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Tourisme de masse vs. tourisme alternatif

Stereotypes and Professional Reflections on Mass Tourism: Focusing on Tour Operators, Mass Tourism Destinations and Mass Tourists

Stéréotypes et réflexions des professionnels sur le tourisme de masse : focus sur les voyagistes, les destinations de masse et les touristes de masse
Vilhelmiina Vainikka


Le tourisme de masse est un phénomène historiquement significatif. Pendant des décennies, il a été une source de stéréotypes dans la recherche universitaire et dans les débats publics. Cette étude porte sur les stéréotypes du tourisme de masse et donne la parole à des agents et des guides touristiques travaillant pour les tour-opérateurs qui vendent des produits de masse. Ils ont été invités à commenter et réfléchir sur les déclarations sur le tourisme de masse. Le contexte socio-culturel finlandais est discuté ainsi que le positionnement et la contextualité des personnes interrogées. Au total, 20 interviews ont été menées. Les résultats montrent qu'il n'y a pas une façon de comprendre ces stéréotypes: les professionnels contextualisent et appréhendent le phénomène de plusieurs manières. Les recherches sur le tourisme mériteraient d’accorder plus d’attention sur les processus de catégorisation du tourisme de masse, la construction de la pratique discursive et leurs effets sur les théories et les pratiques.

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Notes de l’auteur

Funding: This study has been conducted with the funding of Department of Geography, University of Oulu. The fieldwork for this study was supported by the Union of Finland –Greece associations (Suomi-Kreikka yhdistysten liitto ry) with a grant from the Arvo Allonen memory fund (Arvo Allosen muistorahasto) and the Department of Geography, University of Oulu.

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1Contemporary tourism is a mass leisure phenomenon (Sharpley, 2000). The international mass tourism has concentrated to the geographical areas of the Mediterranean, Caribbean and Southeast Asia but also many other places in the world, including coastal resorts, cities, ski resorts and mega events. I argue that mass tourism, as a spatial category and a normative type of travel behaviour, should to be taken under closer scrutiny and the concept needs updating as the modes of travel and the travel preferences have transformed. So far, the academic writings on mass tourism have defined it in many terms, even as the ‘hordes of barbarians’ running after the ‘sun and sand’ or as superficial experiences under the control of tour operators in placeless destinations (Boorstin, 1964; Turner & Ash, 1975). Even in the 1990s mass tourism was conceptualized as: standardized, rigidly packaged, mass produced and mass marketed to an undifferentiated clientele and consumed en masse without consideration of local norms or culture (e.g. Poon, 1993). These definitions symbolize stereotypes of mass tourism that are very strictly defined and entail negatively-loaded ideological assumptions which are discussed in this paper.

2Thus, mass tourism, in its different forms, has been a popular phenomenon for decades. The scientific community, however, has been criticized for its focus on niches or alternative tourism, rough comparisons against mass tourism, and the utilization of limited theoretical frameworks (e.g. Aramberri, 2010; Wheeller, 2003). In addition, the mass and the so called alternative do not have to be considered as a dichotomy but a dynamic relation (Clarke, 1997; Honkanen, 2004). Several scholars have stated that it is important to address mass tourism, the core of industry, because its scale is so much larger than alternative tourism’s (e.g. Butler, 1990; Cohen, 1987; Weaver, 2013; Wheeller, 2003). I argue that the limited scope of research on mass tourism and its ambiguous use as an analytical category creates in itself stereotypes that are hard to challenge or change.

3The empirical interest in this research is in the ways different Finnish professional groups (travel agents and tourist guides) see mass tourism and use it as an everyday category of practice (Brubaker & Cooper, 2000) and how they understand and respond to certain stereotypes of mass tourism that are related to tour operators, destinations and tourists. The empirical case is Finland because it is a democratic and rather weak class-society. Although it is a marginal nationality amongst global mass of tourists it has a long established cultural tradition of mass tourism. From the viewpoint of a Finnish geographer and former travel agent, I argue that contextuality and positionality are key issues in understanding mass tourism as relation between origin and destination. By interviewing the experts who are in contact with numbers of tourists on daily basis, their positionality can be addressed in relation to the phenomenon and stereotypes of it. The research questions are: How do travel agents and tour guides perceive mass tourism and its stereotypes from their dialogue-orientated point of view? How do they use scale to frame their perceptions?

4The term mass tourism is always used with a reason to do so. However, there is a difference whether it is considered as a category of analysis or category of practice (Brubaker & Cooper, 2000). For the interviewees, mass tourism is an everyday category of practice used to frame the phenomenon from their perspective based on everyday knowledge, education and professional career. For the researcher, however, it is an analytical category that sets the theoretical framework for the study. In this study, mass tourism as a socially constructed conceptualization has no ‘given’ meaning. Instead, its meanings are negotiated through discursive practices of different people and social groups from specific positions, also social relations and material world influence it.

