Title

Ecotourism and Mass Tourism in Southern Thailand: Spatial Interdependence, Structural Connections, and Staged Authenticity

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2005

Publication Title

GeoJournal

Department

International Political Economy

Abstract

The desire to spend leisure time in ‘natural’ settings represents a key factor behind the recent and rapid growth of ecotourism. A search by ecotourists for remote landscapes and locations has shaped the way in which geographers have defined ecotourism, but few scholars have explored, in detail, the mechanics of the spatial relationship between ecotourism and mass tourism, two forms of travel usually considered mutually exclusive in spatial terms. Using the island of Phuket — southern Thailand’s premier resort destination — as a case study, this paper investigates the spatial overlaps and connections between ecotourism and mass tourism and tests the assumption that ecotourism and mass tourism must exist spatially apart in order for the former to succeed. Despite Phuket’s association with mass tourism, and the small physical distances between built-up mass tourist areas and ‘natural’ ecotourism settings, the ‘communicative staging’ of natural authenticity allows ecotourism companies to convey geographical remoteness to tourists. Although ecotourism in Phuket must struggle constantly to overcome the perceptual impact of spatial proximity to resort locations, the tourist markets and business networks of the existing mass tourism industry remain crucial to the survival of ecotourism in this region. Thus, contrary to conventional notions that ecotourism and mass tourism must exist as separate entities, this paper argues that an interconnected, symbiotic, and spatially-contiguous relationship between the two is necessary in the case of Phuket.

Volume

61

Issue

1

pp.

1-11

ISSN

0343-2521