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Can staycations contribute to a territorial transition towards slow recreation?

Les staycations peuvent-elles contribuer à une transition territoriale vers le tourisme doux ?
Jean-Christophe Dissart

Résumés

Cet article présente les origines du phénomène staycation (de « stay » et « vacation » ; littéralement rester chez soi pendant ses vacances) et ses impacts potentiels (économiques, sociaux, environnementaux) sur les territoires. Sur la base de chiffres récents et de tendances actuelles tant dans la société que dans le secteur du tourisme et des loisirs, le staycation va probablement connaître un intérêt croissant au fil du temps. En outre, le staycation semble, dans une large mesure, cohérent avec les principes du ‘slow tourisme’ (tourisme doux). On pourrait en conclure que le staycation pourrait amener les territoires à une transition vers le tourisme et les activités récréatives douces, mais est-ce possible ? L’article présente les enjeux et défis auxquels sont confrontés les territoires dans une telle hypothèse, y compris les implications en termes de politique touristique et régionale.

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The author wishes to thank the two anonymous reviewers and the editors of this special issue for their helpful comments.

Introduction and context

1Staying home for one’s vacation has long been considered a marker of low financial means, even a sign of poverty. Due to an array of reasons, from pandemic-forced choices to environmental advocacy, staycations (a contraction of ‘stay’ and ‘vacation’) have become recognized as another way to spend one’s vacation at or close to one’s home, choosing activities that are as diverse as geographically close to one’s usual place of residence.

2This article outlines the origins of the staycation phenomenon, how it translates into different activities, and how staycations potentially impact territories. It also examines the hypothesis that current trends in both society and tourism and recreation may lead staycations to operate as a vector of territorial transition toward slow tourism and recreation.

3The issue of tourism transition presented here does not focus on a single type of destination (e.g. urban, rural) or milieu (e.g. mountainous, coastal). Rather, the context is that of advanced economies that experience different tourism situations, whether scattered vs. mass tourism or neglected vs. over-attended destinations, in Europe as well as in North America.

4Struggling with sustainability issues, advanced countries are engaged in several types of societal transitions. Geels (2002) has notably proposed a multi-level perspective -from technological ‘niches’ to socio-technical ‘regimes’ to ‘landscape’ developments- that explains the interlocking between long-term technological changes and the way societal functions are fulfilled. Despite criticisms (Geels, 2011), this framework has helped understand socio-technical changes and has promoted research on sustainability transitions in a diversity of sectors and contexts, so much so that a research agenda for transition studies has been put forth by Köhler et al. (2019). For a more geographical, bottom-up perspective, see Koop (2021).

5In tourism, transitions have been and are underway for different reasons, at the junction of different crises and changes:

  • climate change, which brings about many challenges for sensitive areas, particularly mountainous (decline of snow cover and its reliability) and coastal (rise of sea levels and increased risks of erosion and flooding) regions;

  • demographic changes due to the ageing of populations;

  • economic and social crises because of rising inequalities and financial difficulties associated with, among others, unemployment, the state of public finances, geopolitical issues and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic;

  • changing preferences of tourists and corresponding roles of tourism stakeholders (e.g. rise of online reservation platforms for accommodations).

6These changes have spawned different adaptations and strategies at local and regional levels (Gunn, 2002 ; Lozato-Giotart et al., 2012): diversification of activities (including sporting and cultural activities for niche markets), new commercial initiatives (e.g. centered on people’s health and well-being), specific regional development policies, actions to reduce pressure on natural resources, and initiatives to address the needs of local inhabitants and to reduce the seasonal character of tourism activity. Thus, adaptation is part of a transition process involving different activities, territorial dimensions and strategies, with consequences in terms of regional development as tourism stakeholders strive to implement more sustainable approaches to appease increasing environmental and community concerns.

Box. Methodological approach

From a methodological perspective, this article draws on both the peer-reviewed and the grey literature, and the author’s reflections. So far the concept of staycation has attracted little attention from scholars.

Indeed, a search for ‘staycation’ in the title of publications available in two databases (Google Scholar and JSTOR) on May 9, 2021, yielded, as first results, documents from the grey literature or working papers, or where spatial issues were not central, and the closest hits addressed tourism marketing issues.

A second, more extensive search for ‘staycation’ in publication titles was done on November 11, 2021, with the following results: no result found in Ingenta, EconLit, Cairn, OpenEdition, Persée; other, non-zero results (in JSTOR, ScienceDirect, Web of Science, Taylor & Francis, Wiley, Google Scholar) were limited (from 2 to 4 publications) and were systematically read for possible enrichment of presentations and discussions.

A third, less systematic but more updated search was done on February 19, 2022, and did not produce significant, additional references.

As published staycation cases are scarce in the scientific literature, this article is based on theory and examples found in both the academic and the transfer literature, as well as figures released by government agencies, INSEE in particular.

7Broadly speaking this contribution addresses staycations as a phenomenon whose connection to a ‘slow tourism’ territorial transition is analysed. To do so, the next section explains what staycations consist of and the context of their emergence. Section 3 explains why staycations are a phenomenon that is likely to last over time. Section 4 details their potential impacts on territories in terms of several dimensions. Section 5 addresses the hypothesis of the connection between staycations and a transition towards slow tourism, which might bring about an alternative, multi-activity, identity-centered model of tourism, as a stepping stone for territorial development in both resort and non-resort areas. Section 6 discusses the potential consequences of the staycation transition for tourism or regional public policies, before the article’s conclusion.