5The two professional groups interviewed in this study are the Finnish travel agents and tourist guides who work for Finnish mass package tour operators. Travel agents are geographically located in Finland whereas the guides work on seasonal basis in the destination(s). The guides were interviewed in the island of Crete, which is an established destination for the Finns. Their perspectives differ from the local residents’ and tourists’ viewpoints, but there are also differences among them. Changes have taken place in Finnish mass package tourism in recent decades. The growth of online services has contributed to the closing of some travel agencies and self-booked trips have changed the role of travel agents to travel consultants rather than sellers (Vainikka, 2014). In addition, guides are growingly working online and get less face-to-face contacts from clients (Vainikka, forthcoming). This study does not aim for generalizations, rather it focuses on the process of knowledge creation in the specific interviews.

1. Theoretical and methodological framework

6Representations, categorizations and stereotypes are important tools for people to organize and cope with the world and phenomena around them (Berger & Luckmann, 1967; Hall, 1997). Stereotypes are not necessarily stigmas, but persistent representations and meanings and, therefore, powerful in shaping meanings of places, phenomena and people. “Stereotypes are complex sets of beliefs, sometimes held together by cultural glue or prejudice, but more often through theories that reflect some combination of experience and culture” (Schneider, 2004: 566). The representations are not created in a vacuum but products of historical processes (Nelson, 2007). The receiver can interpret them in different ways and can also give new meanings to them (Hall, 1997). Stereotypes are challenging to study because their formulation is culturally specific and normally one’s own reference group is used rather than a ‘global average’ to measure them (Hottola, 2012).

7Tourism and its representations have become an important aspect in people’s everyday lives and identity-making in post-industrial societies, although not for all in the same way or to the same extent. Tourism knowledge is created growingly in national and international media (adds, travel programs), education, social media and everyday discussions. Central aspect of these discussions is the participants’ positioning in relation to (in this case) the mass (McCabe 2005): people want to separate themselves from the mass and/or embrace it. The othering –discourse has been identified to take place both between different forms of tourism (Jenkins, 2003; Löfgren, 1999; van Gorp, 2012) but also within charter-based mass tourism (Andrews, 2011; Jacobsen, 1990). The contemporary post-industrial values support the individualist and alternative views even though they would be as much bound by their own circle of representation directed at so called alternative tourists, rather than at mass tourists (Jenkins, 2003; van Gorp, 2012). Research has also raised up similarities between the challenges faced by mass tourists and alternative tourists (Kontogeorgopoulos, 2003; Hottola, 2014). Maffesoli (1996) talks about today’s masses as neo-tribal groupings based on shared lifestyles and tastes. Following this theoretical thought we could think that mass and alternative tourism consist of different ‘masses’. As discussed in many occasions alternative tourisms are not separate from the mass industry (e.g. Weaver, 2014).

8McKercher (2008) states that the reason for tourist stereotypes is embedded in the new groups of first generation mass tourists (especially on package tours) that continuously keep the stereotype alive. He argues that it is the mediated nature of these package tours that endure the separation between local and tourists, and produce stereotypes. I also argue that scholars themselves often approach the package tours and tourists stereotypically instead of going beyond.

9Tourism researchers have studied how the tourism industries create stereotypes about the ‘others’ and the local life through commodification and how tourists, in turn, consume them (e.g. Macleod, 2006). These stereotypes have also been made of mass tourism and tourists with preferred theoretical frameworks that have limited the research focus. The professionals are not free from identity-building nor categorizations of ‘us’ and the ‘others’, nor from influences of different kinds. In the case of mass tourism research, two different discourses, deterministic and flexible, have been identified and they produce two different conceptualizations of ‘mass tourisms’ (Vainikka, 2013). The difference is whether mass tourism is understood as static, homogeneous phenomenon based on certain criteria (Fordist production, standardization) or whether it is seen as a dynamic, flexible concept that refers to the large, visible, democratized and popular contemporary tourism(s). These result in two different ‘phenomena’.

10This research is seen as a process of constitutive negotiation (Rose, 1997) in which the researcher, the interviewee and the statements shape the understanding. The interviewee decides at which scale she/he frames the phenomenon addressed universalistically in the statements. For example, Saarinen (2004) has stated that tourism destination is a challenging concept as it can signify a country, resort or tourism product. The scale is thus a discursive frame (Kurtz, 2003). Moore (2008) has argued that scale should be considered as an ‘everyday category of practice’, contingent, contested and continually made and remade. Mass tourism refers to something large as mass signifies largeness whether in numbers of tourists or size of tourism infrastructure or in something else. But there is no pre-given scale at which this ‘mass’ should be exclusively addressed.

1.1. The Finnish context to mass package tourism

11Obrador Pons et al. (2009a) have highlighted the need for situating mass tourism within specific historical and social contexts. The viewpoint of this study builds around the origin country. Finland is a small country and travel market, but it has been part of mass tourism, for example in the Mediterranean, for decades. It is important to study mass tourism outside the large nationalities, such as British, as mass tourism is practised by many different nationalities and it varies accordingly. The origin societies also vary to a great extent. The development of outbound tourism from Finland has reflected the northern and relatively peripheral geographical location. After Finland joined the European Union in 1995 connections have increased to European destinations. Nevertheless, the country’s relative position between Europe-Asia flight routes increased especially tourism to Southeast Asia. As a Nordic welfare society, which highlights equality between its citizens, Finland has traditionally had relatively small income differences between citizens and free educational system of high-quality (including universities). Long, dark winter and short, unreliable summer are common discussion topics, and they influence both physical and mental health, and they have contributed to outbound tourism.

