Geotourism: A new Form of Tourism utilising natural Landscapes and based on Imagination and Emotion

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  • Discussion Forum

    Geotourism: A new Form o f Tourism util ising natural Landscapes and based on Imagination and Emotion

    J E A N - P I E R R E P R A L O N G

    A b s t r a c t Tourists and visitors currently tend to consider environment and the purity of nature, educational

    tourism, culture and history, large- and small-scale events, and entertainment and fun as crucial issues.

    For certain specific target groups, these wishes and needs may be satisfied by a new form of tourism

    called "geotourism", which is an multi-interest kind of tourism exploiting natural sites and landscapes

    containing interesting earth-science features in a didactic and entertaining way. Relative to demand, a

    form of tourism based on imagination and emotion, favouring experience and sensations, and explain-

    ing the natural environment by playing with its temporal and spatial dimensions may provide opportuni-

    ties of economic development. Different target groups (e.g. seniors, families, schools) potentially inter-

    ested in cultural and natural landscapes seem to constitute specific markets to consider. In this sense,

    on-site interpretation needs to be more adapted to the visitors' expectations and a more original and

    striking way of communication has to be used. From a promotional point of view, "geomarketing", a

    kind of image communication that explores the temporal and spatial dimensions of the rocks (e.g. min-

    erals, fossils) and forms (e.g. glaciers, caves) of the Earth's surface, may be developed. This will not only

    generate inquisitiveness among the target groups selected, but also give a clear position to a destination,

    in order to distinguish itself from similar territories. Of course, product communication must complete

    this marketing strategy with the creation, promotion and sale of specific and original products, especial-

    ly for the summer period (from spring to autumn). For instance, a mix of walking, wellness, "agro-

    tourism" and "geotourism" may be profitable for regional economic development. Thus, this paper is a

    conceptual contribution based on a theoretical work and a literature review.

    Key words: education tourism, natural landscapes, Earth science, tourist demand, marketing strategy,

    regional development.

    1 Introduction From 1970-1975, qualitative forms of tourism emerged linked with a diversification of demand and visitors' behaviour. This progressive return of a qualitative approach created new kinds of tourist activities, such as cultural, industrial, wellness or discovery tourism. This trend also characterises the beginning of 21st century, notably for "experienced" tourists (Durand & Jouvet 2003). As a consequence of this evolution, demand is currently diversified and segmented, with visitors tending to consider environment, education, events and entertainment (4 E) as crucial issues (Moruc-ci 2003). For some specific target groups, these desires and needs may be satisfied by a new form of tourism called "geotourism". As developed below, geotourism is a multi-interest kind of tourism that utilises natural sites and landscapes containing interesting earth-science features. Its aim is to pro

    mote geology and geomorphology in a didactic way see Badman 1994 and Page 1994 for comments on the ensuing goods and services and their goals with social, ecological and economic benefits. Various precursory countries such as Germany (Mattig 2003) or China (Xun & Ting 2003) have understood the potential of geotourism for regional and economic development, for instance by the way of geoparcs spaces dedicated to Earth science promotion in order to optimise and protect the geological and geomorphological heritage, but which are also perceived as an economic resource (Eder 1999).

    This paper is a conceptual contribution based on a theoretical work and a literature review; from these issues, practical perspectives are also proposed. Therefore, this paper first defines geotourism more accurately in relation to some natural and cultural

    Jean-Pierre Pralong, Ph. D.,

    Assistant (young researcher),

    Institut o f Geography, University o f Lausanne

    Humense, Dorigny

    CH-1015 Lausanne

    Phone: +41-21-692 3063

    Fax: +41-21-692 3075

    E-Mail: jean-pierre.pralong@>unil.ch

    2 0 Tourism Review, Vol 61, No 3/2006

  • J.-P. Pralong: Geotourism

    aspects. The geoscientific, scenic, cultural, economic and ecological interests of natural landscapes are then evoked in order to highlight their tourist value; the ensuing uses, in terms of heritage and resource, point out the different ways of utilisation of such potentials. The theoretical frame-work presented as a result of this will allow us a better understanding of the various components of supply and demand (e.g. kinds of stakeholders and action processes). Because an optimal response to the expressed demand needs to take into account social, ecological and economic factors, three phases of analysis, called "optimisation", "exploitation" and "transformation", are detailed, in order to demonstrate the life cycle of the sites and landscapes considered. Finally, characteristics and trends of the current demand allow the future stakes of geotourist activities to be revealed, notably in terms of on-site interpretation, image communication ("geomarketing") and products development, in order to create a product better adapted to current demand.

