is a major concern as interaction plays an integral part in the tourist experience as people are social beings that want to be in the company of others [ 7 , 24 ]. Even though VR can motivate potential tourists to visit the physical destination, it could replace the need to travel - having COVID-19 enhance this. VR might even offer potential tourists a better tourist experience than the real one. This means that potential tourists no longer have the desire to travel to the actual destination. For many countries that are dependent on tourism revenue, specifically those in the global South, this is detrimental as it may lead to them suffering economically [ 7 , 23 ].

Despite these benefits and drawbacks which permeate the scholarship, there is a major gap in the literature as tourism scholars have not yet paid adequate attention to VR as a tourism niche in its own right, but rather as a substitute for conventional tourism. The purpose of this study is, thus, to address the gap, as well as determine whether VR can be regarded as a substitute for conventional tourism or as a tourism niche.

3 Literature Review

As indicated, the literature on tourism and VR is relatively limited, with only certain aspects having received any attention. It is apparent that the literature on tourism and VR has essentially focused on select key aspects: marketing, sustainability, VR as a substitute for conventional tourism, and COVID-19. Marketing has been a popular area in VR literature during the last three decades [ 17 ]. This is indicated by the wide range of topics, which include some of the following: VR compared with traditional marketing media (e.g., travel brochures) [ 21 ], presence [ 27 ], and Second Life [ 18 ].

Tourism scholars have also discussed how VR can be used as the ultimate tool for sustainability. One of the most-cited authors in this regard is J.M. Dewailly who focuses on how VR contributes to sustainability in tourism [ 11 ].

Another area that has become popular among tourism scholars is VR as a substitute for conventional tourism. In his latest publication, Guttentag discusses VR as a substitute for conventional tourism. He concludes that VR will never substitute conventional tourism [ 16 ]. In contrast, D. Sarkady et al. disagree by stating that although tourists used VR as a substitute for conventional tourism during COVID-19, they will also do so after the pandemic [ 25 ].

Lastly, since 2020, tourism scholars have begun paying attention to how VR can contribute to tourism during COVID-19. O. Atsiz, is one of many scholars that has addressed this topic, focused on how VR can offer tourists an alternative travel experience, while still adhering to physical distancing (or social distancing) regulations [ 2 ].

When considering tourism models, it is Butler’s TALC model which emerges as one of the most popular conventional tourism models in tourism literature. It has stood the test of time as tourism scholars continue to reference this model and his work as seminal. In addition, the conventional tourism framework model by Leiper is also often favored among tourism scholars.

In terms of VR, the only authors that have paid attention to a conventional tourism model thus far are J. Bulchand-Gidumal and E. William. In their work, they use Leiper’s tourism framework model for VR and augmented reality to discuss the main stages of travel - dreaming, planning, booking, transit, experiencing, and sharing. The results of their study show that VR is applicable in the following phases: dreaming (i.e., the “try before buy” concept), planning (i.e., the “try before buy” concept), booking (i.e., the “try before buy” concept), transit (i.e., entertainment), experiencing (i.e., the complete tourist experience), and sharing (i.e., social media) [ 5 ]. Given the limited attention this topic appears to have received, this study addresses this gap.

4 Methodology

As in the case of many tourism studies, this study does not use empirical research such as qualitative and quantitative research methods as it does not rely on experiments. Instead, it adopts a conceptual research approach and a comparative analysis. The conceptual research approach is of relevance as it is often used to address difficult questions and to “develop new concepts… or [to] reinterpret existing ones” [ 30 ]. A multiple comparative methodology was also adopted to more effectively “gauge the significance, validity and reliability of the outcome” [ 12 ]. The conventional tourism models devised by Butler and Leiper were selected as benchmarks based on the reason that they have remained popular and reliable since they emerged in the literature. Therefore, they still apply to modern-day tourism research. Another reason is that tourism is constantly changing, thus, the study compares two established conventional tourism models and argues that in doing so the position and status of VR within the tourism realm can be evaluated.

5 Results and Discussion

This section focuses on the conventional tourism models by Leiper and Butler and how they can be applied to VR. It is divided into two sections. The first section explains these models in terms of conventional tourism, and the second assesses the similarities and differences between VR and conventional tourism. In other words, it appraises the VR dimension in terms of the two key conventional tourism models.