12Mass package tours have had a central role in the democratization of tourism (Löfgren, 1999), and in Finland it has been travelling of many social classes: ‘travelling for all’ (Selänniemi, 1996). This is an important notion because if mass tourism is researched only in societies with strong class-based traditions, it also affects the simplified version of mass package tourism. The earlier research made of the Finnish package tourism suggests that package tours are rather a means to an end, utilized for own purposes by diverse social groups (Räikkönen & Honkanen, 2013; Selänniemi, 1994; Vainikka, 2014).

13Charter package tourism is one of the most stereotypical forms of mass tourism in the Finnish culture. Not surprisingly, the attention of the public has often been directed at the tourists who were not seen to behave according to the norms and they have been sources of many ironic cultural products (e.g. in songs, movies, tv-series) contributing to the stereotypes and myths of mass tourism (Honkanen, 2004). Especially, the tour operator Keihäsmatkat in the 1970s provoked long-lived stereotypes with the trips that were known for their heavy drinking and ‘free spirit’.

14The Finns have travelled ‘in masses’ with charter-based package tours since the 1960s mainly to the Mediterranean and neighbouring areas (Spain, especially the Canary Islands, Greece, Turkey), but also to Southeast Asia, and to Caribbean and other destinations. The relative popularity of charter based package tours has diminished as airline and low-cost airline connections have improved in the 2000s and 2010s but the amount of package tours done has remained in approximately one million (AFTA, 2014).

1.2. Methods and material

15The study material consists of two sets of interviews. Travel agents were interviewed in Finland in 2011 and tour guides in Crete in 2013. Crete was the case destination (Chania region especially) for the research due to its long established role as a summer mass package tour destination for the Finnish tourists. I interviewed travel agents in nine pair-interviews and one individual interview, and tour guides in ten individual interviews. The travel agent group consisted of people with different career lengths with the same tour operator (3–35 years), their age ranged from 25 to 60 years, and were predominantly women. The interviewed guides were all women, mostly young adults in their 20s (20–60 years) who were at the beginning of their career as guides (1 month – 12 years with the same company). I recorded and transcribed the interviews.

16The tour operators that participated in travel agent interviews were Aurinkomatkat-Suntours (Finnair group), Finnmatkat (TUI group) and Tjäreborg (Thomas Cook group). Aurinkomatkat and Finnmatkat participated also in the tourist guide interviews. These three tour operators are the largest charter package tour operators in Finland covering 77,1 % of the air based package tour passenger numbers and 76,1 % of the revenue in 2013 (AFTA, 2014).

17The material consists of seven statements (stereotypes) about mass tourism (Table 1) and the responses. This material is part of a bigger project and the interviews also consisted of several semi-structured questions about Finnish package tourism. The statements were presented at the end of each interview, and only then was the term mass tourism utilized for the first time. This change may have an effect on the responses as mass tourism has been identified to have a historical weight and more negative, simplified versions can be accepted of mass tourism than of package tourism (Vainikka, 2014).

Table 1. The statements about mass tourism introduced in the interviews

Table 1. The statements about mass tourism introduced in the interviews

18In constructing the statements, there is a loose connection to Q-methodology (Eden et al., 2005), a method in which the statement format is used. In this case, I formed the statements based on concourse that consisted of academic writings on mass tourism: what has been said there about mass tourism and why has the mass tourism research been criticized. Thus, I formulated the statements after reading an exhaustive amount of academic literature on mass tourism. The over-simplified and even provocative statements are not direct reflections on the deterministic discourse of mass tourism research (Vainikka, 2013) but formulations. In many parts, they have already been challenged and discussed in tourism studies by flexible discourse. It was not possible, nor necessary to open the academic discussion further for the interviewees, because these stereotypes are partly also used in everyday life outside academia. The aim of asking the interviewees to respond to the statements is not so much to prove the stereotypes wrong or right, but instead, to raise culturally situated discussion about them in an institutional setting. I applied discourse analysis as a loose framework for the analysis.

2. Evaluating the stereotypes of mass tourism

2.1. The stereotype of tour operators

19In research, tour operators are often seen as central and powerful actors who operate at the macro-level and control the tourists (e.g. Poon, 1993). Nevertheless, tourism enterprises themselves are not separate from the wider economic structures (Britton, 1991). Scholars in tourism studies have increasingly discussed also the empowerment of the tourists and their demands (e.g. Ateljevic, 2000; Räikkönen & Honkanen, 2013). The interviewees were introduced a statement: Tour operator wants to control the tourist in order to make larger profits (e.g. Cohen, 1972; Poon, 1993). In the guide interviews, the statement was qualified to concern the ‘during the trip’ phase. The statement suggests that the capitalist control is practised at the corporation level over the tourists and takes place in all phases of the trip. The idea was to evoke discussion about how the participants perceive business and the relationship between the service provider and the individual.

