Scientific approaches to the definition of the concept «tourism destination»

In this article the various approaches to the definition of the concept «tourist destination» are discussed. Although, it is one of the most frequently used terms in the analysis of tourism, currently, it cannot be stated that there is one generally accepted definition or even an approach to this term. As the subject of analysis of many different sciences, including economic, geographical, sociological sciences, this term is understood differently. The authors analyzed the main economic and geographical scientific approaches, their features and applicability for economic analysis. The article discusses and analyzes classical spatial or geographical approaches, economic approaches which, in turn, are divided into: a) management-oriented or in terms of supply; b) customer-oriented in terms of demand; c) systemic, neoinstitutional or network approaches that become popular in recent years. The proposed separation of approaches to the definition of the term or concept of «tourist destination» is very conditional and non-exhaustive; the boundaries of the various approaches are often blurred. Despite of the fact that the study focuses on an approach that is more appropriate for economic analysis, it should be borne in mind that the tourist destination is still an interdisciplinary problem.


The word «destination» means a place where a person or thing of travel. The World Tourism Organization provides the following definition of a tourist destination: «..a physical space with or without administrative and / or analytical boundaries within which a visitor can spend the night. This is a cluster (co-location) of products and services, as well as activity and experience along the value chain tourism and the basic unit of tourism analysis. The destination includes various stakeholders and can create networks for larger destinations. It also has intangible values, such as image identification, which could affect its competitiveness in the market» [1].

By its origin, the term «tourist destination» is originally a typical geographic term and is understood as a part of the geographical space. This approach is seen in the classical definition of A. Burkart and S. Medlik: «The tourist destination is a geographical unit that is visited by tourists and is an autonomous cen- ter» [3; 46]. Currently, this category, although it is one of the most frequently used terms in the analysis of tourism, it cannot be stated that there is one generally accepted definition or even an approach to this term. As the subject of analysis of many different sciences, including economic, geographical, sociological sciences, it is understood differently. Not surprisingly, the approaches developed by sociologists, economists, regional scientists, physical geographers, social geographers, and others are different. In addition, the models and approaches developed by individual sciences are becoming more sophisticated and, on the one hand, they make it easier for specialists to achieve their research goals, but at the same time they make it difficult for scientists from different fields to understand each other.

At present, scientific literature approaches to the definition of the concept «tourist destination» can be divided into classical (spatial) or geographical approaches, economic approaches which in turn are divided into: a) management-oriented or in terms of supply; b) customer-oriented in terms of demand; c) systemic, neoinstitutional or network approaches that become popular in recent years.

The proposed separation of approaches to the definition of the term or concept of «tourist destination» is very conditional and non-exhaustive; the boundaries of the various approaches are often blurred. Despite of the fact that the study focuses on an approach that is more appropriate for economic analysis, it should be borne in mind that the tourist destination is still an interdisciplinary problem. If an interdisciplinary approach is not applied to this topic, the analysis and conclusions will be unbalanced.

As for Kazakhstan, in our country the concept of «tourist destination» has been in circulation relatively recently. The Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan of June 13, 2001 No. 211-II «On Tourism Activities in the Republic of Kazakhstan» does not define tourist destinations and this term is also not used in this document, but in the Concept of development of the tourism industry in Kazakhstan until 2023, approved by the Government Decree of the Republic of Kazakhstan of June 30, 2017 No. 406 this concept is already used as a designation of certain territories for the development of tourism [2].

The article has a theoretical and methodological character, in which the objectives of the research are achieved through a systematic analysis of the scientific literature, comparison of various approaches and discussion of the findings of secondary sources.

