Tourism Geography commonly is approached through a variety of methods. The following are several methods that have been used.
The institutional approach to the study of tourism considers the various intermediaries and institutions that perform tourism activities. It emphasizes institutions such as the travel agency. This approach requires an investigation of the organization, operating methods, problems, costs, and economic place of travel agents who act on behalf of the customer, purchasing services from airlines, rental car companies, hotels etc.
The product approach involves the study of various tourism products and how they are produced, marketed, and consumed. For example, one might study an airline seat—how it is created, the people who are engaged in buying and selling it, how it is financed, how it is advertised, and so on. Repeating this procedure for rental cars, hotel rooms, meals, and other tourist services gives a full picture of the field. Unfortunately, the product approach tends to be too time-consuming; it does not allow the student to grasp the fundamentals of tourism quickly.
The historical approach is not widely used. It involves an analysis of tourism activities and institutions from an evolutionary angle. It searches for the cause of innovations, their growth or decline, and shifts in interest. Because mass tourism is a fairly recent phenomenon, this approach has limited usefulness.
The managerial approach is firm-oriented (microeconomic), focusing on the management activities necessary to operate a tourist enterprise, such as planning, research, pricing, advertising, control, and the like. It is a popular approach, using insights gleaned from other approaches and disciplines. Regardless of which approach is used to study tourism, it is important to know the managerial approach. Products change, institutions change, and society changes; this means that managerial objectives and procedures must be geared to change to meet shifts in the tourism environment. The Journal of Travel Research and Tourism Management, leading journals in the field, both feature this approach.
Because of its importance to both domestic and world economies, tourism has been examined closely by economists, who focus on supply, demand, balance of payments, foreign exchange, employment, expenditures, development, multipliers, and other economic factors. This approach is useful in providing a framework for analyzing tourism and its contributions to a country’s economy and economic development. The disadvantage of the economic approach is that whereas tourism is an important economic phenomenon, it has noneconomic impacts as well. The economic approach does not usually pay adequate attention to the environmental, cultural, psychological, sociological, and anthropological approaches. Tourism Economics is a journal utilizing the economic approach.
Tourism tends to be a social activity. Consequently, it has attracted the attention of sociologists, who have studied the tourism behavior of individuals and goups of people and the impact of tourism on society. This approach examines social classes, habits, and customs of both hosts and guests. The sociology of leisure is a relatively undeveloped field, but it shows promise of progressing rapidly and becoming more
widely used. As tourism continues to make a massive impact on society, it will be studied more and more from a social point of view.
Geography is a wide-ranging discipline, so it is natural that geographers should be interested in tourism and its spatial aspects. The geographer specializes in the study of location, environment, climate, landscape, and economic aspects. The geographer’s approach to tourism sheds light on the location of tourist areas, the movements of people created by tourism locales, the changes that tourism brings to the landscape in the form of tourism facilities, dispersion of tourism development, physical planning, and economic, social, and cultural problems. Because tourism touches geography at so many points, geographers have investigated the area more thoroughly than have scholars in many other disciplines. Because the geographers’ approach is so encompassing—dealing with land use, economic aspects, demographic impacts, and cultural problems—a study of their contributions is highly recommended. Recreational geography is a common course title used by geographers studying this specialty. Because tourism, leisure, and recreation are so closely related, it is necessary to search for literature under all these titles to discover the contributions of various fields. Geographers were instrumental in starting both the Journal of Leisure Research and Leisure Sciences. Another journal, Tourism Geographies, was launched in February 1999 with the aim of providing a forum for the presentation and discussion of geographic perspectives on tourism and tourism related areas of recreation and leisure studies.
Tourism embraces virtually all aspects of our society. We have cultural and heritage tourism, which calls for an anthropological approach. Because people behave in different ways and travel for different reasons, it is necessary to use a psychological approach to determine the best way to promote and market tourism products. Because
tourists cross borders and require passports and visas from government offices, and because most countries have government-operated tourism development departments, we find that political institutions are involved and are calling for a political science approach. Any industry that becomes an economic giant affecting the lives of many people attracts the attention of legislative bodies (along with that of the sociologists,
geographers, economists, and anthropologists), which create the laws, regulations, and legal environment in which the tourist industry must operate; so we also have a legal approach. The great importance of transportation suggests passenger transportation as another approach. The fact simply is that tourism is so vast, so complex, and so multifaceted that it is necessary to have a number of approaches to studying the field, each geared to a somewhat different task or objective.