20The interviewees agreed that tour operators want to strategically guide their clients by marketing different services and products (see Cheong & Miller, 2000 for discussion on power in tourism). Both professional groups felt important to contextualize that tour operators are operating in a global market economy with capitalist agendas, where making profit is the context for their operation. In this way, the interviewees framed tour operators with global scale: They do not make the rules by themselves, but are under the control of global market economy.

21The interviewees did not use the term ‘tourist’ but ‘client’, which is more sensitive category highlighting their interactive relationship. The tour operator and the client were both seen as active decision-makers: “Well, in a way we choose those alternatives for the client from which he/she can choose”. In another part of the interview, the same interviewee added that “the client has to decide” (Interview 6: travel agent). For the interviewees, the control thus means mostly marketing and informing of their services at the point of reservation and at destination, but not direct control over clients’ decisions. The interviewees admitted, however, that the intensifying competition has put a stress on tour operators and their workers to sell more additional services such as excursions, car rentals and insurances or to recommend hotels that are riskier for the business (own/contract). This change was underlined by the interviewees with longer working careers. These interviewees showed sympathy for their employer corporation in terms of being targets for global capitalism but criticized the pressure that has been put on them for highlighting the needs to sell.

22In addition, the interviewees framed their response to a more intimate level, to the relationship between a travel agent or guide, who can be understood as the embodiments of tour operator, and a client. Some travel agents, but even more clearly the guides, highlighted the suitability of the services and products to the needs of the clients. The sensitiveness of the negotiations is exemplified here: “Cannot be, in any case, forced selling (...) because it immediately hits the wall: ‘They are just trying to sell’” (Interview 10: guide). They reflect on the need to ‘hide’ from their clients some part of the role that the company ‘gives’ them. The client was seen as both the consumer and the producer of the holiday, not only ‘victim of control’ (Ateljevic, 2000; Cheong & Miller, 2000). The guides are the last ones who can sell extra services to the customers during the trip, so they might be more sensitive to highlight it here. They implied that they want to make suggestions for their clients with consideration and that the only fruitful outcome is the improved satisfaction of their client, which possibly ensures their repurchase. In other part of the interview, one guide told that a typical question from a client might be: “What is your favourite Greek dish?” (Interview 7: guide). This continues to frame communication to a micro scale between two individuals with their unique interests, experiences and tastes.

2.2. The stereotypes of mass tourism destinations

23Mass tourism destination is a spatial category that has been used to symbolize places that have been transformed by tourism developments into spatially specialized resorts or bounded spaces (e.g. Butler, 1980). Researchers have used this category as a representative of placelessness (Relph, 1976) or as non-places (Augé, 1995) that have started to resemble each other through processes of globalization and commodification rather than regions they are located in, which seems to be the preferred status. These approaches have been criticized (e.g. Relph, 2000) and the ‘mobility turn’ has brought new theoretical approaches to their conceptualization, such as relational space (Knox, 2009; Anton Clavé, 2012), which highlights the possibilities of such contemporary spaces and their connections to the originating places of tourists. Both professional groups were introduced a statement: All mass tourism destinations are similar (e.g. Relph, 1976; Turner & Ash, 1975). This is a highly simplified statement of the spatial category. It suggests that the mass tourism destination is a bounded entity, but also, that it would be the same where one travels within this category. The aim was to evoke discussion on how this spatial category is understood and how they see similarity or difference?

24There was a difference between the responses of the travel agents and the guides: the travel agents were more likely to state that they agree and disagree with this statement. The guides more often disagreed with the statement. The travel agents highlighted more similarities in mass tourism places in the form of common elements (infrastructure such as hotels, restaurants) or products and services on offer in mass tourism destinations at a global level (such as guides, concept hotels).

25Especially the guides, who work at one destination at a time, were firmly stating that each destination is different. They separated the service structure from the notions of place: “Even at a novelty destination you know that you are going to get the same services as at the old destination but as a place it is not similar, is it?” (Interview 10: guide). Whereas travel agents have not necessarily been in all destinations they consult on and work with, but still: “From every place you will find that some special characteristic” (Interview 2: agent). Few travel agents even identified ‘theoretical’ differences in the resort development: purpose built versus more slowly developed destinations.

26In general, the travel agents left their answers a bit more open (“that something”) than the guides who articulated further these differences. The guides linked the differences between places to a sensitiveness within human-cultural dimension: “(…) Own customs, own cultures and own landscapes” (Interview 1: guide). The movement is essential in destination in the next excerpt and these reflections are not in line with the statement that the ‘South’ has no location (e.g. Selänniemi, 2001): “Local culture influences it always. It is totally different thing if you go to Turkey or whether you come to Greece” (Interview 8: guide). Mass tourism destination is more than the sum of the physical elements or products and it is scaled to a larger and blurrier area (than resort), in which different scales are in simultaneous interaction. Crete, as a case destination, was seen in many parts of the interview as a successful example of a destination, in which the local food culture has been incorporated into family businesses that are valued by the Finnish tourists.