What are staycations and their origins?

8Despite its rather recent coining, the ‘staycation’ has existed for many years as ‘proximity tourism’ for those people who do not leave on vacation, defined as a trip for personal reasons that lasts at least 4 nights and less than 1 year. This has affected 35 to 43% of French people aged 15 or over, between 2015 and 2017 respectively (Khiati, 2019), the main reason for not leaving being the lack of financial means. In the media, ‘staycation’ was used in several articles published by The New York Times in 2008. Staycations were, at the time, due to the financial crisis and its consequences in the USA. Staycations re-emerged in 2020 in many countries over the world as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

What is a staycation?

9Indeed, the use of the word ‘staycation’, after a first mention in the Myrtle Beach Sun News in 2003, really took off when printed in a series of New York Times articles in 2008 (Spiegel, 2008; Williams, 2008; Wilson, 2008). As the base words indicate, this concept refers to the fact that individuals stay at their place of residence (or, in tourism statistics parlance, their usual environment) during their vacation. Since then, the concept has spread to other countries.

10These three articles describe the phenomenon of staycation. To summarize, if staycation-related activities were placed on a gradient moving away from the usual place of residence, they would range:

  • from staying in one’s home: stay in bed or on a deckchair, watch television, visit local parks, swimming pools and other sports facilities, go to a movie, for a walk, have a drink in one’s neighbourhood, see a game, organise a barbecue…

  • to travelling for the day: go fishing, go to the beach, visit a site of regional fame, …

  • to possibly organising a short-term stay with the objective to reduce expenditures on petrol, eating, lodging, entertainment and shopping.

11Since 2008, other definitions or descriptions of staycations have been given, including “a neologism that refers to the practice of ‘vacationing at home’ ” (Germann-Molz, 2009, p. 281) or “vacations at a person’s usual domicile” (de Bloom et al., 2017, p. 574) or the deliberate choice of staying home by inventing one’s vacation based on activities that are accessible from one’s home (Martin, 2019). Other, contradictory definitions have been used, including that staycations involve at least one overnight leisure trip/vacation within a 50-mile drive radius of one’s home (James et al., 2017); as opposed to staycations defined as “a short trip, often undertaken as a daytrip, to places close to home […] within driving distance from home and does not require overnight stays” (Lin et al., 2021, p. 2). These definitions and descriptions show there is no consensus regarding what staycations are exactly.

12Consequently, staycations (or proximity tourism) raise a measurement issue regarding the notion of distance. Indeed, in the New York Times articles, authors refer to staycations as staying home or close to home, possibly going as far as what a full tank of petrol permits. However, in Europe, a full tank can mean driving across a country. Consequently, how far does ‘stay’ mean? Should we base our rationale not on a given geographic distance, but on a time-distance: a day trip? Even in that case, it is possible, using a high-speed train for example, to travel all over France. Therefore, a measure of geographic distance seems more consistent with basic features of the phenomenon; for example, a destination that is located within the administrative region of residence of the ‘tourist’. Another example would consist of tracing a circle around one’s usual environment, but what should the threshold value be: a 200 km radius, as inspired by the locavore movement? a 160 km radius, that is, 100 miles to follow a US notion of proximity? 100 km, as set by the French government during the May 2020 unlocking phase of the lockdown? The question remains open, all the more so since it is also dependent upon the geographical or cultural context: for example, people living in Great Britain might consider that, given its insular situation, as long as one does not leave the island then one staycations.

Why? A context of crisis

13Williams (2008) presents the staycation phenomenon as previously known as ‘staying home’. Indeed, during the summer of 2008, staycations emerged and resulted from the convergence of several factors (Williams, 2008): increase in the price of airfares (+17% since the start of 2008) and of petrol (which almost doubled from early 2007) and an exchange rate unfavorable to the US dollar. These factors were compounded by the real estate crisis, which started in 2007 with the so-called subprime crisis, then morphed into a financial and banking crisis in the fall of 2008 with the bankruptcy of the investment bank Lehman Brothers, which led to a fall in housing prices. The perspective of layoffs and declining values of the funds invested in 401(k) plans, a widely used savings-based retirement system in the United States, also worsened the situation.

14In short, in 2008 in the USA, the staycation was a short-term phenomenon rather than a trend: economic conditions forced households to make budgetary choices aimed at reducing leisure and vacation expenditures.

15These financial difficulties, which limit household vacation choices, also exist elsewhere, including in France. According to Khiati (2019), the rate of departure on vacation (i.e., again, spending at least four consecutive nights outside one’s usual environment for non-professional reasons) of the French population aged 15 or over was 57.4% in 2017 and 65% in 2015. According to CREDOC (2020), this rate fluctuates between 63 and 65% since 2015. The first cause of non-departure that is given is the level of financial resources, with strong disparities between high and low levels of income (Hoibian and Müller, 2015), though low cost transportation and accommodation have rendered income a little less critical (Navarre, 2018).