Essential content of the concept of «tourist destination»

Classic spatial approaches

One of the most influential definitions of tourist destinations in Western literature is that given by C. Goeldner and J. Ritchie in their internationally recognized textbook, which states that «a tourist destination is a particular geographic region in which a visitor uses various types of travel» [3]. Other definitions that emphasize the spatial nature of tourist destinations are the data of P. Murphy [4; 7], V. Goncalves and P. Aguas [5; 12] and A. Burkart and S. Medlik [6], mentioned above in the introduction. One of the most detailed definitions within the framework of this classical approach is the one given by W. Framke [7; 5], which states that «a tourist destination is a geographical area that contains landscape and cultural characteristics and which is able to offer a tourist product, which means having a broad view of transport objects - accommodation - food and at least one outstanding landmark or entertainment (experience)». Finally, it is worth highlighting the definition given by A. Seaton and M. Benett [8; 351], which focuses not only on the physical features of the site, but also intangible characteristics.

Within the framework of recreational geography, geography of tourism, tourist resource management and tourism economics, the category «tourist destination» is similar in terms to the terms «tourist region», separated from the tourist and recreational space by the method of zoning (M.B. Birzhakov [9], S.A. Bystrov [10], V.I. Kruzhalin [11], A.S. Kuskov [12], A.S. Marshalova [13] and others).

S.A. Bystrov, a Russian researcher in the economy of tourism, proposes to separate the concepts of «tourist region» and «tourist destination». In his opinion, the tourist region includes several tourist destinations and is a broader concept. The issue of demarcation of the «tourist region» and «tourist destination» according to the criterion of scale is removed by Kotler F.'s typology (macro- and micro-destinations). The last two definitions open up new opportunities and a new approach, which is much more connected with the achievements of economic geography and / or economics.

Approaches to economic geography and economics

Economic geographers, following the achievements of economic sciences, often perceive a tourist destination not only as part of the geographical space, but also as an important element of the tourist market, which can be described by features of tourist demand and features of tourism supply. Similarly, in the framework of economic approaches to the analysis of tourist destinations, two main approaches can be distinguished.

The supply side approach was developed by both economic geographers and economists, and the demand side approach is more typical of economic sciences. In the approaches typical for the analysis of demand, the tourist destination is perceived subjectively. Yu Hu and J. Ritchie declare that a tourist destination «reflects the feelings, beliefs and opinions that a person has about a destination and sees the ability to ensure that their special needs are met» [14; 25]. This approach is focused on the perception of specific tourists (past, current, and future) and their market decisions. The destination here depends on the choice of tourists — the place or region that tourists choose. Here, a tourist destination can be a concept of perception, which can be interpreted subjectively by consumers depending on their trip route, demographic characteristics, purpose of visit, level of education and past experience [15]. This leads to the conclusion that the destination is not just what actually exists - it is also what is considered to be existing, a mental concept in the minds of tourists and potential tourists [8]. This consumer-oriented approach and perception is the cornerstone of modern tourism marketing. Also, according to researchers S. Morgan, H. Princhard, A. Pride and A. Pike, destinations have become the largest brands in the tourism industry.

A destination selection theory based on the division of available destinations into a set of solutions, like the process observed in other markets, was developed in the 1970s by A. Woodside [15]. In this sense, specific tourist destinations compete to be chosen by tourists. The metaphor of a tourist destination as a brand has allowed researchers to introduce many achievements of corporate marketing and management into the practice of tourism destinations. This subjective perception of the boundaries of destinations corresponds to the view of the definition of a region (of any kind, not necessarily tourist) in the public mind.

The demand side approach, which is very useful in marketing analysis and strategies, as well as in describing the competition between destinations, also has some limitations. The subjectivity of the perception of specific destinations and their boundaries makes the process of analyzing and managing very complex. This inconsistency of the demand-based approach and the supply-side approach, which focuses on internal processes, includes one of the biggest current challenges for destination marketing specialists. Specific marketing activities are usually funded by a single entity or group of persons located within certain boundaries, especially administrative boundaries, since state administrations are often involved. However, these administrative boundaries are often not perceived by tourists, who have their own, usually subjective, destination image, which they have chosen. As a result, tourists can get advertising information in which the administrative district is moving, and they do not even know where it is located. For example, when promoting Akmola region in Kazakhstan as a tourist destination, it may be difficult for even domestic tourists to present what they are offered.