27The next discussion between two travel agents showcases the different positions that interviewees take in relation to the statement. These travel agents discuss the separation between limited, static general representations and the subjective ‘sense of place’ that are not necessarily easy to articulate, physical differences of different destinations and also the experiences (Thailand) in contrast to places she had not visited. They acted as evaluators of mass tourism destination representations but also producers or believers of stereotypes, insiders and outsiders:

28A: They are similar, in that sense, yes. Then the little inner differences that make it "This is a cool place". But they are those that depend on what one likes, but if it was on the paper, just like this, in a static way, then they would all be quite similar.

29B: Yes, and if you start to list these, good water-sports facilities... then they become similar, but they are not the same. They are not, you know...

30A: Then something like Thailand comes to mind, where there is more variation. One really cannot say that ... there is some island in which there is one hotel maybe two, a luxury thing, where you really get hotel with hanging around in a desert island. But then there are those mass tourism destinations and...

31B: But then, it is reputed to... there is, for example, I think about some Sunny Beach and Antalya... Alanya, so I do not know, if I were not given any clues where I am... I do not know if I could tell you where I am (which one). I have not visited either one of them though, but I have somehow in my "subconscious" (laughing) that they are... (Interview 4: travel agents)

32Only seven guides were given the last two statements on mass tourism destinations due to busy schedules and this statement was formulated only after the travel agent interviews. The statement was: Mass tourism destinations are predictable and familiar even though it would be the first visit (e.g. Cohen, 1972; Meethan, 2012). This represents a critical understanding of the mass as a pre-digested ‘baby food’ employed, for example, by the Frankfurt school (Adorno, 1992) but given here a spatial dimension. An experienced guide brought this issue at a personal and local level: “Those physical things can very well be predictable (...) but what is the local character, that culture (...) many say that (...) ‘Wow, I never would have guessed that it is like this’” (Interview 9: guide). In this sense, the standardized aspects of the destinations are seen to play only a part of the story. In a later part of the interview, the guide continued: “I guess, many people do not even feel this as a mass tourism place because those huge hotel-colossus-areas are missing from here” (Interview 9: guide). Even the most common features are not always seen to correspond in situ context.

33In terms of predictability and familiarity, the interviewees underlined the visitors’ prior knowledge of these places acquired via online (character of contemporary tourism) or previous experiences reflecting that no one is a tabula rasa when coming to a destination. This is a different interpretation of familiarity or predictability than the notion of placelessness of tourist places in research. To a certain extent, also the interviewees linked familiarity to the first appearance of the mass tourism destinations for their visitor, including familiar elements (hotels/restaurants) or even to motivation of the client (not caring for where they are). However, all guides also disagreed with the statement and stated that it depends on what and how their clients want to consume the place: whether they explore the place or not.

34The last statement about destinations for all ten guides was: Mass tourism is based on the sea, sun and sand (e.g. Turner & Ash, 1975). In research, the coastal mass tourism, in particular, and its destinations are linked to the three S’s that are used to symbolize the motivations of tourists, the products and character of places. Scholars have criticized that this focus has been too narrowly on labelling the phenomenon and experiences superficial or homogeneous (Crick, 1989; Hazbun, 2009; Löfgren, 1999; Obrador Pons et al., 2009) and also a change from sun-lust to sun-plus products has been identified (Bramwell, 2004). This statement is not meant to be negative, as in this study different ideologies to travel are acknowledged, but it is unnecessarily strict, deterministic and comprehensive, symbolizing mass tourism as a single entity (covering motivations, place etc.). The idea was to leave it open and to see how they, as professionals working in one coastal resort area, react to mass tourism and to the three S’s. I have included some excerpts also from travel agent interviews that address this issue even though they were not given the statement.

35Most respondents agreed with the statement, but they also saw that the sea, sun and sand is a relation between geographical location of two countries, something that people search for in their holiday and can be found at the destination: “Summer is so short in Finland and vacations are short, so if it happens to be a bad weather (...) they want to make sure that they have at least sun and warmth when it is summer and it is a way to relax” (Interview 2: guide). In another part of the interview, the three S’s is framed as a more or less seasonally changing network: “In wintertime long-haul destinations (including the Canary Islands) (...) short-haul flights do not take to the warmth (...) in summer short flights and European destinations” (Interview 2: agent). Thinking about the future and how people use the three S’s, an agent exemplified in a later part of the interview: “It will always be dark in Finland in the winter-time. (...) So people are missing that warmth and the sun (...) so that they get more energy with which to manage the rest of the dark winter” (Interview 6: agent). The next excerpt exemplifies the personality of the three S’s: “If you go there for a beach holiday so that is what you want from that vacation. My own vacation at least is always based on that.” (Interview 7: guide). The tree S’s is not seen as something that happens in a vacuum or without relations between different places, temporal contexts or experiences. Nor is it considered to be an insignificant dimension.

36One agent and a guide exemplified the three S’s as searched for but contextualize it further in the context of Greece: “Greece is (destination for Finns), of course, in the summer. It is a bit that kind of summer-cottage-time then. Finns prefer that kind of quiet place.” (Interview 9: agent). “Those who come to Greece are overall the kind who go and enjoy the place. And of course the sun and sea are important issues but also that they are willing to do things here. Even though you had been here ten times before, regardless of that (...) you go to search for new places...” (Interview 9: guide). In these excerpts, the interviewees frame their perceptions to a certain destination and reflect the three S’s and mass tourism not as homogeneously consumed, but also as place-specific activity.