16This means that structurally, on average, over a third of French people do not leave on vacation during any given year or, stated differently, cannot (as the chief reason for not leaving is the lack of financial means) enjoy long-term stays for personal reasons. Conversely, this means that for a significant part of the French population leisure or recreation activities during one’s time away from work take place close to home (within the usual environment), forcibly or involuntarily.

17Since the rate of departure has fluctuated little over the years, proximity tourism has existed for a long time. In other words, recent publications (e.g. Desvignes, 2020) are re-discovering the (social) value of proximity tourism, hence the interest in staycations.

18In addition, since 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic has added a new constraint by limiting destination choices as a function of health guidelines used in France, Europe, and globally. At the time of writing, uncertainties remain regarding the emergence of variants and the way countries address Covid-19 waves, and consequently the ability to travel.

From an ‘endured’ to a ‘chosen’ staycation?

19Whereas Section 2 presented the nature of staycations and the context of their emergence, Section 3 purports to explain why staycations are likely to increase and last over time.

Why staycations are likely to be more than a fad

20Staycations, as a phenomenon largely ‘endured’ nowadays in advanced economies, could become stronger with the advent of a ‘chosen’ staycation that is linked to several types of factors that push for a more local tourism experience.

21The first factor is the environment. Environmental awareness is continuously enhanced by better knowledge of climate disruption and its dramatic consequences. Indeed, just in 2020, several events made world headlines (Troyer, 2020): Brazilian scientists in Antarctica (Seymour Island) reported record high temperatures of 20.75°C in early February; in March, major rainstorms in Australia helped contain wildfires that started in September 2019 and consumed more than 186,155 square kilometers of land and sent smoke travelling around the globe; on August 15, in Death Valley (USA), the Earth’s highest temperature, 54°C, was recorded and certified by the World Meteorological Organization; in November, deforestation in the Amazon, the world’s largest remaining rainforest and a reservoir of both carbon and biodiversity, had hit 11,085 square miles, a 12-year high.

22This increased knowledge of environment-related dramatic events and more generally perception of environmental issues translates into actions and initiatives. An example is the organization of demonstrations against climate change, the best-known being probably Fridays For Future at the initiative of Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Also, there is increasing development of the ‘Flygskam’ (‘flight shame’ or ‘flying shame’) phenomenon; air traffic is responsible for a relatively low share of greenhouse gas emissions at the global scale, but a limited number of people have a carbon footprint which is very high. Indeed, according to Gössling and Humpe (2020), the share of the world’s population travelling by air in 2018 was 11%, and the percentile of the most frequent fliers (at most 1% of the world population) likely accounted for more than half of the total emissions from passenger air travel. This pushes for heightened awareness of tourists regarding changes in transportation modes and choices of destinations closer to home.

23The second factor is overtourism. An increasing number of globally known sites and destinations are overrun by tourists, which results in negative tourism experiences due to congestion, (visual and other) pollution, queues, and many types of damage, including negative impacts on local sites and residents such as “harming the landscape, damaging beaches, putting infrastructure under enormous strain, and pricing residents out of the property market” (Milano et al., 2018, p. 2). The most (in)famous cases include Venice, Italy, Barcelona, Spain, Machu Picchu, Peru, Dubrovnik, Croatia, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, or the room of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, Paris, France, not to mention Mount Everest, Nepal. At the very minimum, overtourism leads tourists to question their priorities in terms of experiences and their choices in terms of destination, even more so when those demand a significant (time as well as financial) budget. Indeed, why travel far to famous sites if, in the end, the tourism experience proves to be mixed, if not negative for both tourists and residents, whereas the economic and environmental impact is sizeable? In this sense, overtourism may also contribute to staycation and proximity tourism, which is not to say that staycations cannot contribute to local overtourism (Cvelbar et al., 2021).

24Can overtourism contribute to a (re)discovery of the local heritage? Because, third, the observation of tourism demand, which is increasingly segmented, shows the interest of tourists and tourism suppliers (tourism offices, tour operators, local units of government) for ‘authenticity’. Authenticity refers to experiencing local lifestyles, customs and culture, and interacting with locals at their destinations, with a perceived sense that the experience is true, real or genuine. However, it is not clear what makes an experience ‘authentic’ and authenticity is dependent upon tourists’ interpretation of their social and physical environment (Dennett and Song, 2016). The quest for authenticity rings in contrast to a tourism experience that would be ‘staged’ or disconnected from the specificity of the visited site, and therefore argues in favour of the (re)discovery of local heritage. Indeed, in a time of ‘fake’ (e.g. fake products sold over the internet, fake news about the Covid pandemic, greenwashing the environmental soundness of products and services), individuals are looking to increase their perception of ‘true’ whenever they can, including in the context of leisure and recreation. If a reasonable assumption may be made that people know less about what is far from their daily experience, then conversely people will be more confident of finding something ‘authentic’ closer to their usual environment. In this sense, authenticity goes with familiarity or proximity, which goes with staycation. As a corollary, this quest for a more ‘authentic’ (however defined) experience calls for greater respect of visited sites and communities, and a planning and organizational mode that seeks a more sustainable management of destinations.

