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«WERNER KREISEL Geographisches Institut, Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany ABSTRACT The development of leisure and tourism research in the ...»

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Tourism Geographies, Vol. 6, No. 2, 163–185, May 2004

Geography of Leisure and Tourism

Research in the German-speaking

World: Three Pillars to Progress


Geographisches Institut, Universität Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany


The development of leisure and tourism research in the German-speaking world

shows a number of distinct stages. The origins of tourism research can be traced back to Hans

Poser and his analyses of tourism in the Riesengebirge in 1939 (today Krkonosze, Krkonoše).

His main focus was on the landscape as a setting for tourism. He considered the analysis of the interactions between landscape and the holidaymaking public the main task of geography.

In contrast, ‘Geography of Leisure Behaviour’, from the so-called Munich School, placed more emphasis on people and leisure-based human behaviour. Current approaches focus on applied issues such as sustainable tourism and spatial carrying capacity, as well as current societal changes and the ensuing changes in supply and demand. Another current focus of research is the significance of geographical space for leisure and tourism. This is no longer limited to physical space, but also includes so-called ‘action space’, perceived space and even virtual space. Notwithstanding the many special trends that result from the increasing fragmentation of society, the main task of geography of tourism and leisure must remain to support sustainable development and take a holistic view of leisure and tourism.

KEY WORDS: Tourism, leisure, research, Germany, history, prospects Introduction It is one of the most challenging tasks to be invited to write a review of disciplinary progress in one’s field. This task is made all the more daunting when three points are considered. The first two of these are operational and relate to language and the culture of enquiry. In the case of the former, to communicate effectively the nuances of the approach by German-speaking Correspondence Address: Werner Kreisel, Geographisches Institut, Universität Göttingen, Goldschmidtstraße 5, 37077 Göttingen, Germany. Fax: +49 551 39 12 140;

Tel.: +49 551 39 8021; Email: wkreise@gwdg.de

1461–6688 Print/1470-1340 Online/04/010163–23 © 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd DOI: 10.1080/1461668042000208435 164 W. K r e i s e l scholars and their respective relevance in English would be a devilishly difficult task, even for a professional translator! In terms of the latter, it is important to reflect that there are key differences in how geographies of tourism and leisure are constructed and interpreted. Scholars working in North America, the UK and Australasia on the one hand, and those in Germany, Austria and Switzerland on the other (and in other parts of the world for that matter), may be bound together by their perceived mutual interests in the geographies of tourism, leisure and recreation. However, to describe the term ‘geography’ as a common denominator may be to gloss over significant disparities in approach, focus and emphasis based on their backgrounds and training. As more mainstream accounts of the history of geography as a discipline have demonstrated, interpretations and schools of thought as to what actually constitutes geography and geographical enquiry, as well as how geography as an academic pursuit has evolved, vary often quite markedly, depending upon the intellectual settings and traditions from which geography has materialized. Distinctive modes of geographical enquiry and geographical thinking have emerged over time, not least in Britain, North America, Germany and France, each with important differences of emphasis, but also simultaneously with common core interests and epistemological and ontological overlaps. The proliferation of English as a global academic language and enhanced communication skills among nonEnglish native speakers may have increasingly facilitated the transfer of knowledge and ideas from contemporary human geography in Britain and North America to Europe. These ideas may inform the pursuit of geographical knowledges about leisure and tourism in the German-speaking world which are constantly unfolding (see, for example, Hennig 1997); more crucially, the nature of contemporary enquiry is also deeply rooted in, and shaped by, the traditions and concerns of the past. In this respect, at the beginning of this review it is crucial to establish the principal concerns of the geography of leisure and tourism in the German-speaking world. These are based on a long-held – even ‘traditional’ – view of geography as a spatial science. Hans Hopfinger (2003) has recently argued that the geography of tourism and leisure is defined by its focus on the spatial dimensions of leisure and tourism and attempts to explain the underlying spatial processes.

This may be dissimilar with perspectives on, and approaches to, the geography of leisure and tourism elsewhere in the world; irrespective, it underscores the direction taken in the German-speaking world, which we may broadly interpret as research workers trained and/or active in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

As a third introductory observation, it is crucial to record the sheer volume of scholarly material that has been published on tourism and leisure within the German-speaking world, where scholars have been as prolific as their counterparts in the UK, North America and Australia and New Zealand. Becker et al.’s (2003) comprehensive synthesis of progress in leisure and tourism geographies stands as testament to this. Almost Space: Research in the German-speaking World 165 inevitably, therefore, by definition, any review of the main historical and intellectual thrusts will be limited by the scope of the setting, inevitably selective and determined by personal value judgements. Thus, there are two aims to this paper. The first is to raise awareness beyond the Germanspeaking world of the long and distinguished progress made in understanding the landscapes of tourism and leisure. Beyond a historical account of the emergence of leisure and tourism as credible research themes in geography, this paper has a second aim – to point to current critical issues and themes as a means of stimulating inter-cultural exchange and debate.

There are three main sections to this paper. Each covers a defining epoch in the development of the geography of leisure and tourism, or the three main pillars of contemporary knowledge: the early Poserian period;

advances associated with the Munich School; and current developments.

