Analyse the extent to which Poon’s theory relates to the changing nature of tourism in the Costa Brava

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1.0 Introduction

Poon (1994) suggests a change in tourism demand; identifying a shift from old tourism, characterised by ‘mass, standardized, and rigidly packaged holidays’, towards a ‘flexibility, segmented and more authentic new tourism experience’. This report aims to analyse the extent to which Poon’s theory relates to the changing nature of tourism in the Costa Brava.

2.0 The demand for tourism

Spain first became a major destination for ‘mass tourism’ between the 1960’s and 70’s, following the industry boom and by the 1990s Germany, UK and Spain accounted for over three quarters of visitors (Buswell, 1996). In 2000, Spain was the third most visited country in the world, attracting more than 48,500,000 visitors per annum (WTO 2000).

New technological advancements in the airline industry, cheap oil, standardisation of product and use of economies of scale drove down the price of holidays even further, and Spain was able to capitalise on the increased desire for sun-lust tourism. As Gomez and Sinclair (in Barke et al., 1996, p.67) illustrate: ‘between 1951 and 1990 most tourists visited the country during the summer months to take advantage of the sun and the beaches’.

Both Reynolds (1993) and Urry (1995) also acknowledge the decline in physically orientated holidays and the rise of culturally orientated choices. Richard’s (1996) assertion that cultural tourism is a growing market, and Shackley’s (1998) claim that ‘throughout the world heritage tourism is experiencing a period of rapid growth’ serve to reinforce Poon’s theory of a ‘new tourist’. Prat (1996) also suggests the demand for tourism in Costa Brava is partially evolving toward Poon’s new tourism, by highlighting the changing demographics, and motivators of visitors to the region: ‘Tourism in the Costa Brava is primarily family tourism, nevertheless, recent years have shown an increase in the presence of young single people, and tendencies towards more personalised and individualistic tourism forms, such as interest in the quality of the natural environment and appreciation for cultural differences’.

3.0 Supply Issues

‘In its early stages (1908-1958) tourist promotion and the development of the Costa Brava was perfectly integrated with the landscape, the economy and the lifestyle of the region’ (Prat, 1996). However, in the post war period that followed, the political and economic circumstances of Spain and Europe pulled the Costa Brava toward a dizzying tourist growth and sustainable tourism principles were forgotten. Tourist development was characterised by property speculation, insufficient investment in infrastructure and the predominance of tour operators. Supply escalated, and by the late 1970s the majority of buildings in Lloret de Mar were hotels, shops and restaurants, even local farmland was used to develop hotels.

Some resorts on the Costa Brava, such as Tossa de Mar, remain largely unspoilt despite the increasing demand outlined in section 2.0; others however, including Blanes and Lloret de Mar are intensely developed, Lloret de Mar, one of the major towns on the Costa Brava housed 60,000 bed spaces in 1996 (Prat, 1996) and has since increased. At present, the supply of tourist facilities in the Costa Brava is primarily two and three star hotels, apartments, campsites, farms and country houses. The International airport, and a number of tourist attractions, such as four theme parks and sixteen golf courses serve the area, which has been designed to appeal to all demographic sectors of the population (Turisme de Catalunya).

There are numerous supply issues in the Costa Brava that need to be addressed in order to maintain tourist levels. Perhaps, the most pressing at present is the extent of oversupply; of the total 46,000km of Mediterranean coastline, 25,000 km is urbanized and development has already exceeded a critical limit. (WWF, 2002), illustrating Poon’s theory that old tourism held no ‘limits to growth’. As a result, the heritage and natural beauty in many areas of the Costa Brava have been destroyed, eliminating aspects attracting new tourists to the resort, therefore potentially decreasing future demand.