    2 Definition of geotourism

    Geotourism may be defined by two different ways. The first considers aspects of protection, the second those of optimisation. According to the National Geographic Society, geotourism is perceived as a form of tourism "that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place - its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture, and the well-being of its residents" . Therefore, its aim tends to "extend ecotourism principles beyond nature travel". With this definition, utilised by the Travel Industry Agency (United States of America), geotourists are defined as "those who are quite conscious of the environment and are inclined to seek culture and unique experiences when they travel". Other definitions, proposed by scientists rather than tourist stakeholders, consider more specifically the essential components of natural landscapes, which are rocks (e.g. stones, minerals, fossils, etc.) and forms (e.g. streams, glaciers, caves, etc.) of the Earth's surface. For instance, Hose perceives geotourism to be "the provision of interpretative facilities and services to promote the value and social benefit of geologic and geomorphologic sites and their materials and to ensure their conservation, for the use of students, tourists and other casual recreationalists". This definition

    underlines the crucial issues of geotourist activities mentioned above (i.e. promotion and conservation). In a more synthetic way, Larwood and Prosser (1998) consider that geotourism allows tourists and visitors "travelling in order to experience, learn from and enjoy our Earth heritage". From our point of view, Hose's proposal provides the more complete definition, although it does not include the economic development generated by this form of tourism.

    More concretely, geotourism may be understood in relation to natural and cultural tourism. In the former case, the use of outdoor and rural spaces is the main similarity , although urban geotourist activities also exist (Larwood & Prosser 1996). In the latter, geotourism includes elements of cultural tourism (Origet de Cluzeau 1998), because it implies a search for knowledge and emotions through the discovery of a heritage and its territory. In this sense, rocks and forms of the Earth's surface - manifestations and memories of the Earth history - are considered as a heritage (Eder 1999), since they are essential components of the landscape, possessing not only natural characteristics, but cultural attributes as well (Reynard 2005). For instance, Ayers Rock (Australia) is a site and a landscape freighted with cultural meanings (i.e. religious interests for native people) as is Thingvellir (Iceland) in terms of political identification (i.e. place of the first Icelandic Parliament). Finally, geotourism may constitute a segment of ecotourism, which is "a sustainable form of natural resource-based tourism that focuses primarily on experiencing and learning about nature, and which is ethically managed to be low-impact, non-consumptive, and locally oriented (control, benefits and scale). It typically occurs in natural areas, and should contribute to the conservation or preservation of such areas" (Fenell 2003).

    After these preliminary comments, it should be obvious that, on the one hand, geotourist activities consider not only the geoscientific, but also the scenic, cultural, economic and ecological potentials of a landscape - thus creating its tourist value (see below) -, and that, on the other hand, the existence of natural and cultural heritages as well as economic and landscape resources generates specific uses (Pralong 2005).

    3 Theoretical framework

    Figure 1 shows a systemic approach to tourist and geotourist activities, structured by three analysis phases called "optimisation", "exploitation" and "transformation" (in italic on the chart). Geological and geo-morphological sites and landscapes are first defined as manifestations and memories of the Earth history by the relationship between natural and social and economic systems (Pralong & Reynard 2005). For the natural system, geosphere, hydrosphere and cryosphere are mainly concerned. For the social and economic system, five kinds of stakeholders (economic, political, cultural, scientific and population and visitors) are recognised. The "optimisation" phase consists in assigning values to the sites and landscapes concerned, in relation to ecological and social considerations. As mentioned above, geoscientific, scenic, cultural, economic and ecological values (see Panizza & Piacente 1993, 2003 and Quar-anta 1993 for their precise definitions) are perceived as components of the tourist value, also called "original product" by Barras (1987). The attraction of the tourist value induces two kinds of use (natural and cultural heritages as well as economic and landscape resources) both understood in terms of protection and/or utilisation (see Pralong & Reynard 2005 for examples).