37Some respondents highlighted that the three S’s is not only searched for, but instead, also a promotional image that has been promoted and promised by tour operators and tourism ministries. In some of the answers, the change in tourist motivations is seen as challenging this promotional image. The next two examples reflect on these changes. In another part of the interview, an experienced travel agent stated that “We sell beach-holiday-packages to beach-holiday-destinations’, but she added in yet another part of the interview that ‘in the old times it was enough to go to the warmth and see what there is, but now you want to know well precisely what awaits there” (Interview 3: agent). And another example: “Clients are so stressed about their own work rhythm these days, that they want the tour operator to be able to offer different kinds of trips for them. Not only that beach holiday” (Interview 8: agent). It was also reminded by some that there are ‘mass’ city destinations and skiing resorts, so the three S’s is seen as only one part of the bigger picture.

38The next, final excerpts show how the mass tourism category directs the interviewee’s thoughts to the three S’s with different degrees of placelessness depending on the perspective: “Mass tourism places remind me a bit about the destination not mattering that much... That the client her/himself does not care too much either, as long as he is going somewhere where there is that sun and beach”. And in another part of interview: (If client asks for) “’ some place warm and sunny’, so one needs to start mapping ‘what kind of? Solely basic beach thing (meininki), do you want some culture or is it the Mediterranean?’ And then little by little one starts to limit those (options) ‘maybe this could be the one for you’. One needs to think a lot about which destination one would begin to offer for this kind of group” (Interview 4: agent). The three S’s is thus not considered fully ‘placeless’. The negotiation takes place in that context too.

2.3. The stereotypes of mass tourists

39In tourism research, mass tourists or even in singular, a mass tourist, is a category that entails roles or types of tourists (e.g. Cohen, 1972; Smith, 1977; Turner & Ash, 1975) separated from alternative tourists, backpackers, ecotourists or others. The academic literature often suggests that there is something missing in this category. Mass tourists are not doing something that the others are or in many cases they are treated as merely faceless numbers on the survey results. One of the ‘characters’ of this role has been formulated in the next statement: Mass tourists are not interested in the local culture of their destination (or anything ‘local’) (e.g. Cohen, 1972; Poon, 1993). The aim here was to let the interviewees estimate, in their terms, ‘mass tourists’, ‘local’ and the relationship between them. The travel agents are in contact with clients before the trip in the evaluation and decision phase, whereas the guides are mainly having discussion with tourists during the trip.

40The most common answer was: it depends. The guides disagreed with the statement more often than the travel agents, but nobody agreed with the statement entirely. The interviewees were not articulating mass tourists as a homogeneous group but rather as different groups of people (or different trip-related-roles by one person): “Well, if we think that you make a trip for the first time, so it isn’t then (...) the most important thing is the vacation. However, if you have visited the same destination for twenty years, you have walked around a block or two and found the Pepe's place” (Interview 3: agent). Those clients who are not considered to be interested in the local were framed with different contexts for their lack-of-interest: the sun and relaxation, staying at hotel, the last-minute trip, young friend groups or the alcohol. The contextuality includes both the trip and the life of people (everyday, life story), but has to be understood as a version created by the guides and agents.

41They state that clients are in an active role asking questions, taking part in excursions or touring by themselves: ‘They do go for excursions, and they ask a lot’ (Interview 6: agent). Or even if not as ‘active’ in asking, they listen: “They do not necessarily come here for that (...) but you notice that many are very interested in hearing about it” (Interview 1: guide). Tour operator is also seen as a satisfier of these needs: “Our people (who participate in excursions) see places where you would not go by yourself” (Interview 10: guide). Those who are doing or experiencing in these passages are the clients, and in this sense, the working guide or travel agent is an outsider but also a co-creator with relatively short meetings together: from discussions to excursions.

42An example of how an experienced travel agent questions the opinion of the younger (former-guide) travel agent: “A: Part of them are very interested. B: If you think about Kanaria (vernacular name for The Canary Islands) and then the clients, so are they hanging around the hotel and supermarket and back (laughing)? A: Well, on average they are more interested in the basic things in their close environment and own destination. Probably most of them are more interested in the nearby areas at their holiday destination than in deepening their knowledge about the [local] culture (...) However, on the other hand, on the feedback forms clients always express that they would like more local information during bus transfers (Interview 9: agents). This passage exemplified the challenges of evaluating something from the outside, let alone with someone who has a different view (pair-interview). Whose ‘truth’ should be listened? These ideas lead well to the next statement.

43With framing mass tourists as a tourist type or a role, researchers have tried to capture the objective ‘nature’ of the phenomenon. Some motivations are thought to be more acceptable than some others. Several researchers have (e.g. Crick, 1989; Löfgren, 1999; Noy, 2008) criticized the way some experiences are labeled superficial or shallow by other researchers (outsiders to those experiences). Ideologies of tourism are various, but the research has been concentrated on the discussion around the authentic and inauthentic. The second statement was thus: Mass tourists travel for entertainment, not to learn (e.g. Boorstin, 1964; Turner & Ash, 1975; Poon, 1993). This statement highlights the simplified idea of the exclusive, conscious decision to be either travelling for entertainment or learning and lets the interviewee decide whether they see it like that or are they seen as opposites and what kind. This statement was supposed to evoke discussion about the motives of travelling and how to evaluate someone’s reasoning.

