Observing tourists to better understand tourism



Observing tourists is a topic of growing interest for scientists and the professional or organizational realms of tourism. It seems to be confirmed by the increasing number of observatories managed by scientists or institutional structures. However, each scientific discipline or each professional or institutional actor might use different methods of observing the object, different indicators or scales of measurement, etc. This symposium will be an opportunity to understand these differences and show bridges or gateways between each kind of player. Indeed, the observation of tourists highlights a multidisciplinary interest in scientific observation but also raises the question of an interdisciplinary approach where methods and paradigms can complement each other to observe the tourists and hence better understand tourism.


This conference welcomes papers from different disciplines: management, economy, informatics, law, geography, planning, history, architecture, humanities, languages, geopolitics, sociology, anthropology, and so on.

Presentations should deal with one of the following themes:


  • Identification and categorization of tourists: which is observed?


Observing tourists raises the question of 'who is a tourist' and therefore their identification and categorization. How do we define or characterize the tourist? By the places that s/he visited? By his/her practices? By his/her status in the place (depending on how s/he is hosted or introduced to the place)? The answer is not simple. Is it by a single criterion or a combination of criteria that we can distinguish the tourist?

There are also hybrid or floating categories: secondary residents, boaters, day trippers, etc. So, when we analyse the number of visitors in a touristic location, it is often difficult to distinguish between tourists stricto sensus, excursionists or permanent residents. Furthermore, not only can the links between these different categories of users of touristic places be interesting to decrypt (ex: tourists accomodated by inhabitants) but also the observation of the trajectories of the same person in a touristic location (former tourist becomes a secondary resident, secondary resident gradually becoming permanent resident...)



  • The play of tourist observation stakeholders : who observes?


There are many actors who observe tourists. They have different statutes, skills, scopes of action, sources of funding: scientists, institutional structures, statistical agencies, research consultancies, polling institutes, local authorities, tour operators and so on.

The papers might analyse the strategies and inter-relationships between these different actors, and perhaps show that the act of observing is never neutral.

Are there relationships between stakeholders of observation: sharing, redundancy, competition, complementarity, etc.? Do these relationships have an effect on methods of observation?

Within a framework of increasing competition between touristic locations, it seems that the act of observation becomes more and more institutionalized through the development of observatories at different scales.

Are the observatories bringing together actors from different backgrounds a guarantee of efficiency or do they complicate the observation? How can we manage the various strategies and interests of the different actors?


  • The aims of the observation


The objectives of this observation can be extremely diverse. In a competitive environment between touristic territories but also between types of practices within these territories, papers must deal with the observation as a tool:

- to improve the way of quantifying the number of visitors at a certain time and in a certain place

- to identify new practices

- to quash received wisdom about tourism : ravages of mass tourism, second homes = closed shutters, camping car-drivers = second-rank tourists, etc.

- to understand the relations of tourists to places, host societies, tourism organizations (institutional and service providers), but also their perceptions and their satisfaction scale.

- to measure the effects of the different categories of tourists on economic development (residential economy for example).

- to better manage territories and organizations, to promote the valorisation of heritages, to improve the way of commercializing and marketing touristic locations and practices.

-draw up an outline of tourists to better understand their practices and outline tourist segmentations to better target the touristic offer and renew it.

- to conduct a quality policy focused on the expectations, perceptions and satisfaction scale of tourists.


  • Observation of tourists and innovation


The appropriation of ICTs by the actors, whether tourists or providers (service providers, territories, hosts...) brings the techniques and protocols of observation to evolve with e-tourism and tourism-m (since internet use has become nomadic).


The observation of tourism activities, the tourists and their impact is an issue of technological innovation. The contribution of ICT in this context focuses on three levels:

-the capture of information related to the activities of tourism,

-the methodological protocols and the analysis of data related to observation,

- the visualization and new uses related to nomadism.


All of these technological developments are currently creating an empowerment of the tourists in their practices (Internet, social networks, etc.), and an evolution of tourism trades. The development of traveler’s blogs and the emergence of websites which mark or rank destinations and touristic organizations, the opportunities for simple and ergonomic collective annotations offered by nomadic devices on social networks put not only the tourist in a situation of observation of the tourists and the tourism system, but also transform the tourist as an active informational actor, a co-creator of the offer and tourist experience. Tourist offices or private actors can also adapt their activities to the emergence of these new technologies to offer more customized and profiled services which complement and "humanize" these digital services.