Current supply and infrastructure is the personification of the ‘standardized mass tourism of the 1960s and 1970s.’ (Poon, 1994) – the majority of accommodation is of poor quality, and consequently remains cheap. The rapid development of the Costa Brava as a tourist destination, and the changing demand highlighted in section 2.0, has resulted in existing supply being poorly positioned, a factor that must be addressed to ensure the Costa Brava does not fail to capitalise on the transition toward Poon’s ‘new’ tourism; however it should be noted that Spain is still heavily dependant what Poon refers to as old tourism and this must also be accounted for in future planning and development.

4.0 The Impacts of Tourism

The rapid growth of tourism throughout the Costa Brava has created both positive and negative impacts that can be roughly divided into three categories: economic, social and cultural, and environmental. This section shall outline the positive impacts that stem from tourism, whilst the negative impacts will be discussed in section 6.0 as it is felt that they are directly relevant to the key problems and issues.

4.1 Positive Impacts:

The development of tourism in the Costa Brava has led to considerable financial benefits for the local community; employment opportunities have arisen, and the recent increase in demand for Poon’s notion of new tourism is reducing seasonality, therefore creating greater job security. The development of tourism and the growing population within urbanised areas has resulted in the swift improvement of infrastructure including the Gerona-Costa Brava airport in 1967. Increased tourism has also prompted investment in the region, thus improving the local standard of living. Demand for more ‘culturally orientated’ holidays (Reynolds, 1993) has led to the preservation of certain historic sites and traditional villages such as those in Tossa de Mar, so far this has been relatively trivial, however an increase in interest toward such features may promote the further conservation. (Prat, 1996).

5.0 The Marketing of Tourism:

As consumer-buying power increases, consumers are becoming more demanding. This combined with the rapid increase in easily accessible tourist destinations, and deregulation and concentration in the industry has led to a greater need for improved marketing and the promotion of the Costa Brava. The increased scope in objectives and motivations of tourist visitors to the Costa Brava has meant it is imperative to promote the right combination of elements to the right market. Uncovering consumer interests, patterns of demand and buyer behaviour through the use of market research, will enable focused target markets and niches to be developed thus enabling the Spanish tourist board to refine their targets and develop specific means to achieve truly individual marketing (Pitta 1998).

The Spanish tourist board needs to initiate fundamental changes to their marketing strategy; an emphasis on key principles such as, environmental focus, development of tourism as a lead sector, strengthening distribution channels, integrating information technology systems and the need to build a dynamic private sector have to be incorporated. Once achieved, the Spanish tourist board can begin to differentiate itself from the competition and market its provinces such as the Costa Brava as a sustainable tourist destination with a focus toward both sun seeking mass tourists and individuals in search of culture and natural heritage.

6.0 Key Problem and Issues:

Section 4.0 highlighted the positive impacts derived from increased tourism; in contrast, this section examines the negative issues and key problems faced by the Costa Brava as a result of the rapidly increasing demand for tourism:

6.1 Economic Impacts: It is true that tourism has increased the amount of money coming into the Costa Brava, however, the region has been unable to reap the benefits as a result of leaching: ‘since 1999, two thirds of the income from the Costa Brava returned to less than ten Northern European tour operators, providing them control, and reducing reinvestment in the area’ ( The small number of tour operators dominating the market, results in various imbalances and contributes to the unsustainable growth model based on cheap package tourism, which has reduced the possibilities for product diversification. Consequently the region has become reliant on the tour operators and the individual countries that dominate their tourist influx.

Seasonality has made sustaining the economy and businesses off peak difficult, affecting employment in the tourism sector with vast numbers of people, including migrants, vulnerable due to a lack of steady income. This is exaggerated in the Costa Brava, by the lack of primary and traditional industries such as fishing and agriculture, which became almost non-existent after the arrival of mass tourism (Prat, 1996). This problem is reducing, as the result of trends toward new tourism, however at present remains a real problem.

6.2 Social and Cultural Impacts : As tourism has developed, the local population pressured by development and increased taxes were forced to move from the coast: as a result many areas, particularly the old city, have struggled to retain their traditional character. Increased modernisation and the superior number of foreigners have led to the alteration and loss of local lifestyle, culture and certain traditional customs. Society in the region began to disappear as the focus on tourism led to the decline in religious and cultural activities (Prat, 1996). However, the move toward Poon’s new tourism might be able to slow down and reverse this situation.