5.1 Conventional Tourism Models

Over the past half-century, as tourism has evolved as a subject of intense academic research, a plethora of tourism-related models have been developed. This section briefly discusses the two conventional tourism models devised by Leiper and Butler that have been selected for this analysis as they have stood the test of time and are still regarded among tourism scholars as key analytical tools. In 1979, Leiper developed the “tourism system” model in order to understand and manage tourism (see Fig.  1 ). The model comprises of tourists, geographical elements (tourist generating region, the tourist destination region, and the transit and route region), and the tourism industry [ 19 ].

figure 1

(Source: Leiper, Leiper, N. (1979) The framework of tourism towards a definition of tourism, tourist, and the tourist industry. Annals of Tourism Research 6(4):404)

The tourism system

According to Leiper’s model, the integral component in tourism is the tourists. Fletcher et al . [ 13 ] state that tourists “initiate the demand for travel for tourism purposes”. Thus, the tourism industry cannot function at all without them [ 19 ].

In terms of the geographical elements, they consist of the tourist generating region, the tourist destination region, and the transit and route region. Leiper states that the tourist generating region is “the place where tours begin and end”, in other words, tourists’ residences [ 19 ]. Based on the model, the tourist destination region refers to the area that tourists stay in temporarily, namely the destination [ 19 ]. Some scholars are of the opinion that the tourist generating region and the tourist destination region align with G.M.S. Dann’s “push” factors (the reason tourists want to travel) and “pull” factors (features of the destination that encourage tourists to travel to the destination) [ 10 ]. Based on the model, the tourist generating region “pushes” tourists to travel, while the tourist destination region “pulls” tourists to it [ 13 ].

Leiper states that the transit and route region include destinations tourists visit on route. The transit and route region are important factors in tourism as they link the tourist generating region and the tourist destination region with one another [ 19 ].

The last element in Leiper’s model is the tourism industry. According to him, the tourism industry includes the tourism organizations, companies, and facilities that serve tourists, for example, shops and restaurants [ 13 , 19 ].

Lastly, as indicated by Leiper, there are five external factors that influence the elements of the model, namely physical, cultural, social, political, and technological [ 19 ].

The second model, and one of the most cited in tourism literature, is the “TALC model” (see Fig.  2 ). In 1980, Butler developed the TALC model in order to showcase the different phases that a conventional destination undergoes. He argues that a conventional destination goes through various phases, including the exploration stage; the involvement stage; the development stage; the consolidation stage; the stagnation stage; the decline stage, and finally the rejuvenation stage [ 6 ].

figure 2

(Source: Butler, R.W. (1980) The concept of a tourist area cycle of evolution: implications for management of resources. Canadian Geographer 24(1):7)

The tourist destination life-cycle

According to Butler’s TALC model, the first phase is the exploration stage. The destination is still unaffected by tourism and is mainly visited by ‘early tourists’, such as “explorers” (they want to get away from the so-called ‘beaten track’) and “allocentrics” (adventurous tourists). Since the destination is intact, there is physical interaction between the locals and the visitors. It is for this reason that visitors use local facilities as the infrastructure has not yet been developed for tourism [ 6 ].

The TALC model indicates that the second phase is the involvement stage. In the involvement phase, the destination becomes more popular among tourists as it is now being marketed. The locals begin to realize the potential of tourism and start to provide facilities to cater for tourists. It is also during the involvement phase that a tourism season emerges [ 6 ].

Butler states that the third phase in the TALC model is the development stage. The destination is still gaining popularity, especially among “mid-centrics” (they visit the destination during its “heydays”) and the “institutionalized tourist” (they prefer organized tours). However, the locals’ involvement begins to decrease, which opens the door to external tourism organizations. Unfortunately, the external tourism organizations begin to replace the locals and bring in auxiliary facilities, update the existing facilities, and import labor to cater for tourists [ 6 ].

The model shows that the next phase in Butler’s TALC model is the consolidation stage. The destination is now in its “heyday” as tourists are still increasing and its economy now depends on tourism. But increasingly tourists are no longer interested in the old facilities. Therefore, the external tourism organizations begin to replace the old facilities with newer and improved facilities. This leads to the locals opposing tourism [ 6 ].

The fifth phase in Butler’s TALC model is the stagnation stage. During this phase, the destination has finally reached its peak in terms of tourist numbers. Tourists still regard the destination as “old fashioned”. Only the “organized mass tourist” (who prefers flexible organized tours) and “psychocentric tourist” (who desires a well-developed and safe destination) travel to the destination. It is also at the stagnation phase that the natural and cultural attractions deteriorate and, therefore, external tourism organizations replace them with artificial facilities [ 6 ].

After the stagnation phase, a destination can either pass through the decline phase or the rejuvenation phase, or both. This depends on how popular the destination is among tourists. Regarding the decline phase, the destination is considered in a tourism slump due to overuse of resources or as a result of war, disease, or any other catastrophic event (as shown by Curves D and E). It is during the decline phase, that the locals begin to show renewed interest in the destination by visiting the destination and purchasing the facilities [ 6 ].

In terms of the rejuvenation phase, the destination can be restored to its former glory through successful redevelopment, minor modification, and adjustment to capacity levels, and protection of resources (as shown in Curves A, B, and C) [ 6 ].

