A Summary of

Nature and Culture as Tourism Products -

A Tentative Sociological Analysis

by Sven-Erik Karlsson

Doctoral Dissertation at the Department of Sociology, Göteborg University, 1994.

Aims and Issues <> Reflections on Methodology and Methods <> What Is Tourism? <> The History of Tourism <> Tourism - a Major Industry <> A Sociological Frame of Reference <> The Productive Sector of the Tourist Industry <> The Life-Style Producing Tourism Consumer <> The Consequences of Tourism <> The Difficult Scientific Journey - an Attempt to Sum Up

Aims and Issues

The initial phase of the study consisted of a series of interviews with about ten entrepreneurs in Värmland in the field of nature tourism and with a number of municipal officials who were interested in developing this form of tourism. These interviews took place in the spring of 1989 and the objective was collect some material in order to start an analysis of nature tourism in Värmland. Gradually, my area of interest was extended to cover the growing field of culture tourism in the region.

The object of the study was to analyse these social phenomena from a sociological standpoint, which meant they should be related to a social context and changes in this context. Regional nature and culture tourism which aims at transforming nature and culture into tourist products' becomes intelligible if we place it in a broader tourist and social context.

The analysis presented in this thesis should be seen as a first step in a process since more empirical material and greater theoretical precision are needed if we are to study tourism as a social phenomenon in a sufficiently scientific manner. The thesis is thus only 'a tentative sociological analysis'.

Reflections on Methodology and Methods

The methodological points of departure for the study largely derive from discovery and reflection; discovery because tourism, particularly nature and culture tourism, is a social phenomenon which has to be scientifically described, and reflection because a major feature of this study is the conscious effort to exercise systematic control over the various choices that are made in the attempt to capture the phenomenon theoretically and empirically.

The statistical data used to describe the structure and significance of Swedish tourism are primarily drawn from the structural plans of the former Swedish Tourist Board. It should be noted that there are shortcomings in the tourist statistics partly because of the complex and extremely fragmentary nature of the tourist industry and partly because of the practical difficulties in collecting statistics.

The historical sources used are purely secondary. This is sufficient since the main aim is merely to understand present-day tourism in the light of the history of tourism and travel.

This study has been conducted very much along the lines of Pierre Bourdieu's epistemological programme which entails conquering, constructing and confirming sociological facts. The work has involved a scientific conquest of the field of tourism and the construction of fruitful scientific concepts for analysing tourism. The collection of data on tourism has been used as a tool in the processes of conquest and construction rather than as a means of confirming hypotheses.

What Is Tourism?

I define tourism in three different ways: one semiotic, one in terms of social science theory and one in politico-administrative terms.

Etymologically the word tourism is derived from the educational journeys of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, 'le Grand Tour', where the term 'tour' designates a journey from one's hometown to another place and back. In tourism research and the debate on tourism the term has various connotations ranging from the negative to the positive. I have attempted to treat the term in a neutral manner.

In terms of social science theory tourism can be seen as an anti-everyday activity which may concentrate on what I term either educational and self-developing tourism or on carnival tourism. These two ideal types of tourism can be practiced either in central places, primarily big cities or on the periphery, for instance in Värmland's natural and cultural landscape.

The politico-administrative definition shows that tourism is difficult to operationalize in official statistics, for instance to unambiguously distinguish recreational tourism. I problematize the concepts of leisure and recreation, which are often used in these contexts. Activities which are not normally considered as part of leisure time may be significant touristic activities, such as staying at a hotel, eating in a restaurant or travelling to a big city to shop. Leisure away from home covers more than leisure at home. Recreation is an ambiguous concept which is closely related to the instrumental, disciplinary view that the authorities have of people's leisure time. As it is generally used, it excludes many activities which form part of carnival or pleasure tourism.

The History of Tourism

A study of the history of tourism shows that tourism is a social product which is intertwined with other aspects of social development. The embryonic analysis presented here primarily deals with travel and tourism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries where modern tourism has its roots. The historical survey considers three aspects: which class or classes were of major importance for the shaping of tourism, what were the tourist attractions and what means of transport were used. Nineteenth and twentieth century tourism was very much a middle-class phenomenon. Tourism among the working class started in the period between the wars and became particularly significant in the post-war period. Major attractions in both centuries have been coastal and mountain regions and the culture of Dalecarlia. Writer and artist milieus have also been very attractive. Charter tourism has become important since World War II. At first it was an escape from the urban environment, but today big city tourism is more prominent. The history of modern tourism is very closely linked with developments in transportation; the steamer and the steam locomotive shaped tourism in the nineteenth century and the cycle, car and aeroplane in the twentieth. The last two have played a decisive role since the war.

