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Tourism Tidbits Archive

Mass versus Boutique Tourism: The advantages and disadvantages of both

August 2016

A major debate and buzz word within the tourism industry is what is often called “sustainable tourism”.  In reality there is no one definition of what the word means an even less people are sure of how to apply the term.  The word has become so over used that often it has become meaningless.  Often, but nor always, the debate around sustainable tourism revolves around the concept of “mass tourism”, another word without a precise definition. The literature is filled with questions such as:

  1. How many tourists are too many?
  2. Are there tourism cohorts that threaten the tourism environment?
  3. If too many (or too few) tourists arrive, does that produce social and economic challenges that can gnaw at the very fabrics of a tourism industry?

We might call the opposite of mass tourism, boutique tourism. Once again there are different definitions of boutique tourism and how it defers from mass tourism.  Some of the differences found in the literature are that boutique tourism is similar to niche tourism in that it is planned around specific activities such as cultural tourism, ecological tourism, educational, or medical tourism. Others argue that boutique tourism promotes tourism during off-peak seasons.  Still others state that boutique tourism is often self-planned while mass tourism is often a product sold as a commodity in which price is a function of the laws of economy of scales.

To help your locale decide which (or both) forms of tourism work best for you, Tourism Tidbits presents several comparisons and ideas as to creating the best fit for your tourism community.

There is no doubt that tourism is a big business and despite the problems that have arisen due to terrorism it is getting bigger.  It is reported by the website “sustaining tourism’ that by 2020 there are expected to be some 1.5 billion international tourists, creating over 11%n of all the world’s jobs.  Assuming that these numbers are even close to being correct, tourism’s environmental impact is huge. For example, many tourism locations are in places where water is scarce, yet almost all studies show that when we travel we tend to use more water than when we are at home.  This figure is especially important when we take into account that only a small proportion of the world’s water (3%) is potable. although over 70% of the planet is water.

  • Mass tourism is typified by some of the following criteria: Mass tourism tends to sell the tourism product to large groups. It has the advantage that the tourism program is highly regimented and it focuses on specific well-known tourism sites.  In the world of shopping, its visitors tend to be more allocentric then psychocentric, tend to buy more souvenirs then big ticket items and seek high levels of commodity. For example, mass tourism products provide tours in the local language and often provide large numbers of social gatherings.
  • Boutique tourism products offer a different set of criteria.  The boutique tourism product often caters more to smaller groups of families or intimate friends. It allow for spontaneity is site/sight selection. Boutique tourists often seek the more unusual and are not afraid of language or cultural difficulties.  Boutique oriented tourists tend to shy away from large crowds and often purchase fewer souvenirs but rather may concentrate on a few larger ticket items. On the whole, boutique tourists will seek out local experiences, local foods and local products.  Although it is argued that boutique tourism has a low impact on the local culture, in reality a better way of describing this impact would be a “different” impact.  Whenever two cultures meet there is an impact.  Mass tourism tends to be restricted to specific locations; boutique tourism is less “dense” but more dispersed through a locale. In small locales, both forms of tourism will impact the local culture.
  • A locale does not need to live an either-or-existence.  Part of good sustainable tourism is knowing what your locale wishes to be and of your desires meet with reality.  This fact means that the tourism industry dare not forget that it is the local population that makes up not only the voting population, but also large proportions of the tourism work force. These local employees come in contact with visitors from different cultures on a daily basis. Each type of visitor group brings its own challenges. The essential part of tourism is not trying to avoid change but rather to manage change, and seek tourism populations that are in harmony with the local social, cultural and physical environment.
  • Use technology to be gracious to the environment and at the same time be good hosts.  Think through which problems your locale has and what technologies may exist to deal with these environmental challenges. Will a desalinization plant provide a major new source of potable water? Can garbage be recycled to provide cheap and inexpensive fuels? Can the sun be a source of heating and can drone technology be used to replace wasteful police patrols?  None of these are perfect solutions but all of these combined with creative thought can provide jobs and at the same time protect the tourism environment and industry.
  • Make sure that the local public understands your goals and aspirations.  Some local populations may have a negative perception about tourism.  It is essential that the local population be part of the process and that it understands what the relationship is between a good tourism product and their quality of life. No one wants to live in a place filled with garbage, sidewalks that are broken, and air pollution. These are the building blocks of tourism.  Having the public on your side not only means political success but it also means that you have an “army” of smiles and volunteers seeking to guarantee your locale’s tourism success.