44Most of the interviewees both agreed and disagreed with the statement, stating that it is hard to generalize. In another part of the interview, a guide refused the seemingly deterministic relationship between the category and behaviour: “Even if you were a so called mass tourist and you would always travel to mass tourism destinations, it does not mean that you do not get anything out of it” (Interview 6: guide). An interest (attitude) in the local and doing things such as excursions (organized or independent) were considered signs of learning. In the following excerpt, the travelling itself was seen as more important than the original motivation and the local was also something sensed: “Of course, every time you travel you will learn something new... here in Crete island it is (local) brimming from all people, all hotel workers” (Interview 2: guide). “A: Afterwards you can get a spur to know more (...). B: Or learning a new language can originate from there” (Interview 1: travel agents). Learning was often seen closer to a school-like learning, new skills and knowledge, than a spiritual growing or it was left unexplained.

45The interviewees did not consider entertainment to be the best term in describing the character of tourism, but relaxation, which was seen to be a bit different. Some said that the Finns do not use the entertainment services of concept hotels as much as other nationalities, but they are getting taught for those activities with growing selection of international concept hotels. The relaxation was treated as a symbol for the difference between the holiday and everyday life settings, feeling comfortable, and enjoying. They are very much spatial practices. For some, clients staying at hotel without knowing where they are or being away from everyday life were the signs of relaxation (see Selänniemi, 1994, 2001), which were sometimes treated with missing the exploration that is valued in current times.

46Finally, the category of mass tourist is often treated as the ultimate end of the continuum of different tourists and travellers, towards which anti-tourist attitudes are projected (Andrews, 2011; Jacobsen, 2000; Löfgren 1999; McCabe, 2005). However, it might also be the category we know least about. Is it necessarily a tourist type? Alternatively, rather it might be seen as an umbrella category for large numbers of tourists. The last statement was: Nobody wants to admit that he/she is a mass tourist. The singular was intentionally used in this statement, although arguments have been presented for mass tourists to only exist as plural analytical category (Vainikka, 2013). This choice was made to see how the interviewees feel about this symbolism and scales of nobody as universal and mass tourist as more individual. Interest was directed here at the evaluated relationship with clients and mass tourist term but also on how interviewees see the term itself. All travel agents and six guides were introduced to this statement.

47For the interviewees, the mass tourist ‘label’ was loaded with negative connotations, reputations, and it was seen as a tabu in contemporary culture. They evaluated that people (especially the young) see it to represent someone who does everything in a group (not valued as much), without individuality or independence, rather than try to change the description of a mass tourist: ‘One wants the trip to be their own’ (Interview 3: travel agent). Temporal dimension was framed in another part of the interview, when an experienced agent said: “One used to take part in a social trip with a big S (another term for package tour in Finnish seuramatka) but now one goes for one’s own vacation, but utilizes these kinds of ready-made tours (valmismatka another name for package tour in Finnish)” (Interview 9: agent). In a later part of one interview, a guide saw the social scale of the meanings attached to mass tourists: “Negative echo. Few want to be a mass tourist precisely because of these stereotypes, what kind of message the magazines send about mass tourism. Also, awfully many commercials use this mass tourism word in a negative tone: ‘seek to a destination that is far away from mass tourism’” (Interview 6: guide). In these examples, mass tourist is a negative label that serves as a threat that needs to be kept at distance. Some interviewees, however, state that it is possible to be individual in mass tourism, in this sense the problem is the stereotype not the mass tourists per se.

48In one interview, I was asked a counter-question “How do you see things, who is a mass tourist?” (Interview 5: agent). The interviewee was confused about what was meant by the term and in a later part of the interview she continued: “That mass tourism baffles me. Is it our clients or mass tourists? (...) I think that nowadays people are very self-directed (independent)...” For her, the contemporary phenomenon and the old definition did not seem to fit. This occasion reflects the situation in which the development of the phenomenon and its definition/stereotype have controversies or are too separate/vague.

49The others, on the other hand, state that their clients feel the need or are pushed to present themselves as independent but are not able to deliver. The interviewees saw the request for help as a sign of a mass tourist: “Quite a few are just like, especially when they go to familiar destinations: ‘We will not need any services. We know and we can". But they too might need those (services, help). So they want to raise themselves up a little bit (...) but if one would offer them an independent trip, they would roughly speaking (...): ‘We do not go to that kind of trips’” (Interview 1: agent). “It is ideal for everyone to be a little bit independent and to want to experience the culture and do something other than laying on the beach all vacation. But not everyone can keep up with those ideals and own goals” (Interview 6: guide). We can ask: whose aims, ideologies, values, attitude, disappointments are talked about here? In this regard, interviewees seemed to accept the given mass tourist role (somehow more dependent as a weakness). They blamed those who, from their point of view, are not able to deliver more positive, independent tourist role.