    The second phase then considers the social and economic exploitation of the original product, thus creating the "derived product" (Barras 1987). For tourist as well as for geotourist aspects, basic infrastructures, productive activities (e.g. access, accommodation) and specialised goods and services are necessary (e.g. guided tour or booklet, cable car or via ferrata). To define the potential and diversity of the demand, several elements must be taken into account, such as the kind of visitors (tourists or day-trippers), social and demographic factors (e.g. marital status, age, professional training) as well as permissive and incita-tive ones (Barras 1987). Consideration of the last two factors is crucial in order to satisfy the demand of the various target groups, because they include income and free time and above all wishes and needs of the visitors (Knafou et al. 1997, Stock et al. 2003). Therefore, behaviour and actions of the different target groups (effective demand) may be understood, and the components of the derived product adapted as required.

    Tourism Review, Vol 6 1 , No 3/2006 21

  • Discussion Forum

    2 2 Tourism Review, Vol 6 1 , No 3/2006

  • J.-P. Pralong: Geotourism

    Finally, the derived product necessarily induces an economic and ecological transformation (third analysis' phase) influencing the integrity of the sites and landscapes considered, which also record this evolution as manifestations and memories of the Earth history. As a result of this fact, social and economic processes may modify the natural system, for instance, by the way of positive or negative impacts (e.g. discovery of dinosaur pathways, destruction of a particular landscape) (Marty & Hug 2003). Moreover, natural processes may transform the social and economic system by the existence of risks owing to the addition of hazard and vulnerability (Cavallin & Mar-chetti 1995, Rivas et al. 1997) and natural changes (e.g. melt of glaciers, evolution of karstic caves). Therefore, such natural and human evolutions modify the initial values of the sites and landscapes considered, as well as characteristics of both product supply and demand. Consequences for (geo) tourist activities may be, for instance, a loss of interest, an improvement in attractiveness or an increase in risk (Pralong 2005).

    In this way, each change in geoscientif-ic, scenic, cultural, economic and ecological values may create the onset of a new life cycle, in terms of supply and demand (Chade-faud 1988, Biot & Gauchon 2005), and also generate different generations of geological and geomorphological sites and landscapes as well as tourist and economic resources.

    4 Demand trends: a lucky break for geotourism

    Currently, the trends in demand correspond to what geotourist activities may propose to visitors in terms of original product. As presented in the introduction, it is widely agreed that tourists and day-trippers consider environment and pure nature, educational tourism, culture and history, events and mega events, and entertainment and fun as crucial issues (Morucci 2003). Thus, a form of tourism utilising natural landscapes in a didactic and entertaining way, and based on imagination and emotion in relation to Earth history, may provide interesting economic developments. Because of the emergence of an "emotion culture "(Origet du Cluzeau & Vicriat 2000) and the current relevance of images in post-modern societies (Amirou 1999), visitors more and more prefer kinds of tourism that favour experience and sensations. For instance, the Ardche re

    gion of France has understood this fact and proposes tourist products that create the effect of a trip through time, in order to distinguish itself from similar territories (Mangeant & Dany 1999). In this case, behind the discovery of a new karstic cave in 1994 containing the oldest wall-paintings in the world the approach chosen, based on imagination and disorientation, creates a consistent link between the elements of the tourist product and the original natural and cultural resources of the destination.

    Regarding geotourism, "there is a strong demand for translating the geological knowledge acquired through field survey into more explicit popular initiatives. These needs come from the education world, tourist operators and civic, cultural and trekking and climbing organisations (which would like to further develop mountain activities not only for competitive sport purposes but also for cultural and scientific ones)" (Tommasi 2002). As expressed by this author, and confirmed by a current study (Pralong 2006b), the demand for explanatory commentaries is important for natural sites and landscapes with Earth science features of interest. Different target groups (e.g. seniors, families, schools) potentially interested in natural and cultural landscapes seem to constitute specific markets to consider. According to Siegrist (2000), a theoretical market of 80 million visitors interested in trips relative to nature and culture exists in Europe. To satisfy this demand, on-site interpretation needs to be more adapted to the expectations of tourists and day-trippers and more original and striking ways of communication have to be deployed. Indeed, a fashionable destination is a place where the imaginative expectations and needs of visitors are considered and translated into specific products.