Another perspective is taken in determining the tourist destination from a supply-based approach. Here, a tourist destination is most often understood as the area of existence and / or concentration of demand for tourism, the supply of tourism and their results, including economic, social, environmental and other consequences. However, the supply side approach is not uniform. The main definitions are focused on the analysis of specific phenomena that are visible in tourist destinations, such as the development of travel companies and tourism infrastructure, as well as in the definition of F. Danghel and R. Saynahi [15; 38], who understand tourist destinations as «a geographic area where there is a concentration of small / medium-sized companies with a homogeneous product». A similar attitude can be found in the definition of this E. Bordas [15], which describes tourist destinations as «a group of tourist attractions, infrastructure, equipment, services and organizations concentrated in a limited geographical area». A more complex definition is offered by L. Elmazy, E. Pierrot and E. Bazini [9; 2]. In their opinion, «a destination is a spatial unity of tourism offer, with relevant elements of market-oriented supply, and also of tourism-oriented one, existing regardless of administrative boundaries, requiring management. It provides a fundamental institutional framework for the formulation of a concept for the development of tourism, in which the focus will be shifted from the accommodation facility to the entire surrounding area along with its economic structure (city, region, zone, country)».

Other researchers define a destination not only as a place where tourist products are offered, but also as a central tourist product that controls all other products. It is also unclear whether the destination should be perceived as one important product offered in the tourism market or as a package of products offered locally. A. Seaton and M. Bennett [8; 351] state that the tourist destination «is one product, but also integrated», which emphasizes the duality of the nature of this concept. Perceiving a destination as a product, that is, an offer for tourists to spend their time, is much closer to the approach from the demand side, because it returns to the perception of customers and their choice. On the contrary, considering a destination as a product package is closer to the supply side. This reflects the fact that the proposed product can be aimed at different segments at the same time, which implies different ways of spending time in one destination. In this sense, local proposals for active tourists, culture lovers or spa lovers can be perceived as different destination products, and then the task of destination managers is to manage a product portfolio. However, such portfolio management is to some extent different from companies, since individual products cannot be considered in isolation from others. Motivation of tourists is much more complicated than just participating in one of the forms of tourism, and often during their stay in a destination, besides their main activity, they can engage in other activities. In addition, some local offers may be common for participants in various types of tourism, which means that individual products have common elements. The views presented above are typical of economists and / or economic geographers. However, within the framework of economic sciences, the concept of tourist destination has also become a subject of interest for research in the field of management. Tourist destination can be considered as the most important management unit in tourism [9]. Usually, researchers representing management science also determine tourism destinations as part of the supply side approach, but the emphasis is on the management process and structure. This approach is more complex, and part of it remains controversial, since tourist destinations cannot be regarded as official organizations and there are no formal hierarchical structures. This is due to the fact that a destination usually consists of several separate enterprises that can offer «their» product in an uncoordinated manner [10; 3].

However, the chaotic, uncoordinated development of the proposal for tourism can be replaced by the cooperation activities of individual subjects, as indicated by Capone F. and Bois R. Then the destination is perceived as «a collective producer with a certain structure, coordinating additional services in accordancewith the needs and preferences of the target market segment and sold as a whole under a single brand» [15]. As a result, H. Pechlaner [15; 33] defines it as a «process-oriented unit of competition», which should provide products and offers for specific target groups and guest segments». The metaphorical representation of a destination as an object similar to a company was necessary for the introduction of a large number of tools «borrowed» from the field of corporate governance, which is much better developed. However, it soon became clear that, although destinations have to compete in the tourism market, destinations have so many characteristic features that the simple implementation of management principles does not work, and correct adjustments are necessary. Among other things, the adjustment included the perception of a destination as an object similar to the strategic business unit (SBU) of a diversified company, and not as the company itself. The place (region, city, country, etc.) is also diversified in that its activities and products offered in the domestic and foreign markets are diverse, and tourism is just one of these activities / products, since the SBU is diversified the company. This way of thinking is reflected in the definition that Pechlaner H. offers, but it can also be found in the works of Gnoth J. or Biger S.