Tourism - a Major Industry

Available statistics show that present-day tourism is a major industry, both internationally, nationally and regionally. It is one of the world's biggest industries as regards numbers employed. Its turnover represents about 6% of world trade and the future looks very bright. In Sweden, the turnover was about 3% of the BNP in the early 1990s. The industry employs about 5% of the total workforce. In Värmland tourism provides employment equivalent to somewhere between 2000-3000 man years. The net surplus in the early nineties was estimated at more than 400 MSEK. The impact of tourism differs from municipality to municipality. In some Värmland municipalities, such as Sunne, Torsby, Munkfors and Årjäng, tourism is a relatively significant economic factor.

A scrutiny of the former Swedish Tourist Board's structural plans for 1987, 1989 and 1990 revealed that the Swedes are very much a nation of tourists but that Sweden is not a major tourist country as regards the number of foreign tourists. The Germans, Dutch, English and Americans dominate. The Swedes themselves travel abroad a great deal, particularly in Scandinavia. Germany, Spain, Austria and Greece are also major tourist goals. The main reasons for travelling abroad are 'to relax', 'to meet friends and relatives' and 'for entertainment/pleasure'.

Swedes make about 100 million domestic journeys per year which entail an overnight stay and are longer than 200 km. 75% of these are leisure trips. The most common reasons for leisure trips with overnight stays are 'to visit friends and relatives', 'to visit one's holiday cottage' and 'to get peace and quiet/ relaxation'. The predominant means of transport is the private car. Leisure trips without overnight stays are also of major economic importance for the industry since they are mainly shopping and pleasure trips. Business journeys and official journeys, both those with or without an overnight stay, are also of considerable economic importance since the people travelling often use more expensive types of transport and accommodation. The tourist industry has five components; restaurants, accommodation, transport, distribution, and activities and events. It largely consists of small enterprises, the big companies being mainly in transport, accommodation and distribution. The restaurant trade is the largest component both as regards turnover and employment.

The growing economic significance of the tourist industry has led to an increase in its political significance. Tourism policies have three main objectives: a recreational policy one, a currency policy one, and a regional and employment policy one. Briefly, the first is to enable as many people as possible to enjoy tourism, the second to attempt to improve the balance of payments and the third to achieve a regional balance in Sweden and to improve the level of employment, particularly in rural areas.

It is doubtful whether any of the objectives have been attained. There are many people who never make tourist trips. 'Sweden is bleeding tourist currency'. The regional policy objective is considered more closely in this study, primarily from a Värmland perspective. From a number of official reports and from political and administrative decisions at both national and regional level, it is clear that tourism has become increasingly important for achieving a regional balance in the country and in the various regions. During the 1980s and 1990s tourism policy has undergone a re-orientation, focusing increasingly on commercial goals, a policy pursued by the right-of-centre political parties in the face of opposition from those left of centre. Among other things this has led to the Swedish Tourist Board being replaced by Next Stop Sweden, primarily a marketing company. At the regional level in Värmland, the growing emphasis on commercial goals can be seen, for instance, in the Värmland Tourist Board's wavering between social and commercial goals and in the fact that many of the municipalities that are important from a tourism viewpoint are adjusting their tourist activities to the market in the form of foundations, economic associations and companies. This is an example of the process referred to in this study as commodification, which is a major point of discussion in the following more theoretical sections.

A Sociological Frame of Reference

In this section of the study I set out a sociological frame of reference, which is then used as a point of departure for understanding tourism. A survey of the analyses made by two tourism researchers, Jost Krippendorf and John Urry, shows how valuable it is in theoretical terms to deal with tourism in relation to the surrounding society.

The major building blocks in present-day society are economic, political, socio-cultural and socio-material. In line with the materialist approach to history, I maintain that the economic sphere is the most significant for the nature of and changes in other social spheres. In this sphere it is not only material resources that are commodified or commercialized but also immaterial ones such as tourist attractions. Dominating the modern welfare state is the opposition between commodification, for instance the commercialization of experiences of nature and culture, and what I term decommodification, emphasizing non-commercial goals such as the social objective of tourism policy of 'tourism for everybody'. The socio-cultural sphere mainly covers the reproductive everyday and non-everyday, for instance leisure trips to another place. This sphere is being increasingly affected by the economy and politics. The socio-material sphere is the man-made environment, for instance the shape of urban environments and the cultural landscape. These are of great importance for the nature of tourism and are in their turn affected by tourism.

In the study I use Scott Lash's and John Urry's theory of the transition from organized to disorganized capitalism to characterize the changes that are at present taking place in society. In economic terms the trend is towards greater commercialization. The service class or the new middle class is growing in importance. The postmodernist paradigm, which is primarily distinguished by greater integration between, for instance, elite culture and popular culture, is having an increasing cultural impact.