Early Precedents First Steps: Fremdenverkehrsgeographie as a Holistic Approach Hans Poser’s (1939a; 1939b) work on the Riesengebirge mountains marks the main awakening of interest in the geography of tourism in the Germanspeaking world (see also Hoevermann & Oberbeck 1972). This early exploration is interesting because it is the first major commentary to contemplate how tourism and geography are connected. At the time he wrote, mass tourism and the sheer number of niche markets we encounter today simply did not exist. Although we now recognize that mountains are just one specific type of tourism destination, at that time they attracted important numbers of visitors from external or ‘foreign’ sources (hence, the early term Fremdenverkehrsgeographie – lit. ‘foreign traffic geography’ – for ‘leisure and tourism geography’). Far from working on a recognizable, exclusive tourism geography per se, Poser’s interest was really in the wider entity of tourism and the specific role of geography in this context. Convinced that a ‘geography of tourism’ should not be a question of statistics or a mere mapping of tourism functions, he was a strong advocate of a much broader approach that went beyond selected spatial elements of tourism, such as into the natural environment.

Poser’s contribution was to highlight the importance of tourism and leisure in reading the landscape and its development, and vice versa. Posited in and driven by the dominant regional geography paradigm of the day, he argued that tourism and leisure represented important land uses in the region and to exclude them would be to develop only a partial understanding of the organization and development of the environment.

Moreover, to read tourism alongside other (physical as well as humaninduced) geographical dimensions was crucial because there were mutually 166 W. K r e i s e l reinforcing relationships. As Poser (1939b: 177) put it, ‘only by doing so can the essence of the geographical meaning of tourism manifest itself, [and] only by doing so can we understand the manifoldness of the relationships and problems’ associated with it. Poser argued that tourism takes place within geographical space to create its own particular type of cultural landscape in the process. Tourism, alongside other processes, creates distinctive regions – practically ‘tourism regions’ – which are special entities with a definite character that sets them apart from other regions. This character is expressed in their settlement, economy, traffic and lifestyle, all of which are subject to change in space and time.

Thus, tourism was interpreted as a function of environmental conditions; the principal factors driving the development of tourism spaces were landscape and climatic conditions in the destination region itself, as well as the population situation in the visitor’s home region. This was an early attempt to develop dialectic factor sets (like ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors), the resolution of which dictates the nature of tourism development. Favouring factors (such as a growing population in the visitors’ areas of origin, increasing interest in leisure and tourism, improved infrastructure etc.) and inhibiting factors (such as political crises, climate etc.) all contributed to the shaping of a tourism region. In his view, Landschaft (Landscape) – with all its physical and cultural manifestations and connotations – offered the decisive potential for tourism development and consumption.

However, Landschaft was a double-edged sword in so far as the contrast between the areas of origin and the destination also represented a basis for tensions.

Today, Poser’s work is understandably dated and such a holistic approach to identifying and interpreting particular types of landscapes and regions, among which tourism and leisure are components, has long-since been abandoned. Notwithstanding, however obvious and contestable Poser’s work may now appear, his research constitutes the first pillar of the emerging field of leisure and tourism geography in the German-speaking world because he shifted the focus of interest in tourism and leisure to where tourism actually takes place; that is, to space, the region and landscape.

Although Poser was not especially interested in mapping tourism in a more isolated, abstract sense as we may do today, his study heralded the beginning of complex spatial analyses. These combined the analysis of functional and structural elements with analyses of cultural landscape developments.

Research on the Principal Regulating Factors of Tourism Space

Poser’s approach was not considered the only approach to interpreting the geographies of leisure and tourism. Several scholars set out to discover basic principles underlying the development of tourist areas. For instance, perhaps most notably, Christaller (1955) attempted to apply his central Space: Research in the German-speaking World 167 places theory to the spatial system of tourism. His hypothesis was that zones more distant from urban and industrial agglomerations offered more favourable conditions for tourism development. The so-called ‘periphery hypothesis’ suggested a central–peripheral nexus in which the polarization between the source area in the centre and the tourism area in the periphery is decisive. However, even he had to concede that it was practically impossible to define explicit rules determining the spatial patterns of tourism; that is, rules that showed the same mathematical regularity as his central places theory. Later, a distance gradient for international tourism was devised based on the assumption that the flow of travel between origin and destination regions depended on their respective size and distance (cf. Kaminske 1977). This quasi-mathematical approach has since been superseded by developments in human mobility and transportation. Today, leisure and tourism not only take place in ‘pleasure peripheries’, but also – as it were – in central places which are no longer perceived as grey and industrial. Similarly, the perception of space has rendered such ideas largely obsolete. ‘Geographical space’ has, for a long time, not been synonymous with ‘real space’ because not only spatial distance, but also social, mental or psychological distance play an important role in how the world is understood.

Christaller’s abstract conceptualizations were a precursor to other early reductionists, some of whom attempted to equate tourism and its patterns to economic principles (Böventer 1988). This was not a surprising approach in view of tourism’s status as one of the most significant industries worldwide. While such theoretical approaches may have provided useful hypotheses, like most positivist academic ventures, they were criticized for their failure to incorporate the human dimension adequately, in spite of the social sciences’ long-standing belief that human activities and human behaviour should, in fact, be the starting point and core concern of research. Moreover, they also came under attack from those who argued that economic statutory principles alone could not explain the causes and consequences, mechanisms and processes of leisure and tourism.

Progress in leisure and tourism research followed separate paths in West and East Germany. In the communist German Democratic Republic (GDR), where the entire leisure industry operated under the suspicious eyes of the state, tourism research took a different tack to the West. In a curious way both Poser’s and Christaller’s legacies were evident in the GDR. At first, East German geographers remained faithful to Poser’s dictum that geography of

leisure was primarily a geography of tourism destinations (Benthien 1997:

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