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The Evolution of Destinations

An Evolutionary and Relational Economic Geography Approach
Cinta Sanz-Ibáñez
Cet article est une traduction de :
La evolución de los destinos [es]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
La evolució de les destinacions [ca]

Texte intégral

1From a geographical perspective tourism has been increasingly seen as an activity that creates socially constructed productive spaces which evolve over time. Tourism destinations are dynamic systems and as such, they should be managed in order to maintain their competitiveness. In contrast to the deterministic (and in some cases pessimistic) forecasts of some of the evolutionary models proposed in tourism geography(Butler, 1980; Christaller, 1964; Gilbert, 1939; Plog, 1973), a number of works evidence the extreme adaptability of tourism destination areas and their ability to sustain – and even increase – their long-term competitiveness (Agarwal, 2002; Anton Clavé & Wilson, 2017; Papatheodorou, 2004). Hence, existant literature demonstrates that there is room to go beyond conventional models – being the TALC model the most widespread (Butler, 2006)- as explanatory tools to gain comprehensive understanding on how and why destinations change over time (Brouder, Anton Clavé, Gill, & Ioannides, 2017).

2The main objective of the thesis is to generate understanding about the mechanisms underlying the changes occurring throughout the evolutionary trajectory of tourism destinations, putting attention to the dynamics of place instead of the evolution of tourism activity, one of the prevalent discussions around the TALC and other traditional evolutionary models (Équipe MIT, 2002). In particular, the research conducted aims to study, first, the effects of stakeholders’ interaction and knowledge flows on the evolutionary performance of destinations (human agency). Second, the adaptive capacity of destinations in front of dynamics of local and global change (contextuality). And third, the enabling and constraining long-term effects of decisions and events occurred in the past in the shaping of tourism destination’s trajectories (path dependence).

3To achieve this, it develops an analytical model drawing inspiration on contemporary advances in economic geography for analysing the evolution and organisation of specialised productive places – i.e. evolutionary economic geography (EEG) (Boschma & Martin, 2010; Kogler, 2015) and relational economic geography (REG) (Bathelt & Glückler, 2003; Jones, 2013). By exploring in which ways EEG and REG add value to tourism studies, the approach proposed is capable of bringing valuable insights for shedding light on questions such as why some destinations experience a sudden growth and others undergo a more progressive path of development? Why some tourist places manage to rejuvenate and enhance their competitiveness while others cannot adapt themselves to the constant changes of the global tourism market?

4The integrated EEG-REG approach presented addresses destination evolution processes from non-linear and non-deterministic lens, embracing the complexity of destination evolution processes and acknowledging the increasing economic, urban and residential functions acquired by consolidated tourism destinations. In this sense, this approach takes into consideration that multiple interdependent forces produce distinctive evolutionary trajectories depending on the specificities of the destination in terms of contextuality, human agency and path dependence as triggers of destination evolution (Sanz-Ibáñez & Anton Clavé, 2014).

FIGURE 1. Triggers of destination evolution from an integrated EEG-REG approach.

FIGURE 1. Triggers of destination evolution from an integrated EEG-REG approach.

Updated from Sanz-Ibáñez & Anton Clavé (2014)

5The research conducted consists of a collection of three empirical works led in central Costa Daurada, a major Mediterranean coastal destination located on the south Catalan coast. The thesis maintains that carrying out the investigation in this study area provides meaningful insights because, despite acknowledging the effects of other interventions—such as urban rearrangements and investments in public infrastructure –, three specific catalysts distil the essence of the transformations that have improved the destination’s competitiveness since the 1980s. These are knowledge transfer management and collaboration, demand changes, and product reorganisation and can be linked to the catalysts of evolutionary change identified in the analytical model put forward in the thesis – i.e. human agency, contextuality, and path dependence.