Network approach to tourist destinations

In connection with the further development and sharing of spatial and economic definitions of tourist destinations, more complex approaches have been developed, in particular the system and network approach. In the system view, a destination is defined as an area unrelated to administrative constraints, where tourism aspects are interconnected and integrated into the system. This affects the motivation of travel, visits and industry mechanism. According to L. Elmazy, E. Piero and E. Bazini [13; 2], this system contains the following subsystems: business systems, systems of state self-government, and other systems; however, this view may be too simplistic, since the number of subsystems may be larger and their relationships may be more complex. The development of a systematic approach that analyzes the complexity of tourist destinations, opens up new opportunities for the application of a modern network approach to the destination. This approach was possible due to some evolution that occurred in the basic sciences, adapted to the analysis of tourist destinations at the beginning of the century. The network approach has increasingly attracted the attention of scientists in the field of sociology, economics, management, regional and economic geography.

One of the main features of tourist destinations was the absence of hierarchical connections between numerous organizations that offer products on their own. That is why modern researchers are discussing effective coordination and / or interaction, and not management [15]. The existence and market efficiency of a destination based on management theories could be better understood, since market structures were even more developed, and the subsequent theories were further developed. According to the new paradigm of strategic management based on interorganizational relations, companies began to look for sources of their competitive advantage in non-competitive relations with other organizations, including competitors. Based on sociology, network theory began to be used in management research. It was also found that this theory is very useful for better describing and understanding the processes that occur in tourist destinations. In modern studies of tourist destinations, the network approach is being increasingly used.

According to a simple and general definition, «a network is a set of elements that we will call vertices or sometimes nodes with connections between them, called edges» [15; 16]. In the business context, Hall S. defines the network as a «mechanism for interaction and cooperation between organizations». Among the early attempts to present a tourist destination in a network perspective were works that considered a destination as a cluster or as an industrial area. But both approaches had their limitations and were seriously criticized.

The theoretical literature on network theory is fragmented and includes several disciplines. Tourism researchers who are trying to embed it in tourism study point to several theories or micro-theories that can be effective. The most frequently mentioned are transaction costs, resource dependency theory, and network theory. Support for this argument lies in defining tourism as a system where interdependence is important, as well as cooperation between various organizations in the tourist destination creating a tourist product. Thus, local alliances, agreements, and other formal and informal governance structures help offset the fragmented nature of the tourist destination.

Network theory has been proposed as a way to better understand current marketing activities and processes aimed at business development. D. Bukhalis points out that most of the destinations consist of networks of tourism offerings and that the presence of such networks creates more profitable tourist destinations. Within the network theory, a tourist destination can be considered as a set of interrelated stakeholders included in a social network [15]. Such a network of stakeholders interacts and jointly meets the needs of visitors and gives the experience (impressions) that travelers consume. These stakeholders include accommodation, food, tourist attractions, travel agencies and operators and other companies that provide commercial services, government agencies and tourist information offices, as well as representatives of the local community. The interaction between these stakeholders is complex, dynamic and subject to external shocks. The main prerequisite for managing a tourist destination is that, through joint planning and organizational activities, the effectiveness of these collaborative interactions can be improved in the interests of individual stakeholders.

