Tourism and Degrowth

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Socialist and Critical Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM (MDT)
Room: Washington 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Organizers: Robert Fletcher, ASUNCION BLANCO-ROMERO, Macià Blázquez-Salom


This proposed panel explores the potential of “degrowth” to function as a pathway towards sustainable tourism. Degrowth is a proposal for a radical socio-political transformation, calling for a period of planned economic contraction leading eventually to the type of steady-state economy at a sustainable level of aggregate throughput long advocated by Herman Daly and others (see Dietz et al. 2013). It includes calls to (re)build societies and economies around principles of commons creation and governance, care and conviviality (see esp. D’Alisa et al. 2014). In the process it seeks to call attention to the inherent unsustainability of a business-as-usual capitalist economy predicated on continual expansion. The rapidly growing literature addressing degrowth has yet to seriously address the global tourism industry, however (but see Bourdeau and Berthelot 2008). Yet tourism is one of the world’s largest industries and hence a main form of economic expansion (Fletcher 2011). Moreover, it is predicted to grow dramatically in the future as the basis of much of the future development aspirations of many lower-income societies. To seriously pursue degrowth at both global and as well as most national levels, therefore, would likely require a drastic transformation of the tourism industry and its metabolism.

By the same token, notwithstanding important initial explorations (Hall 2009, 2010: Büscher and Fletcher 2017) discussions of sustainable tourism have yet to seriously engage with the discourse of degrowth. From the inside, tourism commonly portrays itself as a relatively clean industry whose growth is associated with increased economic welfare and job creation. Challenging the expansion of mass tourism can thus be highly unpopular, increasingly termed ‘tourism-phobia’ by industry proponents. From the consumer side, questioning tourism development implies questioning the very mechanisms that allow modern subjects to channel discontent produced by the increasing speed, competition and stress experienced in their work lives. On the producer side, challenging mass tourism implies questioning hegemonic economic structures, provision of precarious/seasonal jobs, and increases in the prices of land/housing. In short, questioning tourism development is tantamount to challenging the current capitalist productive model and its growth imperative.

In environmental terms, tourism growth requires vast amounts of materials and energy (nature in motion) to be transformed into capital (value in motion). However, while tourism has often been presented as a merely a form of “symbolic capital” based on production of immaterial experiences, with little biophysical implication, here we highlight the materiality of tourism activity. On the social front, meanwhile, in some cases implementation of measures to restrain real estate and tourism growth within a capitalist economy have enhanced monopoly rents and socio-spatial segregation. Decisions by landowners, hoteliers, real estate investors in the face of high class demand to set aside the best pieces of land from mass tourism (e.g. natural areas, heritage landscapes, countryside estates or old quarters of heritage cities) have facilitated land grabbing, accumulation by dispossession and gentrification.

These ‘side-effects’ of mass tourism development are normally addressed by advocating still more growth. Hence, the UNWTO explicitly defends tourism development by claiming “growth is not the enemy; it is how we manage it.” The increase of housing prices/rents is restrained by increasing the stock of buildings; the overload of transport corridors is curbed by the expansion of harbours, airports and bus lines; the increasing precarity of labour - by bringing in more cheap workers/creating more short-term/flexible contracts; the saturation of public space - by better marketing strategies that distribute tourists over bigger territories and colonize more space. Yet none of these measures targets the systemic drivers of tourism, and hence the root causes of its negative consequences.
The papers in this panel will explore the potential relationship between degrowth and tourism in relation to such dynamics. We invite contributions that investigate conflicts concerning tourism growth in diverse contexts and/or the application of innovative measures addressed to limit this growth. In the process they address questions including:
• Is degrowth in fact necessary for sustainable tourism?
• Are there other ways in which problems of tourism growth could be addressed through other means, e.g., through “slow” (Fullagar et al. 2012) or “steady-state” (Hall 2010) tourism?
• What would a ‘socially-sustainable’ degrowth (Martinez Alier 2009) approach to tourism look like? How could it be realized?
• How could the aspirations of those whose futures are seen to lie in tourism development still be addressed in such a degrowth approach?

Key References:
Büscher, B. and R. Fletcher. 2017. “Destructive Creation: Capital Accumulation and the Structural Violence of Tourism.” Journal of Sustainable Tourism 25(5): 651-667.
Bourdeau, P. and Berthelot, L. (2008). Tourisme et Decroissance: de Ia critique it l'utopie? In F. Flipo and F. Schneider (Eds.) Proceedings of the First International Conference on Economic De-Growth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, Paris, 18-19 April 2008 (pp.78-85). Paris.
D'Alisa, G., Demaria, F., & Kallis, G. (Eds.). (2014). Degrowth: a vocabulary for a new era. London: Routledge.
Dietz R, O’Neill D, 2013 Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, CA)
Fletcher, R. (2011). Sustaining tourism, sustaining capitalism? The tourism industry's role in global capitalist expansion. Tourism Geographies 13(3): 443-461.
Fullagar, S., Markwell, K., & Wilson, E. (Eds.). (2012). Slow tourism: Experiences and mobilities (Vol. 54). Channel View Publications.
Hall, C. M. (2009). Degrowing tourism: Décroissance, sustainable consumption and steady-state tourism. Anatolia, 20(1), 46-61.
Hall, C. M. (2010). Changing paradigms and global change: From sustainable to steady-state tourism. Tourism Recreation Research, 35(2), 131-143.
Martinez Alier, J. (2009). Socially sustainable economic de‐growth. Development and Change 40(6): 1099-1119.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Robert Fletcher*, Wageningen University, Tourism and Degrowth: Impossibility Theorem or Post-Capitalist Alternative? 15 8:00 AM
Presenter ASUNCION BLANCO-ROMERO*, Universidad Autónoma De Barcelona, Macià Blázquez-Salom, Universitat de les Illes Balears, Barcelona, Housing Rent Bubble in a Tourist City. 15 8:15 AM
Presenter Macià Blázquez-Salom*, Universitat de les Illes Balears, Asunción Blanco-Romero, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Ivan Murray, Universitat de les Illes Balears, Jaume Gual, Universitat de les Illes Balears, Tourist Gentrification of retail shops in Palma (Majorca, Spain) 15 8:30 AM
Presenter Elizabeth Auclair*, Cergy Pontoise University, Alternative pathways for socially sustainable tourism: the renovation of traditional places in Porto Novo (Benin) 15 8:45 AM
Presenter Szilvia Gyimothy*, , Mauro Ferrante, University of Palermo, Stefano De Cantis, University of Palermo, Expanding the beaten track: mapping and nudging cruise tourism mobility in the city 15 9:00 AM
Discussant Macià Blázquez-Salom Balearic Islands University 10 9:15 AM

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