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Interview with Dr. Sandra WALL REINIUS, researcher

INTERVIEW WITH Sandra WALL REINIUS, researcher Mid Sweden University, Sweden
Alain A. GRENIER

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Dr. Sandra Wall Reinius is a researcher from the Mid Sweden University, an institution focusing on bachelor level courses, master and PhD programs, research and co-operation with regional actors. The multi-campus network university is located in Haärnösand, Sundsvall and Östersund. Although Dr. Wall Reinius’s work focuses on tourism in peripheral areas, and more specifically, on “wilderness” and protected areas, she also conducts research on the tourists’ travel motives as well as conflicts of interest and management actions. Recently, she undertook a new research interest in relation with all inclusive and mass tourism. With fellow colleagues Dimitri Ioannides and Kristina Zampoukos, she leads a study on all-inclusive tourism.

1Tell us a bit about your background.

2I am a high school teacher from the beginning, but I decided rather quickly that I wanted to go back to university and study more geography. I have a master in human geography from Uppsala University, and my master thesis is about sustainable development in a Biosphere Reserve in northern Sweden. My advisor really inspired me and he encouraged me to be part of a Scandinavian research project about human interaction with the mountain birch ecosystem. Shortly after my masters I began to work with my PhD. In my PhD work I returned to the northern parts of the country and my early studies were developed due to lack of knowledge as expressed by planners and managers about tourists’ use of land. However, over the years I was inspired by political ecology literature highlighting justice concerns in resource exploitation and discourses of nature and power. In 2009, I defended my PhD thesis Protected attractions: Tourism and wilderness in the Swedish Mountain region at Stockholm University.

3Today I have position as a senior lecturer at Mid Sweden University and I am also head of the department of tourism studies and geography.

4How does one go from doing research on wilderness tourism to all-inclusive tourism?

5That is a good question, and I think there are several answers. I think that I can summarize my interest for those two research areas in terms of the role place and the importance of place-based characteristics, but at the same time the non importance of place. I also think the centre- periphery framework (where the periphery is controlled by the outside) has followed me during my work, and I can clearly see how this framework connects well with both of the research areas. I am interested in tourism impacts, in particular social impacts, and interactions between tourists and the local society, as well as tourists’ desire to discover places and people which they perceive as exotic or authentic. In many cases within the field of wilderness tourism, place itself is important. Places like national parks are seen as, and managed as, untouched by humans, and I can see the lack of concern and recognition of the cultural landscape and marginalized societies. In tourists search for exoticism and authenticity, the life terms of the locals are often insignificant.

6All-inclusive resorts are often separated from existing communities and what I have been looking into is the role of place and the tendency to downplay the local placed-based attributes in all-inclusive tourism. The increasing occurrence of all-inclusive resorts can be seen as a contradiction other trends in the tourism sector where the importance of place and experiences of local heritage, culture, cuisine, and atmosphere, emerge as key attractions for tourists. All-inclusive tourism tends to close itself off its immediate surroundings and there seems to be a lack of interest in encouraging the visitors to mix with local society.

7Tell us about this new research you have undertaken. What is its aim and what are the main conclusions?

8The research developed from the notion that regardless of where all-inclusive developments occur they seem to hardy acknowledge the geographical setting. Based on interviews with Scandinavian tour operators and content analysis of their web-pages, we wanted to know more about the role of place in contemporary tourism and if the activities and the amenities offered within the resort have replaced locational characteristics as a principal determinant to travel. And yes, the result shows that the tour operators give no information about the local community in the respective destinations they serve. In marketing of all-inclusive resorts, this study shows that the local spatial contingencies are disregarded, and instead, services and facilities on offer are highlighted. As long as the all-inclusive has free meals, outstanding pool areas, and offers the opportunities for activities and sports it does not seem to matter where it is located. It appears that all-inclusive resorts are place-less and we interpret all-inclusive tourism as enclave developments.

9We tend to criticize all inclusive and mass tourism a lot. Is all this criticism justified?

10When it comes to criticism, it depends of course on your perspective. I do think all-inclusive at its extreme – and then I also include cruise ships and private beaches that they lease – deserve a great deal of critical analyses when it comes to creating walls and borders to keep “the Other” at a distance. From my point of view, tourism in general also needs to be critiqued due to foreign-controlled companies and (neo) colonial tendencies.

11One of the criticism all-inclusive products meet and that you mentioned is the enclosure of the tourists. Why is it wrong, according to you?

12Here I think it is important to note that there is not a clear definition of what all-inclusive tourism is, and it is not clear if all costs are included. We can find all-inclusive resorts and cruise ships that capture the tourists inside and offer everything they need. Another kind of all-inclusive is the package tour which includes some activities and some meals. The level of enclosure and interaction between tourist and locals differ of course between the two cases and also has different implications. I know some studies claim that separation between locals and tourists can also include advantages from the host society’s point of view since not all tourists behave properly and by keeping the tourists away from the locals, local culture and traditions can be protected. Though, I do not think all-inclusive is the solution to get tourists to behave properly and ethically.