Papers may therefore interrogate how we can scientifically exploit these new data sources and analyze the increased role of the internet in a process of observation and understanding:

-analysis of the strategies and approaches developed by tourists regarding Internet booking,

-analysis of motivations and the satisfaction of tourists as a means to better identify the sources of innovation in the design of the touristic offer,

-analysis of the role of travel pieces (literature, blogs, reviews of travel, etc.) in the desire implementation of places and in the construction of tourist imaginaries

-analysis of the attendance and the satisfaction of tourists as factors of construction and evolution of the places and tourist organizations

-analysis of the visitors number and the satisfaction of tourists as a factor of places “patrimonialisation”

-analysis of tourist routes through new forms of observations and analysis of the behavior of tourists via the use of mobile devices (GPS, smartphones, tablets)

-automatic analysis of behaviors and opinions posted on blogs, forums and social networks

- cross-analysis of heterogeneous touristic information sources (pictures, GPS, texts,...), especially multicultural and multi-ethnic sources

-analysis of the reliability of the information found on the web and the objectivity of the comments filed by tourists.


Papers might also focus on the use of new technologies to bring together creators, broadcasters and consumers of tourism content and thus adapt to better reflect the expectations of the tourist industry:

-analysis of the evolution of tools and standards to store and exchange tourist information

-collaborative tools to share and create personalized and contextualized content

-new standards of production and transformation of data incorporating the new modalities of tourism (text, speech, Geolocation,...)

-new interfaces of active or passive communication with users (smartphones, haptic sensors, animated conversational agents,...)

-analyze the corpus of heterogeneous data for the production of governance indicators for policy makers,


  • Sources and methods of observation of tourists


The analysis of mobilities is especially a methodological issue for the social sciences (ways of collecting and crossing  data, reliability of statistical data, etc.). Are the others sciences also preoccupied about:

-the delimitation of the field of observation and articulation between the observations made at different scales? Observation on sites, destinations, regions, countries.

-the diachronic dimension of observation: how the analysis of the past enlightens the observation of the present, how to conduct an observation continuously from monitoring indicators, how does the present observation undertake a process prospective?

- the synchronic dimension of observation: how to compare territories where methods of observation may be different, how to ensure that a method of observation in a place be reproducible elsewhere?

-techniques or tools of observation: diversity and weight of the techniques (participant observation, surveys, interviews, passive capture of heterogeneous information or retrieving information shared by tourists on the social networks and forums, etc.) in the understanding of tourism, the complementarity of quantitative and qualitative methods, etc.

-the reliability of sources and the representativeness of the tourist population


  • Recovery of data from the observation of tourists


Papers may address :

-the question of transfer of results between the world of science and the world of tourism.

How are the theories and models produced by scientists exploitable by institutional structures and professionals? And conversely, how do scientists use grey literature in their work?

-the construction of indicators: how to construct indicators for institutional, scientific and professional actors, civil society or the public who have different expectations and reading grids ? Should we use conventional approaches, or instead can we envisage the construction of indicators from the information extracted automatically on the web?

-the development of participatory democracy, participatory science and observation: how to engage and mobilize the tourist to optimize observation and how the general public (tourist or not) seizes institutional and scientific studies?


  • Compliance, regulatory, public policy and geopolitical concerns


Papers may also focus on the following themes:

-Privacy and rules for observation.


-Usage conflicts between tourists and other users, zoning and regulation


-observation as a tool for the production of legislative texts : how does  the legislator take into account the practices and expectations of tourists and professionals by relying on observation devices? What are the effects on public policy?


-the articulation of the different levels of public policy with private action concerning the observation of the tourists: visitor’s office, tourist bureaus ... There are plenty of institutional actors in France, and the question of their consistency and their relevance to the evolution of the tourism markets is important. The issue of the balance between the expectations of private actors and the requirements of harmonious and mutually beneficial territorial development


-the exploitation of the observations by policy makers: is the observation of tourists a genuine political issue? Can the observation of tourists participate in the construction of geopolitical indicators of the state’s power? Does the observation have effects on competitive strategies regarding the appropriation of places?

Application Colloque - L'application de gestion des colloques est un projet soutenu historiquement par l'Union Européenne dans le cadre du programme Innova-TIC.
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