25A fourth series of factors relate to the transaction costs, including psychological ones, associated with travelling. As reported by Navarre (2018), those who choose to stay at home for their vacation point to several reasons, including saving money and avoiding extra fatigue associated with preparing for and making the trip: traffic jams, queues at airports and train stations, duration of the trip, time lag. In other words, mobility comes at both financial and physical costs. Moreover, from a psychological perspective, staycations can serve as a means to attain mental restorative benefits as ‘staycationers’ can detach from daily routine stress and maintain a sense of control over their travel experiences, thereby showing that even short local excursions provide higher well-being via travel motivation and involvement (Lin et al., 2021; Wong et al., 2021). Another study reported that the differences between a free weekend at home versus one away from home resided in the type of activities workers engaged in but were rather small in terms of pleasure and well-being, both being associated with lower levels of rumination about work (de Bloom et al., 2017).

26In other words, the issue of a ‘chosen’ proximity tourism (or staycation) may be moving towards centre stage as a result of several factors. Is this phenomenon factually observed? Will it last? That is the issue addressed in the next section.

Rise of proximity tourism?

27The major issue is whether the interest in staycations, or proximity tourism, is temporary (restricted to times of crisis, including the current pandemic) or more permanent, i.e. will there be a transition from ‘forced’ to ‘chosen’ staycations?

28As explained in a previous section, several factors or trends could foster staycations: increasing environmental awareness, overtourism, the search for authenticity, transaction costs associated with travelling. In the current context of overlapping (socioeconomic, health, environmental) crises, does proximity tourism experience a renewed interest as household choices are constrained? In other words, is there an empirically visible interest in proximity tourism?

29A few studies point to a positive answer. For example, in the US scholars have started to work on the segmentation of staycation travellers so as to market travel packages that meet their needs more effectively (James et al., 2017). Another study (Barclays, 2019) stated that more than half (52%) of 25-to-34-year-olds surveyed planned to increase their UK-based holiday time, and that the two main reasons for spending more holiday time in the UK were, first, “convenience”, and then “to replicate previous holidays”, thereby indicating a positive reinforcement for the habit of domestic breaks. These two studies were published before the Covid-19 pandemic and point to staycations as a rising phenomenon regardless of travel conditions.

30In France, INSEE (2020) reported that expenditures by residents made by payment card on lodging and restaurants had been as high, during the months of July and August 2020, as during the 2019 summer season. In the summer of 2020, French travellers also changed their behaviour by favouring non-market accommodations (using their second home or staying with friends or relatives) and by limiting business trips. The French government (Conseil des Ministres, 2020) indicated generally satisfactory results thanks to, in particular, domestic tourism, with 53% of French people leaving on vacation between July and August 2020, and 94% of those who left who stayed in France.

31Because INSEE does not collect such data, it is not possible to know the extent to which the figures given above correspond to staycations, regardless of its definition. However, in an unprecedented 2020 summer season, characterized by the sharp decline of international tourist arrivals, high numbers of domestic tourists resulted in an increase of tourism expenditures in August 2020 (+9% overall across France relative to its 2019 level (INSEE 2020)), though with sharp regional differences (cf. next section). Therefore, taken in a domestic tourism sense (as in the case of Great Britain as explained before), proximity tourism displayed statistical strength in the 2020 summer season.

32Has the pandemic shifted tourism activity towards a new paradigm based on local areas and proximity in the medium and long term? It is of course too early to tell, especially since the pandemic is not over and 2021 summer figures are not available yet.

33One may however point to structural (i.e. the salient traits of tourism activity in France) factors to discuss long-term perspectives. Indeed, on the one hand, the above-mentioned factors (environmental awareness, overtourism, preference for authenticity in tourism experiences, mobility transaction costs) will likely contribute to making staycations an increasing part of tourism consumption habits, the pandemic thereby acting as another crisis that sets trends. On the other hand, many people, in advanced economies in particular, will want to enjoy the benefits of moving freely and reconnect with farther destinations when the pandemic is over or more under control. However, taking into account the factors previously cited, the thirst for long-distance visits could translate into a ‘far away close’ choice in order to minimize the use of planes. For example, in Europe, this could mean domestic tourism but in a different region from the resident region, outbound tourism but in bordering countries or within Western Europe, and a generally decreasing interest of Europeans for farther destinations such as Asia or the Americas.

34Lastly, it should be pointed out that proximity tourism (understood, here, as domestic tourism) alone will not be enough to keep afloat the French tourism economy. Indeed, in 2017, tourism consumption in France was 168 billion euros, a figure equivalent to 7.25% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Khiati, 2019). The share of non-resident tourism accounts for over 38% of the tourism economy: 64.2 of 168 billions of domestic tourism consumption or 2.77 of 7.25% of the GDP. Therefore, proximity tourism by French residents alone will not be enough to sustain the French tourism economy, which depends on spending by non-residents. On the other hand, international travellers, who should be back in force after the pandemic, could contribute to a saturation of famed sites and destinations, and lead French people, who may have enjoyed them again during the pandemic, to bypass them.

35This line of reasoning shows the usefulness of a finer perspective on the impact of staycations and proximity tourism at the scale of regions and territories.