One of the reasons for exploring networks as a central part of tourism is that they form the basis for collective action. In tourism, many of the main resources of a tourist destination are state or public and are used jointly to attract tourists. These can be physical objects, such as beaches, lakes, scenic landscapes and national parks, museums, art galleries and historic buildings; or intangible resources, such as destination brands or the reputation of local friendships. Such collective actions do not necessarily require a network organization, but if there is no interconnectivity at all, and if decisions relating to tourism are not priorities within state and local government, then the problem is often solved by creating a network of interested parties. It is also assumed that the networks will function as systems that can organize and integrate tourist destinations, which benefits firms, improves the efficiency and quality of the destination, and also stimulates the provision of a «useful and unforgettable experience» for tourists.

Supporting the concept of a destination, Amin and Treyft (2002) argue that destinations are areas in which participants with different statuses, geographic connections and mobility interact in a passing and unstructured manner. From this point of view, the destination has certain qualities that affect the social networks that arise within it. On the one hand, the proximity and stability associated with a particular place create favorable conditions for creating a strong bond. In addition, a particular destination consists of several contact points, where different participants can interact regularly with each other. Among the earliest attempts to present a tourist destination in a network perspective, the work of Nordin, Weimar, Steinhaus, Hawkins, Jackson and Murphy, who viewed the destination as a cluster, can be noted. Industrial clusters exist where firms and organizations are freely geographically concentrated, or an association of firms and organizations is involved in the value chain of goods and services, and they are innovative. Initially, the benefits of industrial agglomeration were due to natural resources, spatial costs of external transactions, transportation organization and costs, labor, or effects of scale. According to Porter (1990), clusters are geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialized suppliers of goods and services, firms in related industries and related institutions (for example, universities, standardization agencies, trade associations) in a particular area that compete, but also collaborate. Porter's view that fundamental competition and cooperation between companies in a cluster and the search for competitive advantages in the economy in innovation and the search for development gave a new impetus to the cluster concept. His cluster theory became a standard concept in the field, and development strategies from around the world used Porter's cluster model as a tool to increase competitiveness, innovation and growth at the national, regional and local levels.

According to many authors, regional clustering is a part of a new industrial order [14] and can be interpreted as part of a subnational or global system of innovation and production. At present, the cluster concept focuses on the transfer of knowledge, as well as on the connections and interdependencies between the participants of the value chain. This goes beyond the traditional ideas of clusters in which horizontal networks of firms operating in the same end-product market in the same industry group are involved. Especially, if one adopts modern definitions of clusters that emphasize cooperation between companies, one can see a lot of similarities between the approaches in which destinations and clusters work. In both cases, the role of government bodies is recognized. However, for tourist destinations, this function is broader than just creating good conditions for the development of companies, since the public sector is also responsible for delivering many important elements of the tourist destination product. The most important difference is observed in the sequential nature of product creation in industrial clusters [12]. A cluster is usually formed by a chain of suppliers and industrial customers with a visible separate company (or with several similar competing companies), which is responsible for the final product and sells it to the final customer.

Even taking into account the fact that in a cluster there are usually many different products that are produced and that almost all of them are offered to other types of companies, this is not similar to what can be seen in the tourist destination: all members of the network produce only a part that covers range of offers, and end customers, that is, visitors, create a product for themselves. Too simple implementation of the cluster concept in tourism research has also been criticized as being too business-oriented, and ignoring the fact that cluster members, such as travel companies, are usually unable to develop a motive to attract tourists. This role is usually played by tourist services, which are often free, and the implementation of clusters canlead to the marginalization of their impact. This special status of free services, which are elements of comparative advantage and understood in this way by Porter and followers, emphasize the need to introduce geographic and spatial approaches for agglomerating production in tourist destinations. Consequently, typical business-oriented approaches based on Porter's theory are not sufficient to explain the clustering of tourist destinations. Some researchers examine in detail other similarities and differences between industry clusters and tourist destinations, such as Simpson and Bretherton, 2004; da Cunha, 2005; Jackson and Murphy, 2006; Feng and Miao, 2009 [15].

