Tourism Policy

  • María VelascoEmail author
Living reference work entry


Tourism Development Wicked Problem Mature Destination Diverse Objective Tourism Growth 
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Tourism policy is a set of discourses, decisions, and practices driven by governments, sometimes in collaboration with private or social actors, with the intention to achieve diverse objectives related to tourism.


Tourism is a relatively young phenomenon which involves the development of a singular and important economic sector. From the very beginning, that economic dimension of tourism has been the main priority for governments, and this has also been reflected in the tourism policy research. In fact it is very common considering tourism policy as a part of the economic policy, but tourism is much more than an economic sector. Tourism is probably one of the most determinant influences on our societies, and it will remain AS a key issue in the future.

The aim of the present text is to contribute to the debate on the nature, content, and instruments of tourism policy by expanding the scientific approaches to this issue and furthering the understanding of public decisions related to tourism.

The analytical perspective of policy analysis is used to propose an operative definition of tourism policy, enumerate the constitutive elements of this type of public action, and describe the instruments available to public decision-makers in order to reach the intended objectives.

A Public Policy for a Multifaceted Phenomenon

Tourism is a key economic sector. It has positive impacts on economy due to the fact that it could be an interesting surplus on the balance of payments and that it is a very labor-intensive sector (WTO 2012a, b). The employment development related to the activity has also benefited from the continued growth of domestic and international demand during the last 50 years. However, tourism also has some negative economic impacts, like the increase of prices in tourist destinations, the unequal distribution of the benefits, strong international inflows, economic inequality between population of tourist destinations (Wall and Mathieson 2006), and the quality of employment has different problems (ILO 2010). In this case the rationality of public policies had to be explained through the market’s failures with regard to public assets. Effectiveness efficiency become the reference values.

Tourism is also a key cultural factor. It has become a fertile mechanism to make different cultures come together, to fostering communication, and to allowing people to understand the richness of our diversity. Tourism had increased the awareness about heritage, and inverstment in conservation had been made due to the interest of more people. On the other hand, problems of authenticity had been highlighted by different researches (MacCannell, 2013); tourism can cause an intense acculturation process, especially towards fragile cultures. Much of the investment in culture attractions is not intended to be oriented to citizens, but to foreign tourist (McKercher and Du Cros 2002).

Something similar occurs if to the environment dimension is considered. Tourism had been a crucial element to unfold more effective environmental protection policies, but there is a deep controversy about the negative impact of the activity related with the uncontrolled tourism development, the urbanization of natural areas, and the overconsumption of natural resources (Gössling 2002).

If we look at the research dimension, we also find complexity. The different fields of knowledge emphasize specific dimensions of the issue and overshadow others. To advance in the study of the tourism policy, it is better to assume that:
  1. 1.

    Tourism has a multifaceted nature. It is no possible to build a universally accepted definition of tourism, but rather definitions which make sense to each one of the related scientific fields which may engage in the analysis of the issue. Only if we have significant definitions to our scientific field it will be possible to improve our understanding.

  2. 2.

    Tourism can be studied from a range of different disciplines, and the sum of all these contributions will enrich the resulting analysis.

  3. 3.

    Tourism is an issue that has only recently come to the fore and thus has to compete for the attention of a scientific community which is focused on dealing with far more established study objectives. Notwithstanding this tension, tourism is an important issue in all disciplines now.


A Broader Definition of Tourism Policy

Tourism policy has been the subject of extensive research over the past decades (Hall 1994, 2011; Hall and Jenkins 1995; Branwell 2006; Burns and Novelli 2007; Branwell and Meyer 2007; Dredge and Jenkins 2011), and there have been relevant efforts to incorporate the main discussions in the field of public policy to the subject of tourism policy (Hall, 2005, Scott 2011); nevertheless, “the field is not as well served as it could be” (Hall 2014:537), and many issues regarding tourism policy still need to be addressed.

A broader definition of tourism should be adopted to be able to extend the analytical boundaries of the tourism policy arena. This definition should considerer the issue from a dynamic and reticular viewpoint, admitting tourism policy is about dispute between interests which have different power, ideologies, and values. Is that a complex reality, which perfectly fits into the image of “wicked problem,” which requires the design and implementation of public actions?