Potential impacts of the staycation phenomenon on regions

36In the absence of empirical studies on the matter, this section details the potential impacts of staycations and proximity tourism on regions and territories according to several dimensions. Though, again, there is no universally accepted definition of staycation, it is reasonable to purport that it has several types of impacts on territories, including those which are economic, environmental and social in character: more local consumption, (globally) fewer greenhouse gas emissions, more interest in the local heritage, to name just a few. Indeed, by re-discovering their own territory, residents are more likely to appreciate features that were previously unseen or neglected: landscapes, opportunities for leisure (whether sport-related or not), local know-how, and various other activities.

Multidimensional impacts on territories and communities

37If staycations are here to stay or even gain strength as the ‘chosen’ dimension complements the ‘endured’ one, then the question of their impacts on communities becomes important. The following ex ante, non-quantitatively measured impacts of staycations are presented under the classic economic, social and environmental perspectives.

Economic impact

38From an economic viewpoint, the impacts may be considered from both a spatial and a time perspective.

39From a spatial perspective, two situations are of interest, namely domestic tourism and inbound tourism.

40In the case of domestic tourism, the impact of staycations would be definitely positive for the local economy. Indeed, from an economic base perspective (the theoretical framework that is classically used to perform impact studies), the higher the amount of money (a share of tourist income) injected in the economy and the larger its circulation (i.e. money that is spent on local tourism suppliers and re-spent via wages paid by local tourism suppliers) in the local economy, the higher the impact of tourism. In the case of staycations, the share of resident income that could have been spent elsewhere would be spent locally, which means that the local circulation of financial flows would be fostered and the propensity to consume locally would increase. This process would therefore augment the positive impacts of ‘tourism’ (or more likely day-tripping) on the local economy. This impact would be even more positive if higher-income households that choose to stay within their usual environment for their vacation do not reduce their spending (money spent on trips, at eating establishments, on attractions and tourism services, possibly on short-term accommodations). Proximity tourism tends to boost local consumption of goods and services; and the more locally those goods and services are produced, the bigger the boost.

41In the case of inbound tourism, the impact would be a priori negative because, according to the rationale above, the local economy would host fewer tourists, the share of those tourists’ income would be spent in their region of residence, and therefore the local economy would get a lower injection of external financial capital. However, projections by the World Tourism Organization (though made pre-Covid) show a continued growth of tourism activity (WTO, 2011). This means that unless staycations become a phenomenon of very significant magnitude, their economic impact on the destinations that tend to host many tourists would be limited, and could even be beneficial, overall, for those destinations that suffer from the negative impacts of overtourism.

42From a temporal or seasonal perspective, the impact of proximity tourism would be a priori positive. Indeed, the seasonal character of tourism affects the host territory in several ways, be it local employment, the (over- or under-) use of infrastructure or the pressure on natural resources during peak periods of the year (Martin et al., 2012; Dissart, 2014). As residents stay close(r) to home, staycations should translate into a lower concentration of tourist flows during traditionally peak seasons, even favour reducing the seasonal character of tourism to get closer to a true four-season model. In areas that feature extensive accommodation, underused for part if not much of the year, such as coastal and mountain areas, staycations could also foster the organization of different types of events outside the main tourist seasons.

Social impact

43In addition to economic impacts, staycations may also have social consequences.

44The first consequence, following the combination of an ‘endured’ and a ‘chosen’ staycation, is the potential intermingling of populations that would not normally meet each other: opportunities for higher-income households, who would choose to stay, to interact with lower-income households, who cannot afford to leave, by visiting the same local sites. Therefore, in a society that seems to be increasingly fragmented or polarized, marked by rising inequalities, proximity tourism could be a way to bring together different socioeconomic groups with converging interests.

45The second consequence is that staycations could boost social tourism as its stakeholders are keen to promote tourism activities for the greatest number. In a sense, this goes back to the first consequence, i.e. potential intermingling of different socioeconomic groups, but affects a particular type of tourism whose facilities are often located in rural areas or low mountain areas, particularly those closest to metropolitan areas, where most of the population lives. Thus, staycations could bring decision makers to favour certain types of alternative tourism – see section on slow tourism for more points on this topic.

46Lastly, since by definition proximity tourism is characterized by limited movements of people across space, it could bring about a renewed interest of residents for their everyday living space, because they would rediscover it, i.e. residents who behave as tourists (or day travellers, depending on the duration of the trip) in their own territory. This may lead to renewed pride, a better knowledge of local history and heritage, or a change in the perception that residents have of their own territory, which qualifies as another type of sociocultural impact.

Environmental impact

47Lastly, staycations or proximity tourism tend to present environmental impacts that are positive or at least substantially less negative.

48Indeed, staying home or close to home immediately reduces the level of greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore improves one’s carbon footprint. Given its local scope, staycations would exclude flying as a mode of transportation, though one could argue that in the absence of a commonly accepted definition, a short flight within one’s country residence could qualify. To abide by the spirit of staycations, one could further argue that even short flights should be limited both in theory and in practice. Therefore, for local or regional trips, urban public transportation, bus or train or individual cars should be favoured.

49The private car remains a polluting mode of transportation, but whose negative footprint would be reduced due to the limited distances planned for a staycation. Moreover, should staycations develop to a considerable extent, it is likely local governments would adopt policies to extend the service of public transportation to cover metropolitan areas more fully, including the regional scale via trains and inter-city bus services, thereby increasing and complementing existing public transport services.