6The complexity of the subject under study—the evolution of destinations—required a methodological design including a combination of quantitative – social network analysis – and qualitative – interviews and documentary analysis –techniques. This multi-method approach allowed to gain a comprehensive appreciation of the transformation and reconfiguration of the destination under study. First, as regards the human agency catalyst, a two-mode social network analysis approach was applied as a powerful tool to uncover which actors act as brokers in knowledge networks resulting from interactions taking place at specialised seminars and courses organised in the study area in 2013 and 2014. Second, as for the contextuality catalyst, 18 in-depth interviews supplemented with secondary data were considered the most suitable method to analyse the dynamics of strategic coupling processes between central Costa Daurada’s actors and global intermediaries in the Russian market during the period 1994–2013, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the resulting upgrading synergies in the local tourism industry and the destination. Third, an iterative document analysis procedure (including a range of relevant municipal and regional planning documents, media articles, and prior literature and research on the study area), served to show the capacity and potential for the framework put forward in the thesis in interpreting a key moment in the evolution of central Costa Daurada – the opening of the Port Aventura theme park in the mid-1990s.

7The findings of the thesis help illustrate and extract transferable lessons for increasing understanding on the mechanisms underlying tourism destinations’ evolutionary processes. To start with, from the first empirical research emerges that administered knowledge networks with a Technology and Innovation Centre as main hub (i.e. knowledge broker) are found as efficient knowledge management structures that support the dissemination of knowledge and promote the involvement of stakeholders in the development of localised systems of learning that promote knowledge-based innovation and development for destinations. The second empirical work evidences that strategic coupling between local stakeholders and global actors (i.e. time-space contingent and mutually dependent cooperation for the purpose to achieve a common strategic objective) is bottom-up private-led initiative that can effectively contribute to increase the innovativeness of local firms and enable the upgrading of destinations (Sanz-Ibáñez & Anton Clavé, 2016). Finally, the thesis uses the term ‘path metaphor’ to refer to the range of concepts framed by the idea of economic paths, such as path dependence, path shaping, path creation or path plasticity, which are increasingly employed by regional economists and economic geographers when analysing the long-term dynamics of regions and industries (Kogler, 2015). Under this reasoning, moments are understood as key evolutionary inflection points that shape destination’s economic/social/urban development pathway when facing lock-in situations (Sanz-Ibáñez, Wilson, & Anton Clavé, 2017).

8All in all, results obtained go beyond the classic functional models dealing with the evolution of tourism destinations and reinforce the integration of the geographical analysis of tourism into mainstream contemporary thinking in economic geography. In addition to this epistemological contribution, the findings of this thesis provide, as well, valuable information to guide leading policy and agency strategies aimed to maintain and increase the sustainability and competitiveness of destinations.

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Titre FIGURE 1. Triggers of destination evolution from an integrated EEG-REG approach.
Crédits Updated from Sanz-Ibáñez & Anton Clavé (2014)
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Cinta Sanz-Ibáñez, « The Evolution of Destinations », Via [En ligne], 13 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2018, consulté le 25 mars 2019. URL :

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Cinta Sanz-Ibáñez

Cinta Sanz-Ibáñez received her Ph.D. in Tourism and Leisure (cum laude) from the Rovira i Virgili University. Her doctoral research was funded by a FPU research grant from the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports (AP2010-2623). Dr. Sanz-Ibáñez recent honours include an AECIT award (Asociación Española de Expertos Científicos en Turismo) for the best scientific article in tourism 2015 with the article “The Evolution of Destinations: towards an evolutionary and relational economic geography approach” published in the journal Tourism Geographies (Taylor & Francis).Dr. Sanz-Ibáñez is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Research Group on Territorial Analysis and Tourism Studies (GRATET) – Department of Geography– and a Project Manager of the Erasmus Mundus Master on Wine Tourism Innovation (WINTOUR)at Rovira i Virgili University. Her work mainly focuses on tourism destination evolution, with a particular interest in contributing to integrate this field of research into the whole discussion around evolution of places and regions within the economic geography mainstream.

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