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Tourism in the future: cycles, waves or wheels?

Butler, R. (2009) Tourism in the future: cycles, waves or wheels? Futures, 41 (6). pp. 346-352. ISSN 0016-3287

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Abstract

Those who have studied tourism over the last few decades will be well aware that the pace of change in some areas has been phenomenal, while in other aspects of the field, there has been relatively little change. The rather confused pattern of tourism development and growth illustrates a major dichotomy which exists in tourism, namely, that between its dynamism and its inertia, and the tension between these two attributes accounts in part for a general difficulty in being able to predict the future patterns of tourism. This paper reviews some of the approaches used to describe and predict the future nature and scale of tourism and argues that few have been effective or accurate, and that this is due in part to the heterogeneous nature of tourism, in both its demand and supply, and that the role of external agents is constantly altering the anticipated pattern of growth and development. Particular attention is paid to the life cycle model which has been used for a quarter of a century to describe the process of development of tourist destinations, whether such a model can be used to predict future patterns, and whether cycles, waves or wheels are suitable analogies for the pattern of tourism growth. The paper argues for a blending of both evolutionary and revolutionary predictions in the case of tourism destinations, an approach which allows for the incorporation of ideas such as chaos theory and chance into the equation of growth, in order to reflect both the inertia and dynamism that are inherent in tourism.