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  • Geographic Research on Tourism in Latin America and the Caribbean, 1970–2020
  • Klaus J. Meyer-Arendt

tourism geography as a subdiscipline

Geographic research on tourism has been a slice of academic geography since the 1930s, and since then geographers have contributed highly to the global multidisciplinary field of tourism studies (Mitchell & Smith, 1989; Hall & Page, 2014). The direction of research has changed over time, with a greater emphasis upon theoretical, contextual, or critical analyses over previous empirical investigations and spatial models (Hall, 2013; Williams & Lew, 2014; Williams & Shaw, 2015). Social, economic, and environmental impacts of tourism were common research themes in the 1970s and 1980s, and ecotourism, sustainable tourism, heritage tourism, and community involvement and inclusivity became popular beginning in the 1990s. The volume of international research has increased exponentially since the 1970s. In a fin-de-siècle overview of recreation, tourism, and sport (RTS) geography in North America, Meyer-Arendt and Lew (2003) noted that the number of journals that geographers mostly used to publish their tourism research results had increased from ten to fifteen. Today, that number is around forty, and does not include dozens of specialized, regional, multidisciplinary, and/or online journals in which tourism geography articles occasionally appear.

The growth in the number of tourism journals, tourism publications, academic programs or tracks in tourism, and overall global interest in tourism masks the fact that tourism geography historically was marginalized within the academic discipline of geography (Hall, 2013), especially in the USA. Books and seminars on the history of the discipline generally left out references to tourism geography (Hall, 2013). The Annals of the American Association of Geographers (AAAG, formerly the Annals of the Association of American Geographers) published only ten research articles on tourism geography between 1970 and 2020, all of them since 1992. And only one of those articles focused upon Latin America: the excellent treatise on Cancún by Torres and Momsen (2005). Although RTS has been a viable specialty group within the AAG since the early 1970s (and in sponsored talks and sessions on Latin American and/or Caribbean tourism), presentations on tourism geography were few at both LASG (Latin America Specialty Group) sessions and CLAG meetings in the late twentieth century, and they were often held in low regard by traditionalists (to which I can attest).

The newer (and newest) generation of geographers—with more exposure to political ecology, holistic "new" cultural geographies, [End Page 46] critical-theoretical paradigms, and social/environmental consciousness (all new "paradigms" of academic geography emerging in the 1980s)—recognized tourism as an important agent of change on the world stage. In the 1970s and 1980s, tourism geography research focused upon the tourism industry and its linkages, tourism development (a subset of economic development), physical aspects, and empirical case studies, whereas later research (1980s and 1990s) examined impacts of tourism, tourism planning, and spatial models (e.g., resort cycle models). By the 2000s and 2010s, geographic tourism research was increasingly set within broader, often global and critical, conceptual frameworks, and with more attention to post-colonialism and mobility (Hall, 2013). Critical geography, which grew out of radical/Marxist approaches to research during the 1970s, is theory-based scholarship that aims for social justice, often via gender equality, ethnic rights, and community involvement. In their textbook on tourism geography, Williams and Lew (2014) noted the application of critical geography theory to tourism issues. Some of the perspectives of tourism research included: "Tourism as a force for social change, exploitation and empowerment … social justice, environmental justice, and inequality in tourism … identity, exclusion and hegemony in postcolonial and heritage readings of tourism … [and] activism, action research, sustainability and environmental change in tourism" (Williams & Lew, 2014, para. 3). A key word here is activism: the newer generation of geographers is more activist than previous generations that were more traditional "describers of earth," the literal translation of "geographer." Paradoxically, since critical geography developed in reaction to the quantitative revolution of the 1960s, tourism research has become more scientific. Use of quantitative analysis and remote sensing in tourism geography research is much more common today than in the past.

The newer research perspectives are evident in post-2000 CLAG presentations that address tourism...


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