Regional impacts: What types of territories are favoured by staycations?

50In a previous section, a few figures showed the statistically observable impact of staycations or rather domestic tourism on tourism expenditures, nationwide, particularly during the summer of 2020: due to the pandemic, the French population stayed overwhelmingly in France and international arrivals were very limited. Here we take an interest in where, geographically, those expenditures were made.

51INSEE (2020) indicates that, generally speaking, French residents favoured the seaside and less densely populated areas over metropolitan areas during the summer of 2020. Based on payment card transactions, INSEE reports that Ile-de-France, overseas départements and régions, and a few northeastern départements were the main areas showing lower tourism transactions, or even much lower transactions, than in 2019.

52This is in contrast to départements located in the Massif Central, the Alps, the Mediterranean coast, and to a lesser extent on the Atlantic seaboard and in the western extremities of Normandy, with higher levels, in July, than in 2019; for instance, +10% in the Manche département, +17% in Hautes-Alpes, +22% in Lot. These tourism expenditures increased in the month of August, +9% on average compared with 2019 and in France as a whole, but with very different regional situations: +10% in Vendée, +17% in Bouches-du-Rhône, +19% in Loir-et-Cher or +30% in Alpes-Maritimes.

53INSEE concludes that, generally speaking, hotels located at the seaside have resisted more to the health crisis than those located in Île-de-France and major metropolitan areas, probably due to a weak recovery of business tourism.

54Therefore, Covid-19 favoured within- and inter-regional tourism, particularly less densely populated areas, at the expense of Ile-de-France. In ‘regular’ summer times the French flock to rural, coastal and mountainous areas, but these figures show an even greater interest for these regions during the pandemic, i.e. during an ‘endured’ staycation.

Staycations as a vector of territorial transition towards slow tourism and recreation?

55Previous sections have explained what staycations consist of, the context of their emergence, how they became visible in recent tourism statistics in France, and why they may be here to last, with differentiated regional impacts. This section examines the consistency between staycations and slow tourism principles and looks at the hypothesis that staycations could lead tourism territories towards a transition to slow tourism and recreation activity.

56Indeed, the ‘slow’ movement took shape in Europe in the late 1980s with the opposition to the opening of a fast food restaurant in the centre of Rome, then spread both globally (across several countries and continents) and thematically (beyond ‘slow food’ to, for example, ‘slow city’). Clearly in opposition to several trends that emerged in the 20th century (e.g. fast food or mass consumption), it is a cultural shift that advocates ‘slowing down’ one’s pace of life, reducing the pressure of modern life, and appreciating simple things such as the quality of human relations.

57In particular, a manifesto for slow travel, published by Gardner (2009, p. 1), stated: “Slow travel is about making conscious choices […]. By choosing to travel slowly, we reshape our relationship with place and with the communities through which we pass on our journeys”. And later (p. 4): “It is easy to practice slow travel. Start at home. Explore your immediate locality. Leave the car at home and take a local bus to a village or suburb that perhaps you have never visited. Plan expeditions that probe the jungles and traverse the deserts of your home neighbourhood. Visit a church, a community centre, a café, a library or a cinema that you have passed a thousand times but never entered.” Moreover, among Gardner’s priorities for slow travel are low impact tourism and being aware of our carbon footprints. Lastly, Gardner (2009) lists principles for Slow travel Europe (Table 1).

Table 1: Guiding principles for Slow travel and consistency with staycations

Gardner’s slow travel principles

Consistency with staycations

1.

Start at home. The key to slow travel is a state of mind. That can be developed at home.

Yes, definitely.

2.

Travel slow. Avoid planes if at all possible, and instead enjoy ferries, local buses and slow trains. Speed destroys the connection with landscape. Slow travel restores it.

Avoiding planes is consistent, but the point of this principle is (lack of) speed, not staying locally.

3.

You may eagerly look forward to the arrival at your chosen destination, but don’t let that anticipation eclipse the pleasure of the journey.

To some extent: a pleasant journey may be appreciated regardless of one’s starting point.

4.

Check out local markets and shops.

Yes.

5.

Savour café culture. Sitting in a café, you become part of the cityscape and not merely a passing observer.

Yes.

6.

Take time to get a feel for the languages and dialects of the areas you visit. Learn a few phrases, use a dictionary and buy a local newspaper.

No: in staycations one should not be in a situation of discovering a new language.

7.

Engage with communities at the right level. Choose accommodation and eating options that are appropriate to the area where you are travelling.

Consistent, but the phrase seems to apply to a foreign context.

8.

Do what the locals do, not only what the guidebooks say.

In staycations one is already a local, and the locals may not engage in staycations. But a guidebook may be useful to (re)discover one’s everyday living environment.

9.

Savour the unexpected. Delayed trains or missed bus connections create new opportunities.

To some extent, in the sense that one may experience surprise (and satisfaction) when (re)discovering one’s everyday living environment.

10.

Think what you can give back to the communities you visit.

Yes, but indirectly (via local economic impacts, for example) because staycations do not emphasize “giving back”.