5.2 Virtual Reality Tourism Models

It is argued that Leiper’s tourism framework and Butler’s TALC model can be used to highlight the similarities between conventional tourism and VR. This section substantiates this viewpoint.

The study argues that Leiper’s tourism system is similar to the VR tourism system. The reason is that the VR tourism system also consists of the same core elements, namely tourists, geographical elements, and the tourism industry (see Fig.  3 ).

figure 3

(Adapted from LeiperN. (1979) The framework of tourism towards a definition of tourism, tourist, and the tourist industry. Annals of Tourism Research 6(4):404)

The tourism system.

As indicated by Leiper’s model, tourists play a key role in conventional tourism. This is also the case with the VR tourism system. In VR, tourists (i.e., virtual tourists) are important as tourism companies and organizations rely on them to purchase and use their VR-related products and services. Therefore, similar to conventional tourism, it is impossible for VR to function properly without virtual tourists.

In terms of the geographical elements, VR also comprises of three elements similar to those referred to by Leiper. With regards to VR, the real world is considered as the tourist generating region. In the real world, tourists often face challenges and issues on a daily basis, for instance, the COVID-19 pandemic. The tourist destination region changes to the virtual world. As highlighted, the tourist generating region and the tourist destination region correspond with Dann’s push and pull factors. The reason is that the challenges and issues (e.g., COVID-19) “push” tourists, while the virtual world “pulls” them to it. This is because the virtual world offers tourists a temporary escape from their daily challenges and issues. In order to get to the tourist destination region, tourists “pass through” the transit and route region. In VR, the transit and route region equate to the head-mounted display (HMD). Similar to the conventional tourism model, it is noted that virtual tourists also travel from the tourist generating region (i.e., the real world) pass through the transit and route region through an HMD, and end up at the tourist destination region (i.e., the virtual destination).

Lastly, as regards to Leiper’s third aspect, the tourism industry, it is argued that in VR, this comprises of tourism organizations and outlets that order VR-related services and products from VR developer companies to offer tourists the VR tourist experience. It can, therefore, be concluded that Leiper’s model shows that VR is in many ways similar to conventional tourism.

The next conventional model is Butler’s TALC model. It is argued that a virtual destination also passes through most of the stages referred to by Butler in his TALC model as shown in Fig.  4 .

figure 4

(Adapted from: Butler, R.W. (1980) The concept of a tourist area cycle of evolution: implications for management of resources. Canadian Geographer 24(1):7)

The first phase according to Butler, is the exploration stage. During the exploration phase, not many people are aware of the virtual destination. The only visitor that ‘travels’ to the destination is the “curious visitor” (who has an eagerness to explore the virtual destination on, for example, the internet due to his/her curiosity). The quality of the virtual destination is poor as tourism organizations provide a very basic or elementary virtual tour since it is cheaper for a start-up. The only downside in the exploration phase, unlike conventional tourism, is that VR does not offer tourists any physical interaction between the locals (i.e., VR developer companies) and the curious visitor, as indicated earlier.

The next phase in Butler’s TALC model is the involvement stage. Visitor numbers increase as they are becoming more aware of the virtual destination. For this reason, the local VR developer companies begin to show a keen interest in the virtual destination and begin to market it through, for instance, virtual advertisements on the internet. In addition, the local VR developer companies also start to improve the virtual destination by adding other elements, such as higher quality visuals and improved sound.

Following the involvement phase is the development stage. The virtual destination now attracts a new type of tourist, namely the so-called “virtual tourist” (they prefer to explore virtual destinations). It is at the development phase that the virtual destination is in its prime due to its popularity. As a result, there are more virtual tourists compared to the local VR developer companies. In fact, VR has the ability to attract more people than conventional tourism because, for instance, an app of the virtual tour can be downloaded or viewed by many people in comparison to conventional tourism which only allows a certain limited number of tourists according to physical capacity. Unfortunately, the local VR developer companies’ involvement can begin to decrease and they are then replaced by international VR developer companies. The international VR developer companies begin to change the virtual environment by upgrading and improving the virtual destination through integrating new components, such as an HMD.

The fourth phase in Butler’s TALC model is the consolidation stage. As indicated by the number of downloads or viewers, virtual tourist numbers are still increasing. In addition, the international VR developer companies transform the virtual destination from a basic 360° video/image virtual tour to a more immersive tour as they add new elements, such as movement (e.g., touch) and sound. The virtual destination begins to rely on the revenue gained from tourism. Hence, the international VR developer companies begin to charge fees for tourists to view the virtual destination. As a result, the local VR companies feel left out and retreat and often go bankrupt.