    In this way, Earth science may help tourist stakeholders to utilise natural landscapes as providers of imagination and emotion, beyond their scenic value. For instance, plenty of territories provide evidence of tropical seas (e.g. Mount Everest), oceanic volcanoes (e.g. the Matterhorn) or impressive glaciers (e.g. the Sahara) which disappeared millions years ago (Hose 1998, Marthaler 2002). Explaining the natural and everyday environment by playing with these temporal and spatial dimensions may entertain tourists and day-trippers, especially lay-men in Earth science. For this numerous target group, on-site interpretation must function in interactive ways (Bringer 1993):

    stimulate inquisitiveness, interest in a topic rather than educate;

    create links between a place or a topic and the visitors' experience;

    create links between past and current facts as well as local and worldwide situations;

    ask crucial and new questions relative to the place or the topic presented;

    give pieces of information by telling a story (and not by a scientific talk).

    From a promotional point of view, a linking thematic (e.g. "a trip through time", "from the sea to the mountain") must include all goods and services produced and projected, in order to provide a positive and consistent image to the destination concerned (Tiberghien 1997). Earth science may be used to promote this through what we call "geomarketing", a kind of image communication that exploits the temporal and spatial dimensions of the rocks and forms of the destination in question (Pralong 2006a); for this, a collaboration between geoscientists and marketing professionals is necessary. In this case, "competitive advantages" depend on the interests and diversity of the local and regional geology and geomorphology. An alpine destination with fossilised oceanic volcanoes or coral reefs within its territory may propose this kind of promotional approach. On the one hand, it will generate inquisitiveness among the target groups selected (Moisset 1997). On the other hand, it will position the destination clearly from a symbolic and emotional point of view (Arino 1999). Obviously, product communication must complete this marketing strategy with the creation, promotion and sale of specific and original products (sets of tourist and geotourist goods and services), in order to concretely satisfy demand. Regarding geotourism, these products especially concern the summer period (from spring to autumn), which has been up to now neglected, but seems to have a real potential for development because of its positive image (Origet du Cluzeau & Vicriat 2000).

    On a regional scale, a mix of walking, wellness, agrotourism and geotourism may be profitable in terms of added value, given that walking notably is a high potential product (Origet du Cluzeau & Vicriat 2000). In this way, the summer mountain may compete with the "sea product" by utilising its natural and cultural heritages, in order to make itself more physically, mentally and economically accessible (Mathelet 2002).

    Tourism Review, Vol 6 1 , No 3/2006 23

  • Discussion Forum

    5 Synthesis and perspectives

    From 1970-1975, qualitative forms of tourism emerged linked with a diversification of demand and of visitors' behaviour. Currently, tourists and day-trippers tend to consider environment and pure nature, educational tourism, culture and history, events and mega events, and entertainment and fun as crucial issues. As a new form of tourism, geotourism may satisfy the wishes and needs of specific target groups (e.g. seniors, families, schools), because it uses natural sites and landscapes manifestations and memories of the Earth history as providers of imagination and emotion, favouring experience and sensations. In this sense, Earth science may help tourist stakeholders to utilise rocks and forms of the Earth's surface in a didactic and entertaining way.

    Regarding on-site interpretation, explaining the natural and everyday environment by playing with its temporal and spatial dimensions seems to be more adapted to visitors' expectations, given that numerous landscapes bear witness to the existence of tropical seas, oceanic volcanoes or impressive glaciers which disappeared millions years ago. From a promotional point of view, a more original and striking communication of a destination's image using these dimensions ("geomarketing") should be developed; for this, collaborations between geoscientists and marketing professionals are necessary. This will not only generate inquisitiveness among the target groups selected, but also give a clear position to the destinations concerned, in order to distinguish themselves from similarter-ritories. Obviously, a policy of product communication must complete this marketing strategy with the creation, promotion and sale of specific and original products, especially for the summer period (from spring to autumn).

    Therefore, geotourism may be a component of regional economic development, generating profitable tourism. This is a realistic perspective, given its different advantages: a potential for sustainable growth, whe

    reas ski markets are more or less declining in the majority of alpine destinations;

    a tourist development requiring fewer investments and infrastructures than for winter tourism, and having a good cost-benefit ratio;

    a better distribution between summer and winter nights and an extension of the summer period (from spring to autumn);

    better spatial and temporal distribution of tourist numbers within the natural sites of a destination, allowing the landscape to be better protected;

    opportunities to improve the quality of the product by the attribution of labels (e.g. national or regional park, geoparc), thus increasing tourist attraction.

    6 References

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