Another concept developed in the regional economy and economic geography and used to analyze tourist destinations is an industrial region. The theory of the industrial region began to take shape at the end of the nineteenth century with the work of Marshall (1898), which tried to explain the localization (geographical concentration) of English industries such as ceramics, cutlery and basket production. Then, in the late 1970s, the theory of industrial areas was applied to an area in Italy, which became known as the «third Italy». These regions seemed to grow faster than the rest of the country, and successfully emerged from recessions. From this point of view, this concept remains especially popular among Italian scientists.

According to Mottyer and Ryan (2006), industrial areas are characterized by geographic and industry concentration of firms, small companies, strong interfirm relations, social or professional environment and an emphasis on innovation. Similarly, ffilager (2000) considers the following key features of industrial clusters: the interdependence of firms, the flexible boundaries of firms, cooperative competition, the credibility of sustainable cooperation, and the «community culture» with supportive government policies. A very simple definition of an industrial area was given by Corot and Grandinetti (2001), which states that this is a network of small and medium-sized enterprises that are embedded in the local context that draws our attention to the network form of the character of industrial areas. All these statements show that the concept of industrial areas is associated with similar phenomena, such as clusters, and, like a cluster, this concept can be implemented in the analysis of tourist destinations. According to ffilager (2000) and Mottyar and Ryan (2006), tourist destinations can be considered as illustrations of industrial areas. However, this concept is not as popular as clusters among tourism researchers. This may be due to the focus on the manufacturing sector on the basic theory of industrial areas. In addition, the comparability between tourist destinations and industrial areas is less obvious, especially with regard to management structures. This also applies to strengthening the vertical division of labor between regions that provide services to tourists and regions.

Another attempt to implement an approach characteristic of network theory for analyzing tourist routes is the metaphor of the Gnoth company of a virtual service company, which can be defined as a network of enterprises that share resources and who organize their cooperation as a joint activity. However, as noted by Gnot (2004), there are also important differences between typical virtual firms that are most commonly found in industrial markets and in tourist destinations [15]. Firstly, in tourist destinations there is usually no focus company responsible for the overall management of the production process. Secondly, the contribution of each small and medium business (SME) in the field of tourism is not cumulative, as is the case, for example, with the participation of various companies in the automotive industry. Tourism is perceived rather holistically, and often the value for the client does not flow directly from specific services, but is created between different services, as a combination of these services and tangible and intangible assets of a given destination.

Probably the most difficult proposal on how to analyze tourist destinations within a network theory is the one proposed by Scott, Cooper and Baggio [15]. It uses sophisticated quantitative methods to better understand the relationships between specific stakeholders and their impact on the effectiveness of the entire network.

Currently, network theory is most often used to understand management in tourist destinations better . In the network approach, understood here as in opposition to the corporate approach, management can be defined as «self-organizational, inter-organizational networks, characterized by interdependence, the exchange of resources, game rules and autonomy from the state» [15]. However, governance is a concept that relates to relationships between several interested parties and how they interact with each other. It includes the question of how stakeholders define, implement and evaluate interaction rules. It was noted that these were public and private sectors, and as a result, the applied management aspects could be derived from those used in both sectors. The whole concept of destination management is based on the creation of groups of organizations that come together to form a single destination.


As a result of the study, we can draw the following conclusions. The development of transport technologies and social conditions that caused the phenomenon of mass tourism, combined with the globalization of the world economy, has increased the competitive pressure on tourism organizations. Under these conditions, as in other industries, companies within a destination tend to form interconnections in order to better solve competitive tasks.

Tourist destination is a network of interrelated elements that provide a tourist product in a particular place or space, which has a formed image or an idea about it among tourists.

The concept of a tourist destination largely implies a network approach to tourism research - an approach that focuses on activities and strategies that contribute to the development of the field, depicted as a network of participants collaborating to provide integrated tourism products.

Finally, it should be remembered that, although the network approach is now perceived as one of the most promising approaches to tourist destinations, it still cannot be perceived as the only possible one.



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Year: 2019
City: Karaganda
Category: Economy