What if we drop the term destination?

Especially the tourism industry uses the term “destination” with a common undertone: We are talking about holiday islands and vacation homes. When a place becomes a destination then we think of somewhere we move towards from the outside. Destinations don’t lie along the way of a journey but they are the very aim. That these places developed over decades or centuries and that there are people who call them their home is often not included in the term (holiday) destination. Our expert for Place Management & Development Prof. Ares Kalandides, Institute of Place Management Manchester, critically reflects on the term destination and discusses, if we should drop it after all:

“The word ‘destination’ risks obliterating the place, turning it something you move towards, a point in the horizon. Yes, of course we all know that people live on that point in the horizon, but do we really care? Words matter because they shape the way we think. And the way we think shapes the way we act. The term destination becomes fuzzy when you start reconsidering the concept of the tourist (or visitor): It is not that you cannot make distinctions between locals and visitors, but these distinctions in many places (though by no means everywhere) become blurred.

Who exactly is a tourist? The one-off visitor from the other end of the globe who will visit once in their life as part of a tick-off list? The foreign student who spends six months in a university as part of an Erasmus programme? The artist who moves back and forth because she has an ongoing project or a series of projects in a foreign place (and probably also pays local taxes)? A flat owner who spends some weeks every year in a place away from his main home (and probably also pays local taxes)? The visitor from another town not very far away? A visitor from another neighbourhood? It is not that you cannot make distinctions between locals and visitors, but these distinctions in many places (though by no means everywhere) become blurred. Indeed, patters of mobility are very unequal, but people interact in places, creating new relations and changing the place as they do so. I would argue that the larger the gap in terms of economic (but also cultural and social) capital between groups of locals/visitors is, the easier it is to conceive the difference in terms of clear dichotomies, which may be of class rather than provenance – but this is a different argument.

Otherwise, we are talking about a continuum, with the permanent resident on one end, the one-off tourist from far away on the other, and a multitude of categories in between. The concept of destination is fixed to this second type of tourist – one-off from far away – the only one deemed a “real” tourist. I argue that the traditional idea of a tourist creates an overly simplistic dichotomy between local and visitor. There could be visitors from another neighbourhood who visit regularly or we could have visitors from far away, who, having family in the place, also visit frequently. There are innumerable possibilities. The Tourist is a figment of our imagination.

This is not just an intellectual exercise (although it is that, too). This kind of shift in vocabulary and thinking will mean that we will have to approach planning differently in places that receive visitors, who may stay shorter or longer, develop relationships with people in that place or not, return or stay away (see how the direction of the movement changes when we talk about “receiving” rather than “destination”?). Such  a shift can have a serious effect on how we plan infrastructure that would serve different groups with the same or competing needs.  It also changes the role of DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations), who will then be there to manage a place – together with other place managers  – a task not limited to marketing a destination.

So, what if we drop the term destination altogether? What if we start talking about places where people meet – locals, visitors and everything in between?  Not just because I find the term destination neo-colonial and offensive (I do), but because it will change the way we think about and act on tourism and the relationship between people, places and mobility.”

The original article was published by Prof. Ares Kalandides on the Blog of the Institute of Place Management.

Here you can find more information about Prof. Ares Kalandides.