Sources: Gardner (2009) and author

58Table 1 gives indications as to how staycations and slow travel principles are close, somewhat related or unconnected. The main point and first principle is to start at home, the outcome of a conscious choice, in order to reshape one’s relationship with place and community. Other principles of slow travel seem to be consistent with staycations, but others are not closely related, so that the fit between the two concepts may be assessed as generally close but far from perfect.

59Therefore, could staycations become emblematic of ‘slow tourism’, i.e. a way of enjoying one’s own territory at a slow(er) pace, practicing different activities in different areas at various intensities? The answer is not straightforward. Indeed, by favouring staycations or proximity tourism over other types of tourism, one makes some of the same choices as with slow travel: stay close to home which will minimize environmental impacts, and maximize both local economic impacts and foster local social relations across groups, united in their connection to their locality. In so doing, these impacts might lead to a transition towards local aspects of slow tourism (since the scope of slow travel extends to a European scale in Gardner’s perspective), spawning a multi-activity, local identity-centered model of tourism, as a model for regional development across many types of territories, including resort and non-resort areas. The pace of (re)discovery of the usual environment may or may not be slow, but the objective to (re)connect with it is consistent with slow travel principles. Staycations could therefore foster a territorial transition towards locally-oriented slow tourism and recreation. This raises a number of issues for local public policies, which are addressed in the next section.

Issues and challenges for local public policies

60Lastly, this section concludes on the consequences of the staycation as a (potential) source of transition for tourism and regional public policies. Indeed, as seen in previous sections, there seems to be a renewed interest for attractions and sites that are close(r) to the usual environment, as illustrated by the popularity of rural, coastal and mountainous destinations as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

61The impacts of the pandemic are far from certain, and will be so for a number of years, in both quantitative and qualitative terms. However, as argued in this article, staycations are likely to experience a renewed interest in the short term, with reasons to believe that this interest will last – its magnitude remains to be seen in the medium to long-term.

62In a perspective where the shift towards proximity tourism would gain strength, the (pandemic-related or not) crises could act as a catalyst to reinforce the trend toward a ‘chosen’ local. Indeed, staycations and proximity tourism invite us to rediscover everyday and geographically close places and leisure activities; and therefore to redefine our relationship to what is familiar and to what is, literally, extra-ordinary. This is in line with the dialectic approach of the ‘here-elsewhere’ relation in contemporary urban societies presented by Bourdeau (2003), even if he addresses more specifically the case of mountain and nature sports tourism. The attractiveness of near-home destinations may be questioned, with a mix of push and pull, keep and repel factors that motivate destination preferences, at least among residents of the Dutch province of Friesland (Jeuring and Haartsen, 2017). On the other hand, Diaz-Soria (2017) showed that the feeling of proximity with the destination does not constitute a barrier to becoming a tourist, at least in the context of Barcelona: proximity visitors versus traditional tourists may not have the same points of reference, but they share curiosity as motivation, which facilitates the conscious adoption of the tourist’s role.

63In terms of impacts, it is likely that staycation would contribute to a higher resilience of territories. Indeed, as seen in previous sections, it has positive impacts from economic, social and environmental perspectives. These positive impacts also extend to space and time perspectives as attendance peaks at famous sites and during high seasons would likely be smoothed by the self-regulation of “staycationers”: proximity makes it easier to change destination if you perceive the originally chosen one as suffering from overtourism. The issue of areas located away from metropolitan areas, that wish to host more tourists but may be negatively impacted by staycations, remains unanswered and a function of the actual, quantitative importance of the staycation phenomenon.

64Whether the destination is a resort area or not, the proximity trend invites territories to highlight their assets (local richness and diversity) better and to (re)position their tourism services in that perspective. This means that local units of government, tourism offices in particular, have a role to play in helping residents (re)discover their territory of residence and promote policies that connect people with their region, raising their interest, even helping them to ‘consume’ (whether a financial transaction is involved or not) locally.

65In that perspective and in light of the points made earlier in the article, several recommendations (to be understood in the sense of ‘more’ or ‘better’ since many tourism providers have already engaged in these initiatives) might be made.

  • Reduce transit tourism: France is first by international arrivals and third by international receipts (Khiati, 2019), an indication that many inbound tourists do not stay long enough and therefore do not consume much. France could probably improve this situation by striving for a higher quality of welcome. This is the aim of the State sanctioned “Qualité Tourisme” (Tourism Quality) brand that comprises the following commitments (MEFR, 2021): a warm welcome, attentive staff, mastery of foreign languages, personalized services, clear and precise information, cleanliness and comfort, the discovery of a destination, and taking the tourist’s opinion into account.

  • Address the likely expectations of proximity tourists, in particular: communicate about the authenticity of experiences (and reassure visitors from that perspective), help (re)discover the local heritage understood in the broadest sense (tangible as well as intangible, well-known as well as minor forms of heritage) in order to promote a better knowledge of destinations and their culture and history.

  • Manage flows in order to address imbalances between the coastline and the hinterland, between mountains and valleys, between downtown and rural areas, between famous and less known sites. Though difficult to implement, solutions exist, including facilitating transportation toward less visited places or de-marketing overvisited sites (Cuny et al., 2021).

  • Coordinate tourism services between the different stakeholders (tourism offices, departmental and regional tourism committees, tourism development agencies) at the territorial scale: limit the number of tourism offices and have a single communication plan for, e.g., a given metropolitan area or Regional Nature Park, linked with the private sector, which remains fragmented in the tourism shere.