Tourism creates a wide variety of interactions and relationships deriving from the processes whereby citizens are attracted to, stay, and take up occasional residence in a particular territory. Considering that, tourism policy could be defined as a set of discourses, decisions, and practices taken by governments, sometimes in collaboration with private or social actors, with the intention to achieve diverse objectives related to tourism.

Tourism policy is an intentional course of action which goes beyond the level of theoretical reflection and political intention materialized into real actions, involving the use of public resources. It is also integrated by consistent actions or, at least, actions which were designed to be consistent.

Governments should be a central actor; nevertheless, tourism policy does not necessarily have to be promoted and implemented exclusively by public actors. Precisely the opposite, it is essential to involve private and social actors in the process. This is an issue connected with the rich and interesting raise of the studies focused on governance, which rightly question the role of the government nowadays (Hall 2011; Bramwell and Lane 2013).

Tourism Policy Objectives

Tourism policies combine in a diverse manner five major objectives related to the nature of the phenomenon and their different dimensions (Velasco 2004). There are differences in intensity and degree on the government aims depending on the political system, the level of overall economic development, and the level of tourism development of the destination.

The first objective is to pursue tourism growth or remain competitive, in the case of mature destinations. Whereas in new or emerging tourist destinations, the governments usually consider the following objectives:
  1. 1.

    To promote the destination trying to improve internal and external tourism demand.

  2. 2.

    To achieve international tourism growth and increase foreign currency income to support the balance of payments.

  3. 3.

    To establish public institutions, national tourism administrations in terms of WTO (1997), to stimulate tourism growth and to do so in a sustainable manner.

  4. 4.

    To increase awareness of the importance of the activity among entrepreneurships and private sector in order to make tourism more attractive for private investment. It has also been a common practice to atract public companies in order to have a demonstration effect.

  5. 5.

    To support the right to travel and move freely as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Tourism can be an instrument stated of peace since it encourages people to become closer and means a better understanding of other cultures.


In the case of mature destinations, the major objective should be to maintain the level of international competitiveness through marketing and international promotion and to modernize and reassess programs.

The second objective is related to spatial dimensions of tourism and its impacts on land use dynamics. Here the central concept is the idea of planning, a precess to achieve a better spatial distribution of tourism activities, promoting the use of untapped resources, or improving local participation in decision-making process related to sustainable strategies. Some common aims are:
  1. 1.

    To formulate development strategies and programs.

  2. 2.

    To invest in better mobility systems in the tourism areas to help manage tourism flows and build of tourism-related infrastructure (like marinas or theme parks).

  3. 3.

    To invest public budget in tourism-related resources, for instance, in order to make accessible new coastal areas or investing in cultural and natural heritage restoration.

  4. 4.

    Recently, as the tourism has own objectives related to the reinforcement of the coexistence between tourists and locals have started to appear. In some destinations, the problems that local communities are suffering – disrespectful behavior or noise – lie at the heart of the public debate.

Thirdly, as tourism is also an experience or service consumed by people, there are objectives related to provide a safe, satisfying, and fulfilling experience for visitors. Common aims could be:
  1. 1.

    To protect tourism-consumer

  2. 2.

    To improve the regulation framework across different tourism subsectors through the adoption of regulations concerning safety levels in accommodation, travel intermediation, as well as new products such as active tourism

  3. 3.

    To promote actions to improve quality standards of tourism products and customer attention, usually through training programs.

In the fourth place, coordination appears to be a central need due to the transversal nature of the issue. In tourism, policies often appear, as objectives:
  1. 1.

    To stablish coordination bodies to coordinate actors from different backgrounds and different subsectors (culture, environment, infrastructure, etc.).

  2. 2.

    To create Destination Management Organizations (DMO, in WTO terms) involving public and private sector and other different stakeholders.

  3. 3.

    To stimulate business platforms, as clusters or product clubs to pursue better competitiveness.

  4. 4.

    Finally, tourism is considered a young phenomenon which is in a process of constant change.


In order to intervene on the tourist market with a strategic vision, it is necessary to have updated information and have expertise that can be applied by various actors.

The tourism sector is comprised mostly by small and medium enterprises. Typically, these business structures cannot bear the cost of research and produce knowledge, although they are the ones who have daily contact with the reality of the activity. The dynamics of the phenomenon makes public decision-making difficult.