50However, the interviewees evaluated that the package tours are something that Finns are not ashamed of taking (at least some of them). That they are nothing to be ashamed of: “Probably everyone might tell ‘I am going on a package tour’ (...) Maybe it is a little cooler nowadays to go backpacking to like Asia than to take a package tour from Finnmatkat” (Interview 7: guide). Here an interesting separation was made between backpacking to a destination and taking package tour from a company. “Among my friends one respects more that you do by yourself, you make bookings, you plan, you customize the style yourself, that you, like, go explore the world independently” (Interview 4: agent). These excerpts framed the evaluation in relation to their reference group and show how different circles of representations are separated between mass tourism and alternative tourism (van Gorp, 2012).


51Mass tourism is a complex phenomenon that includes different economies, cultures, spatial dimensions and scales. The positionality and situatedness of those who talk about it, define it and practise it are aspects that require more attention. This study aimed at discussing the stereotypes of mass tourism in an institutional setting. The attention was in their interpretation as an everyday category of practice, by package tour professionals.

52By selecting two professional groups, I wanted to conduct a study in which I would not directly try to interpret or conceptualize mass tourism. Rather I wanted to see how the crossing of the line between theory and practice might contribute to different ways to know about mass tourism and conceptualize it. Mass tourism, its definitions or knowledge production are continuously renegotiated and the participants exemplified different roles and positions (e.g. professional, tourist, young adult) in relation to discussed topics. The analysis suggests that much of the ‘truths’ about mass tourism are value loaded/based and there are many sides in the story. More critical attention is needed to the basis of the mass tourism theory and conceptualization that accommodate multilogical and ethical perspectives. The interviewees were processing both their ideas about the statements and issues brought up by the statements in relation to their clients and themselves. These ideas also lead to further questions about how my positionality as a researcher influences the ways I see and understand mass tourism.

53After the analysis, something can be said of this kind of interview design. Firstly, the statements were introduced at the end of each interview. At that point, the interviewee(s) might already feel tired after all the preceded open-ended questions and occasional repetition of themes. The answers were quite short and often justifications needed to be asked of them. For these reasons, I added some quotes from other parts of the interviews clearly indicating them as such.

54Secondly, the provocative style of the statements (sometimes negative) added with the usage of the mass tourism term probably had some effects on the agreeability or disagreeability of the statement. In that sense, they might evoke stronger reactions. In the case of mass tourism, some stereotypes can also be accepted more easily as ‘truths’ than with package tourism alone (Vainikka, 2014). The responses should not be considered as reflections on reality but rather constitutive negotiations in the specific situation.

55Thirdly, the statements were often formulated as universalist and deterministic, but the way the agents and guides responded was with different combinations of scales from the global to between countries, to national and local scale. Through this dynamic process, different perspectives were opened for evaluation. They mainly focused on the local or more intimate (between persons) scale, but it seemed that the scales are not separate but intertwined. For example, the mass tourism destination was presented as a mixture of different scales, global, national, local and more intimate, that gave the place and experiences more complex meanings. Time had a role in these framings too. Temporal framings brought up changes in the phenomenon or their perceptions of it. Time was considered important resource for getting to know mass tourism destinations, not only tied to the physical trip experiences, but also to the possible future motivations.

56Fourthly, it was noticeable that even though the statements included the term ‘tourist(s)’, the interviewees continuously replied with specifying ‘clients’ as those whom they were talking about. Tourist seems somehow to be more disintegrated in this situation than the client. However, there is also another issue related to this. The interviewees made different categorizations from the ‘mass’ of their clients, such as the families, couples, groups, elderly, hikers and those who are interested in the local. These categories reflect the types of roles that people have in terms of tourism, and they are tied to their everyday life. The stereotypes were not read, in the same way, by all interviewees. They were agreeable or not, in certain contexts from which they were read, not as universal truths. What was common though was the lack of ‘in-depth analysis’ of the phenomenon, which might be a result of mass tourism being so vast and multiple (also in the numbers of their clients). This does not, however, mean that mass tourism could not be meaningful or deep, but rather that agents’ and guides’ positionality influences the possibilities to evaluate. In the process, serious questions were raised for further research: whose claims for truth are the ones that mass tourism research should be based? Multi-perspective participatory methods could be one possible way to address these issues.

57Lastly, as said before Finnish mass tourism has not only been democratized. It has also been utilized simultaneously by different ‘classes’ with package tours (Selänniemi, 1994), and the interviewees did not frame mass tourism to be a class-based phenomenon. I think this discussion is important because the definition of mass tourism changes according to the socio-cultural perspective. The one that might be valid in, for example, the British society is not necessarily the case in Finland. Although this study was a case study from Northern European context, the framework is useful elsewhere too.

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Titre Table 1. The statements about mass tourism introduced in the interviews
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Vilhelmiina Vainikka, « Stereotypes and Professional Reflections on Mass Tourism: Focusing on Tour Operators, Mass Tourism Destinations and Mass Tourists », Études caribéennes [En ligne], 31-32 | Août-Décembre 2015, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2015, consulté le 26 mars 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/etudescaribeennes.7609

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Vilhelmiina Vainikka

Human Geography; Department of Geography, University of Oulu; Finland; PhD student;

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