A real issue that the Costa Brava must be consider is whether the region has reached maturity in the destination life cycle; Poon (1994) suggested a shift toward ‘new tourism’ however many of the new tourist motivators, such as authentic culture and heritage have been lost as a result of mass, Fordist tourism, posing the question of whether or not a region can truly sustain both forms of tourism.

6.3 Environmental Impacts: Tourism development has resulted in the degradation of the environment including increased pollution, erosion, destruction of fauna and flora and increased pressure on local resources (WWF, 2002). The impacts of tourism in the Costa Brava have grown to such an extent that an eco-tax targeting tourists was introduced in 2002, and is expected to result in a further decline in tourism to the region (Prior, 2002).

Rapid growth has resulted in disorderly development across Costa Brava’s coastline, proving anaesthetically pleasing and putting a strain on the unique culture and natural landscapes. Imbalance in environmental and resource management coupled with maximum human capacity has created major environmental effects. Problems stem from the large-scale complexes built in sparse areas where there was previously no community life or infrastructure planning. Environmental damage includes; water shortages in peak seasons, sea pollution (largely related to non-treated sewage waste and water sports), large amounts of rubbish due to high human capacity, and breakdown of coral reefs.

7.0 Future direction of development

Poon’s theory of a new ‘common sense’ breaks down the new trends and direction of tourism into five areas as analysed in this section:

7.1 Consumers: Consumers are moving away from the old tourism attractions of ‘sun, sea and sand’, for which the Costa Brava is renowned toward more cultural, authentic experiences. Consequently, in order to cater for this change in demand it is essential that further tourism development focuses on offering diverse products and experiences.

7.2 Technology: The role of technology in tourism has changed as accessibility and technological advances, such as the Internet, have been made. Future development of the Costa Brava tourism product must integrate technology in order to reach its market as fewer tourists are using travel agents or tour operators to plan their holidays.

7.3 Production: Competitive edge can now be obtained through innovation and differentiation as opposed to price, thus, communicating diversity and promoting the variety of local products is key to the future of Costa Brava as a new tourism destination. ‘A product development policy is necessary, which adopts a wider perspective than one based purely on price differentiation.’ (Prat, 1996). The quality of the product offered must be improved, implying the renovation of degraded, poor quality hotels and outdated accommodation.

7.4 Management: Labour force is increasingly becoming a key part of product consumption in the service industry. Hotels and service sector businesses in the Costa Brava must react to this and adopt a culture of best practice and Total Quality Management in order to improve the effectiveness of staff and service levels. A consumer-focused approach will help develop tourist products and maintain a competitive position in the market.

7.5 Frame Conditions: Local conditions have changed. The 1960’s aim of economic growth has now been replaced by concern for the environment and restructuring of the local economy and tourism product. ‘Legislation…which would effectively limit the growth of the accommodation product’ (Prat 1996) is needed to limit the deterioration to the environment. In order to develop and manage sustainable tourism in Costa Brava, private sector businesses, local and national governments, and host communities, must work together in the planning, monitoring, assessment and cautious development of further tourism products.

8.0 Conclusion:

The nature of tourism is changing; Poon’s theory of old and new tourism is relevant to the Costa Brava, and does provide a useful basis from which to analyse and relate trends and changes in demand. It should however be said that the model is not entirely conclusive and fails to take into account the fact that an increase in demand for new tourist attractions and motivators does not eliminate the need or demand for the traditional sun-seeking tourist facilities, and perhaps Poon’s theory should consider the possibility that both old and new tourism may continue to co-exist, even in the same location. For many, price remains the primary consideration when choosing a holiday destination, and until this changes, there will always be a market for mass tourism. It should therefore be noted that in order to optimize the number of visitors, local tourist boards must take both old and new tourism into account when planning tourist destinations, and should be aware of both markets when promoting the region.

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