Therefore, one of the classic goals in tourism policy is to invest in research and production of knowledge and ideas and to create tools that enable innovation and improvement spread. This objective is carried out through:
  1. 1.

    Establishing institutes or research entities and analysis to have a more precise knowledge of the tourism phenomenon and its changes

  2. 2.

    Generating knowledge that will help manage business decisions, like new management tools

  3. 3.

    Disseminating information to help business decision-making, like data conjuncture of sending countries or new market niches

  4. 4.

    Supporting innovation process sector


Policy Instruments for Tourism Policy

Any of the above objectives can be achieved by using some of the instruments that governments have. Instruments can be defined as the techniques or means through which governments attempt to attain their goals (Howllet 2001).

One of the most cited typology of instruments was initially proposed by Hood (1986; Hood and Margetts 2007) and completed by Howllet (2011). This typology contains the following categories:
  • Organization: By using both human and material resources, different organizations allow the government to act on a particular matter. These organizations can be traditional bureaucratic organizations, public enterprises, or other hybrid entities.

  • Authority: Regulations control or prevent some types of behavior and are usually used to confer rights or impose obligations.

  • Treasure: Different measures attempt to align the goals of nonpublic actors with objectives that are fixed by the policy. These measures may fundamentally relate to economic incentives but can also be honorific.

  • Knowledge and information: Provision and diffusion of knowledge and information.

By adapting these categories to the tourism arena, we propose to consider that there are five differentiated categories of instruments which can be used by public decision-makers: organizational instruments, regulatory instruments, incentive and promotion instruments, improving knowledge instruments, and communication instruments (Velasco González 2004).
  1. 1.

    Organizational instruments. Institutions who design, implement, or merely act on tourism policy. For the development of any policy, program, or action, it is always necessary to have some institution who manages programs and actions using both human and material resources. The institutional framework is a key element in any policy and thus in tourism policy. There are three basic types: the traditional administrative political structures, the executive structures dependent of the formers and usually related to marketing and destination promotion, and structures of cooperation between public and private actors.

  2. 2.

    Norms or regulations of a compulsory character. They confer rights or impose obligations related to tourism and they stablish direct or indirect government regulation.

  3. 3.

    Incentive and promotion instruments. Instruments that seek to stimulate private actors to be aligned with the goals of tourism policy, usually through economic stimuli that are articulated through grants, soft loans, subsidies, and tax credits. It could also honorific.

  4. 4.

    Improving knowledge instruments. Related to the need to generate relevant data on tourism, the importance for investigations in this field, and the willingness to help tourism knowledge. An example would be plans or programs that seek to promote R+D+i in tourism or generate information systems to support decision-making.

  5. 5.

    Communication tools. The use of mass media could be both for raising awareness of specific values, as hospitality, and for supporting promotional campaigns of tourism destinations.

There are subsets of policy tools that are more feasible and appropriate at a given time. Not all of these instruments need to be used, or used at the same time, although the conclusions of other analyses indicate that the combination of several is usually more fruitful than the use of a single instrument. This is because each instrument has its own distinctive character and is geared to a specific objective being pursued by a government through its tourism policy (Table 1).
Table 1

Instruments for tourism policies




Institutional arrangements

Binding for the government


Regulatory instruments


Regulation and control

Incentive and promotion instruments

Voluntary for those involved

Promotion and encouraging

Instruments for improving knowledge


Dissemination of knowledge, training, and information

Communication instruments


Dissemination of values

Promotional campaigns

Source: Velasco (2011)


There is no doubt that the analysis of tourism policy could be conducted from an economic perspective. However this is not the only perspective that should be taken into account when governments are facing designing tourism policy; they must also consider culture, environment, and social dynamics. In this sense, it is necessary to use a broader definition of tourism and tourism policy. It may be helpful and necesary to consider the issue from the perspective of the dispute between interests which have different power, ideologies, and values. Growing importance of conflicts emerge, and the tourism policy cannot stand aside.

There remains a need to advance in terms of research by addressing some of the central questions facing the tourism policy today: how to combine a steadily growth with sustainable principles; how to achieve cohabitation between tourist necessities and local, or which is the role of the tourism policies in a better balance between costs and profits to local societies.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universidad Complutense de MadridMadridSpain