Power relations within tourism planning

Traditionally, tourism planning models came from normative, prescriptive approaches that include a component of community participation, yet have a naive, romanticized view of how cohesive and responsive stakeholders are throughout the process, and further, do not consider the ‘baggage’ of existing power relations (Hall, 1994; Jamal and Getz, 1995; Reed, 1997; Bianchi, 2003). Along these lines, some researchers have acknowledged the political nature of the tourism planning process in citing elite domination, paternalism and top-down political structures that affect the level of involvement and influence overall decisions being made (Tosun, 2000; Aas et al., 2005; Hung et al., 2011).

As Hung et al. (2011) noted, the ‘variability of participatory opportunities is typically due to diverse local political structures and the unequal distribution of power within the community’ (p. 280). Specifically, past

Table 3.1. Social theorists and conceptualizations of power.

Social theorist

Descriptions of major concepts, theories

Examples of potential applications to integrated tourism planning

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

Conceptualized a number of economic, social and political theories, collectively known as Marxism; Marx contended that class is an individual’s position within a hierarchy that is rooted in the social relations of production. He asserted that modern capitalist society creates the ‘haves’ (those that have wealth) and the ‘have-nots’ (those that do not have wealth) and, thus, is an exploitive economic system that continues to perpetuate class differences

Marxism can be used to study the political economy of tourism, issues of tourism dependency, and neoliberalism in tourism planning and development. Researchers could explore policy and practices that explore the strength and weaknesses of linkages that connect lower economic classes into a system of integrated tourism

Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937)

Developed the concept of hegemony, defined as ‘the control of consciousness by cultural dominance through the institutions of society’ (Wearing, 1998, p. 61).

Provided a more critical analysis of how ruling capitalist classes are able to maintain control: dominant power is not only exercised through physical force, but also through social psychological attempts to win popular consent through cultural institutions such as schools, family, media and religion. Suggested through cultural hegemony the ruling class can promote their own values, norms and perceptions through the institutions so that all classes would identify these beliefs as their own in order to help maintain status quo.

His work greatly influenced Paulo Freire and the idea of critical consciousness, popular education and critical pedagogy

Researchers can use hegemony as a construct for exploring dominant imagery in tourism marketing, normative tourist behaviour and the influence of Western/American popular culture over other cultures through tourist interactions; in integrated tourism planning, hegemonic structures may shape the decision-making process (towards status quo and away from radical changes)


Table 3.1. Continued.

Social theorist

Descriptions of major concepts, theories

Examples of potential applications to integrated tourism planning

Louis Althusser (1918-1990)

Building on the work of Freud, Cabanis, Destutt de Tracy and colleagues, he developed the notion of ideology, which can be understood as the system of ideas and representations that dictate and govern the perceptions of an individual or a social group; an individual’s views, preferences and intentions are social products dictated by ideological practice which is pervasive insofar that what seemingly takes place outside of ideology is actually within ideology. As a structuralist, his framework has provided a foundation to look at institutionalized and pervasive beliefs that create groups of difference

Specific ideological structures (e.g. patriarchy, religious ideology, racism) can be explored as systematic barriers to participation in tourism planning




At the core of his treatment of power is knowledge: that is, how power is used to control and define knowledge and, thus, power is social control. Foucault’s notion of discourse is also central to understanding his analysis of power. Foucault contended that power is not a thing but a relation; power is not simply repressive but productive; power is everywhere (the omnipresence of power) and operates at individual and macro levels; power can be exercised strategically

Power relations between actors in a network/stakeholders involved in the tourism planning process; examines the interactions between tourists and hosts/host-guest encounters

research has noted that tourism developers can manipulate community organizations into supporting their interests (Tosun, 2000), politicians (at various levels) could use their position to act as a gatekeeper of who is allowed to participate and monopolize the discussion on policy-setting objectives in the tourism planning process (Laws et al., 2011), and actors that were highly interlinked with politicians had greater influence over the process (Bramwell and Meyer, 2007). Others have suggested that stakeholders with more financial means have greater influence over the tourism planning process than those with only modest means (Bahaire and Elliot-White, 1999), and large-scale investors and businesses that own capital and property resources have a greater voice (Bramwell and Meyer, 2007). Essentially, an elite is any individual who disproportionately influences decision-making because of their social networks and social capital (Holmes, 2010). With respect to integrated tourism, Saxena and Ilbery (2008) used the ACT to explore the relationships and linkages between actors in a network and how empowerment may be an outcome of the planning process. While they noted the ‘pre-given social facts’ (p. 236) and that potential power differentials may exist, their qualitative study in Wales found that because of the narrow focus of local networks, the process lacked in terms of its inclusion of less vocal community members and that, even though empowerment should be an outcome of integrated tourism, it was only so for some actors as others experienced social exclusion.

These studies exemplify the issue at hand: power must be addressed in tourism planning if we are to have meaningful stakeholder involvement that results in equitable dispersion of the costs and benefits of tourism development. Existing ideologies still inform who is involved, or which ‘voice’ is heard more loudly, making any planning process that does not account for the existing power relations or ideologies inadequate in influencing a more fair and balanced approach to tourism development (Hall, 1994). Furthermore, planners can expect that dominant social groups will vie for control in order to achieve their best interests (Hall, 1994; Jamal and Getz, 1995; Reed, 1997). Reed (1997) suggested that existing structural and procedural conditions are constraints to such straightforward collaboration between stakeholders during the planning process. She found in her study of citizen-based tourism in Squamish, Canada, that even though collaborative planning strategies were implemented, local elites were able to influence the planning process so that the project met their needs.

Thus, tourism planning models that emphasize the inclusion of all stakeholders in the planning process as essential for ‘evening the playing field’, but do not account for the already existing power relations, may continue to not only uphold these dynamics but exacerbate them further. Even in conditions where the planning process is following the tenets of sustainability, many planning models are linear, isolated and pluralistic, neglecting to address the underlying power dynamics that can influence the process (Farrell and Twining-Ward, 2004). Williams (2004) suggested that, with the exception of work related to dependency and tourism development, the ‘... sustainable tourism literature has been strong on morality, advocacy, and prescription, but weak in analysing the structures and relationships inherent in tourism production and distribution’ (p. 61). Growing awareness of the ‘weak and uncritical conceptualizations of power relationships’ with regard to managing and involving stakeholders in the planning process has led some researchers to suggest more critical approaches that take into account the existing power dynamics to help facilitate inclusion (Mair and Reid, 2007, p. 412).

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