13In terms of management of the all-inclusive, must the pressure be put on the tourists or on the managers for good ethical behaviors?

14Ethical behavior is a responsibility for both tourism demand and supply, and I see tourists’ unethical behavior as part of a much broader historical and structural discussion. I do think images and promotions have a great influence on our behavior, for example if we think about the marketing of staged reality and stereotyped images of local people as the other or exotic objects for the tourists to consume. Society, managers and tourists themselves have a responsibility in creating images and expectations, which in turn influence how tourists perceive the place and what they expect to do and how to behave during their vacation.

15Let’s talk about the positive sides of mass tourism and all-inclusive. Are there any?

16Gated communities, tourist bubbles, and all-inclusive resorts as wells as cruise ships aims to regulate space; these spaces convey the tourists a high sense of safety and predictability. For the tourists, all-inclusive means a hassle-free and convenient vacation. In mass tourism and all-inclusive, the tour operator achieves significant benefits by keeping the total travel into a package. I can also see advantages with mass tourism destinations regarding job opportunities and spatial concentration of infrastructure and service.

17The young generation of students grew up with the concerns for the environment. They all want to put their attention on alternative forms of tourism. Yet, for the most part, in terms of numbers of tourists, the industry remains within mass and all-inclusive tourism. Is there still a need for research in that field?

18Yes I think so, and as I said, both positive and negative impacts need to be considered. It is important that we critically analyze all types of tourism – it doesn’t matter if it is ecological tourism, wilderness tourism, or all-inclusive. Tourism development can be a promising option for many places but I really think it is important to note that tourism cannot be seen as the tool for economic development and I would really encourage students to study the economic flows and leakages from local communities as well as dependency relationships and networks in global tourism.

19Traditionally, all-inclusive tourism has been mostly established around warm coastal and sunshine areas. Is there a need for all-inclusive tourism outside these regions?

20All-inclusive tourism can already be found in many other places. From our research on all-inclusive resorts, we can conclude that activities, pool areas and meals included at the resort, as well as the elimination of extra charges are more important than place-based characteristics such as heritage, culture, history, surrounding nature, etc. Thereby the concept of all-inclusive is not attached to a specific location. So, I guess all-inclusive can “move” toward other areas than costal and to other climates. A kind of all-inclusive can be found in natural areas; it can be facilities with included activities and meals, high service and comfort; it can also be safari travel packages.

21All-inclusive in warm and tropical destinations is known to have negative impacts on the marine environment, among other things. Is the situation the same for all-inclusive in colder climates?

22Again, I think it is important to define what we mean by all-inclusive, and what it actually includes. I am not sure if we should talk about all-inclusive here or if we rather should consider mass tourism in general. However, sometimes even small scale tourism has negative impacts. When it comes to environmental impacts, it really depends on the context and the tourism activities preformed. I would say that we have too few studies in order to say something about the differences between all-inclusive in warm and cold climates.

23All-inclusive tourism in tropical destinations is most often found in developing countries. One would assume this is economically beneficial for the destination. Yet tourism is known for its economic leaking. Can this be prevented and how?

24In our study, the interviewed Scandinavian tour operators highlighted Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, and the Dominican Republic as important destinations with all-inclusive resorts. We can conclude that all-inclusive properties are rare in the more mature destinations like Greece where we often find small family-owned hotels. I think we can say that the all-inclusive tourism market is increasingly controlled by large companies from the outside with a low degree of local vertical integration. If economic leakage can be prevented? These flows reflect the processes that dominate the modern economy. I think that as long as we cannot keep money locally we cannot see tourism as economically sustainable for the destination.

25To improve mass travel and all-inclusive tourism, what would you consider to be research priorities for the years to come?

26Oh that is a broad question, and there are so many things within the tourism industry that need to improve. Since our research project focuses on tour operators, I would definitely say we would like to investigate the demand side – the tourists, about their travel motives, their decision making and their thoughts about all-inclusive. Other interesting themes would be to further follow up the tour operators’ loyalty to a destination; how they choose destinations, but also how they constantly replace destinations.

27What do you find the most pleasurable and the most difficult in doing research in tourism and perhaps with tourists?

28I have carried out interviews with tourists, mainly within the field of nature-based tourism and outdoor recreation. I have also conducted several quantitative visitor surveys in protected areas. Researching tourists on site include of course fieldwork, which can be both time consuming and expensive. In larger back country areas it is a challenge to actually find the tourists and you need to have knowledge about visiting patterns among other things. In visitor studies and field work research, my experience is that it is important to collaborate with gatekeepers and personnel. My experience from doing research on tourists is that they in general are very pleased to talk about their experiences. Usually their travel experiences are pleasant and they want to share their memories, feelings and experiences.

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References

Electronic reference

Alain A. GRENIER, « Interview with Dr. Sandra WALL REINIUS, researcher », Téoros [Online], 31-2 | 2012, Online since 24 June 2015, connection on 22 March 2017. URL : http://teoros.revues.org/2259

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Alain A. GRENIER

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