Names, labels and descriptions – why words matter.

First published Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Tourism. Tourists. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear those words? For many, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was a slightly ‘dated’ picture of a family on a beach, or a picture postcard seaside town, with hotels lining the seafront streets.

There is of course absolutely nothing wrong with those images. However, they are not fully representational of the enormously broad spectrum of things that contribute to the industry, and the associated economy. As such, is the ‘label’ of tourism really the most appropriate to use?

Various discussions in the office here, and with others including Assembly Members, have in recent weeks considered this, and a suggestion put forward that where possible we should refer to the industry and sector with the broader term of ‘the visitor economy’.

There are three main reasons behind this thinking.

When we say tourist, and tourist industry, we tend to associate that with the summer months (at least here in the United Kingdom anyway). Whilst those months of the year do bring a massive increase in the number of people to be found in the county, the industry does operate all year round, something not always understood when we think of ‘tourists’.

Each and every one of us makes a contribution to the visitor economy, whether we realise it or not. Obviously, when we go on holiday somewhere, we are a visitor, we’ve bought the holiday accommodation, we spend money in shops, restaurants, attractions and so on in our destination. We may fill up the car with petrol whilst we are there, and dependent on the type of holiday we’ve gone for, we may also be doing some food shopping there too. However, we also do this when we are closer to home. For example, if you live in Town A, but spend a day out at the weekend with friends or family in Town B within the same county) you are now contributing to the visitor economy of that town. You buy coffee in the cafe, make a purchase in a shop, have lunch in the pub and pay to visit the town museum. You are a visitor. You probably wouldn’t consider yourself a tourist however.

When we talk about the tourism industry, there are many businesses that are quite clearly part of that e.g. theme parks, boat trips, guided walks, deckchair hire, hotels. However there are a number of other businesses that don’t always appreciate how they are in fact part of the industry as well. The sandwich shop, the pub, numerous shops up and down high streets and back streets are perhaps the more ‘obvious’ ones (or at least easier to understand the connection), but then there’s the architect’s practice, the accountant, the butcher, the web designer, the micro brewery. If a guest house decides to build an extension, they’ll need an architect to draw up the plans, they’ll quite possibly be using the services of an accountant, they get their sausage and bacon from the butcher, they’ve had a website built by the web designer, and they have a licence for alcohol and use the micro brewery’s products to give their guests a local flavour.
The supply chain businesses, and those who gain additional trade from visitors (e.g. the pub) are all part of the visitor economy. It may not be the main source of income for their business, but for many, it will be a significant contribution to it. When we ‘label’ the industry as the tourist industry, many of these types of business don’t appreciate that they are part of it, however if we chose to describe it as the visitor economy, it becomes easier to explain how they are indeed part of it, and furthermore, that they are a very valuable part of it.
So, this year, try a small shift in thinking, and instead of automatically referring to tourists, tourism and the tourist industry, why not consider using visitor and visitor economy, and in doing so broaden the horizons, raise awareness and value and appreciate the contribution that so many more make to this vitally important sector.

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