It is contended that a conventional tourism destination does not always pass through all the phases mentioned in Butler’s TALC model. This is also the case with VR. The phase that does not apply to the virtual destination is the stagnation stage. The reason is that a virtual destination will never experience a peak in tourist numbers, cannot be destroyed, and suffer as a result of other issues (i.e., environmental, social, and economic). Moreover, the virtual destination does not have to rely on repeat visitation and lower-income tourists as, unlike a conventional tourism destination, it does not rely on repeat visitation because it is able to attract new and potential tourists regularly.

After the consolidation phase, the virtual destination can pass through the decline phase or the rejuvenation phase, or both. In a sense, the virtual destination does not always experience the decline phase. Again, the reason is that the virtual destination does not exist. Therefore, the virtual destination does not face the same issues as a conventional tourism destination would. However, if the virtual destination does experience the decline phase, it might start to lose tourists due to the tourist experience becoming monotonous and boring, or the level of immersion (as shown by Curves D, and E). In addition, the local VR companies might be involved again in the development of the virtual destination. Lastly, the virtual destination will mainly be visited by attitudinal loyal tourists (they show affection towards a certain brand) and behavioral loyal tourists (they continually use or buy the same brand) [ 22 ]. In terms of VR, attitudinal loyal tourists are considered poor tourists. They are loyal to the virtual destination since they cannot afford to travel to the actual destination. Behavioral loyal tourists in VR are wealthy tourists that will only visit the virtual destination in order to decide whether it is worth it to visit the actual destination beforehand.

Should the virtual destination experience the decline phase, it can attract tourists again in the rejuvenation phase. VR developers can achieve this by offering tourists another aspect of the virtual destination, make the virtual tour more immersive by adding other components or to tailor the experience according to the need of the tourist (as shown in Curves A, B, C). Therefore, the study argues that the VR destination can be seen to undergo most of the phases that a conventional tourism destination undergoes according to Butler’s TALC model.

6 Conclusion

As COVID-19 has devastated the tourism industry, many tourism companies and organizations were forced to move to VR in order to survive. VR literally transformed the tourism industry, especially in terms of marketing and sustainability. Therefore, the aim of the study was to determine if VR could become a substitute for conventional tourism or whether it can be considered as a tourism niche, especially in the future. A conceptual and comparative analysis was conducted by comparing two of the most popular conventional tourism models with VR, namely Leiper’s tourism system and Butler’s TALC model.

Based on the results, VR will not likely be a substitute for conventional tourism. It is, therefore, argued that VR should rather be considered as a tourism niche in its own right. In fact, the conventional tourism model by Leiper supports this. As indicated, VR also consists of similar elements mentioned in Leiper’s model, namely tourists, geographical elements, and the tourism industry. Similar to Leiper’s conventional tourism system model, in VR, virtual tourists are also regarded as vital as the industry relies on them. In terms of the geographical elements, virtual tourists also have to pass through the tourist generating region (i.e., their reality), the tourist destination region (i.e., the virtual world), and the transit and route region (i.e., HMDs). Lastly, the tourism industry in VR is considered to be the tourism organizations and companies that rely on VR developer companies to develop a VR tourist experience for them to sell to virtual tourists.

Even Butler’s TALC model shows that VR is similar to conventional tourism. Based on the model, a virtual destination (i.e., a simple 360° video/image or live-stream tour of an actual or fabricated destination) also passes through many of the phases, especially the exploration stage; the involvement stage; the development phase; the consolidation phase; the decline phase and the rejuvenation phase. However, the only phase that does not apply to VR is the stagnation stage. Compared to a conventional tourism destination, the virtual destination is virtual, in other words, not “real”. Thus, the virtual destination will never experience its peak in tourist numbers, destruction, and issues.

Lastly, in order for VR to be considered as a tourism niche in the future, two problems need to be addressed by future scholars. The first major issue is that VR does not entail any physical interaction between the local VR developers and virtual tourists. As indicated, it is important to address the issue because interaction plays a key role in the tourism domain as humans are considered social beings. The second vital issue that has to be focused on is that VR does not provide tourists the full tourist experience as in the case of conventional tourism, where tourists are able to experience a destination through all of the five senses (i.e., sight, sound, smell taste, and touch). This issue needs serious attention because a full sensorial tourist experience will result in a more authentic experience for tourists. For now, VR appears, thus, not to be a substitute for conventional tourism, but rather as a dynamic futuristic niche in its own right.

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The author would like to thank her supervisor, Prof K.L Harris (Head of Department of the Historical and Heritage Studies and Director of the University of Pretoria Archive) for all her support and guidance during the writing of this paper. The author wishes to thank the University of Pretoria for granting her the necessary funds for her Ph.D. research. Moreover, the author thanks her family and friends for their support. Lastly, the author thanks the ENTER Conference for the opportunity.

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