  • Appease visitor concerns about the density of visits around their place of residence in order to dispel the belief that they will quickly discover all there is to experience. To achieve that aim, it is better to showcase the sites and attractions that are less known (which is in line with the idea of better managing flows), and to propose experiences that go off the beaten track. A plan for a turnover, such as permanent versus temporary exhibitions, may also help, especially at museums and monuments, as well as paying attention to communication issues (e.g. signposting of sites or taking account of a latency period before the information reaches potential visitors).

  • In terms of regional planning and in connection with previous points: act to facilitate travel via the development of soft mobility, setup adapted pricing for local visitors and disadvantaged groups, act on signposting, develop territorial coordination and leadership, work to showcase tangible and intangible cultural heritage. From a public policy perspective, this is particularly interesting because it is consistent with the widespread trend of improving the everyday living environment in order to attract households and firms. This can be fostered by local initiatives, including building sports and cultural facilities, developing public transportation, and promoting local heritage, all of which are consistent with a proximity tourism agenda. Moreover, the positive image of a territory (including for reasons of recreation opportunities) can attract other activities, notably telecommuting compatible services, a trend exacerbated by the pandemic that contributes to the residential function of less densely populated areas (Davezies, 2008).

Conclusion

66Though empirically limited by the lack of primary data and the unavailability of statistics on staycations per se, this article has presented the origins of the staycation phenomenon and its potential impacts on territories and made the case that, to a significant extent, staycations appear consistent with slow tourism principles, which is not to say that any transition in that direction would not be without challenges for tourism and regional policies.

67As argued in this paper, the staycation phenomenon is likely to last, even increase. Moreover, because metropolitan areas are reservoirs of population and staycations embrace a broad array of leisure and recreation opportunities so long as they are ‘local’ (the definition of ‘stay’ lacking consensus), it is likely that more territories are going to engage in several forms of tourism-related activities, some more outdoor oriented than others, some more sport-oriented than others. Ceteris paribus, this means that staycations, by emphasizing the local consumption of opportunities, would contribute to a transition of territories towards increased sport-related and culture-related leisure and recreation activities, (both indoor and outdoor) by permanent residents. All the more so since, as Weed (2020) explained, the responses to Covid-19 (e.g. exercise, activity and the outdoors during lockdown) suggest that activities at the interface of sport and tourism can make a contribution to well-being (via physical and mental health) and to the climate crisis (via sustainable modes of transport such as cycling).

68Consequently, the issue for territories is to seize the opportunity of this renewed interest to better highlight their assets and resources by taking action at several levels: for ‘star’ attractions, manage flows and deconcentrate them; for less known or unknown sites, showcase them, if possible via original and thematic discovery routes including more famous sites, which will reassure visitors by not asking them to ‘sacrifice’ a visit to known attractions. Another issue is to propose a range of safe transport options (walking, cycling, public transport, car use) to help (re)discover the area.

69By renewing itself in terms of both form and content, especially by giving a significant role to the innovative, sustainable or authentic character of the experience, proximity tourism could become more popular and last over time. It could become a vector of alternative forms of tourism such as slow travel. By working on synergies between local stakeholders engaged in a range of locally available leisure and recreation activities, could we then observe the emergence of slow tourism clusters (Capone, 2019) that could dot the landscapes across different regions? Could it thereby lead to an alternative, multi-activity, local identity-centered model of tourism, as a stepping stone for territorial development in both resort and non-resort areas? These questions constitute areas for further research.

70If the staycation trend stands the test of time, three consequences might be observed, which constitute other avenues for further research. On the one hand, a kind of a statistical paradox, with fewer tourists in the World Tourism Organization definition of the word (i.e. spending at least one night outside one’s usual environment) but with more thriving tourism-sensitive sectors such as cafés. Indeed, following the WTO’s definition of tourism, staycations mean less tourism activity because they involve fewer overnight stays but they also mean more positive impacts on day travelling-sensitive activities, particularly the café and (whether traditional cuisine or fast food) restaurant sectors. However, what does it mean from the perspective of defining tourism and measuring its impacts? On the other hand, one could ask the question of whether proximity tourism is a ‘zero-sum game’. If there are more domestic tourists in a given area, does it not mean there are fewer tourists elsewhere? Again, this raises the question of the magnitude of the phenomenon and of the change in tourist behaviour, not to mention the issue of scale: what may be lost for a given area may not be lost nationwide. Finally, by capturing the current interest in experiences and sites that are located as close as possible to the usual environment, some territories could become more resilient, at least from a tourism perspective. But what of those territories that would not or could not seize this opportunity: would we, then, observe a widening gap between ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of the staycation phenomenon?

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Jean-Christophe Dissart, « Can staycations contribute to a territorial transition towards slow recreation? », Géocarrefour [En ligne], 95/2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 06 juin 2022, consulté le 29 juin 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/geocarrefour/18658 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/geocarrefour.18658

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Jean-Christophe Dissart

Professor, Institut d’Urbanisme et de Géographie Alpine (IUGA), UMR Pacte, Univ. Grenoble Alpes, jean-christophe.dissart@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr

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