As an industry, tourism can be divided, for analytical purposes, into produc-tion, distribution and consumption. This study only deals with production and consumption. The actors in these sectors are considered in terms of both their structural location and their cultural affiliation.

The Productive Sector of the Tourist Industry

In this section the production of tourism is considered from three angles: what resources are used, in what forms are they used and how are these forms commodified.

A resource is something which is in demand or for which a demand is created. The resource is thus related to the social context in which the demand is created. The national and regional resources which, according to many of the official plans and reports, are to be exploited are nature and culture. I use the term nature tourism in this study for activities involving the commodification of various types of genuine and artificial natural phenomena, for instance rafting down the Klara river in Värmland and so-called survival courses. The laws on the use of natural resources and on environmental protection indicate the areas in Sweden which are most suitable for this type of tourism, roughly speaking the mountain and coastal regions and along some of the big rivers. The public right of access is a major resource in this context. The Swedish climate produces a two-season tourism model, summer tourism and winter tourism. On the basis of the social-science definition of culture, where virtually all collective consciousness is termed culture, all tourism with this orientation should be termed culture tourism. However, established culture tourism takes a narrower view, concentrating on the so-called aesthetic elite culture and the so-called cultural heritage.

It is clear that the form of production for both national and regional nature and culture tourism is small-scale. In fact, it is very similar to what is often termed handicraft production, work which concentrates on a specific assignment where so-called silent knowledge plays a major role, especially in the contact with tourists. The producers very much live for their work. It seems to be the case that entrepreneurs from outside are better able to see the opportunities for exploitation, particularly in the local landscape.

Using a concrete example, a company producing rafting voyages down the Klara river in Värmland, I discuss the theoretical significance of commodifica-tion, where utility value, particularly the psychological and social value of natural and cultural experiences, is transformed into exchange value, a monetary price, and where selling can be distinguished from buying. The exchange process may be an independent process with the traders primarily interested in the process itself. Small-scale producers seem to make every effort to avoid becoming traders to any extent.

With concrete projects in Sweden and in Värmland as a point of departure, I discuss the commodification of culture in culture tourism, in recent years an expanding field. Culture tourism differs from nature tourism in that it is more frequently arranged by official institutions and organizations, such as county authorities, museums and local folklore societies.

The Life-Style Producing Tourism Consumer

This section is more concerned with discovery and hypothesis than the rest of the study. The overarching aim is to develop a fruitful sociological point of departure for analysing present-day tourism consumption.

A survey of Swedish data on tourism reveals distinct differences between different socio-demographic groups. Somewhat over 30 % of the population of Sweden between the ages of 16 and 74 reported in 1990/91 that they had not made a holiday trip lasting more than a week during the past year, more than 50% said they had not been abroad. Women more tourist trips than men; students and those gainfully employed more than pensioners; the better educated more than those less educated; households without children or with older children more than households with young children; urban residents more than rural residents; upper classes more than lower classes.

In this part of the study I hypothesize that there are class differences as regards the consumption of tourism. The middle class is more interested in what was earlier termed educational and self-developing tourism whereas the working class prefers carnival tourism. What is here termed the new middle class, where the so-called welfare-state professionals and the market professionals are prominent groups, seem more to unite the two forms of tourism. British studies suggest that it is people in this class that are the main consumers of the products of nature and culture tourism. It is reasonable to assume that the situation is similar in Sweden. According to many present-day sociological consumer researchers, it is primarily the new middle class that forms the new consumer society, which should also be true of the consumption of tourism.

This class defines what is good taste and what signs should be used to indicate the lifestyle one wishes to be seen as belonging to. It is also this class that shapes the consumption which will satisfy the need for relaxation from the boredom of work and everyday life. Consumption occurs in special socio-material space in society , for instance at tourist resorts and in the city of big cities, and this has an impact on the spatial design of society.

The cultural paradigm which many researchers see as justifying the current consumer culture is what is termed postmodernism. The main feature of this paradigm is the integration between different social spheres, for instance between elite culture and popular culture and between various sectors of ' the cultural economy'. Signs, primarily figurative, and code systems play an increasingly important role in social life. In some cases they form a hyperreal world which constitutes a reality in itself.

In the study the theoretical analyses of consumer culture and postmodernism are formed and exemplified by means of two different travelogues and a number of concrete examples from the tourist industry in Värmland.

The Consequences of Tourism

This section begins with a brief survey of what is meant in theoretical terms by consequences, in particular unintentional consequences, functional or dysfunctional feedback consequences, and functional or dysfunctional consequences for the survival of the system. When it comes to tourism, all these types of consequences, including unintentional and dysfunctional environmental consequences are of importanc