An important book about the ambivalent concept of sustainable sports tourism

Aage Radmann
Norwegian School of Sport Sciences

Brent D. Moyle, Tom D. Hinch & James E. S. Higham (eds.)
Sport Tourism and Sustainable Destinations
215 pages, hardcover.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2018
ISBN 978-0-8153-8022-1

In 2014, I went to one of Thailand’s most beautiful islands, a nature conservation area, to experience natural wonders under and over the water surface. The trip started from a bus stop on the mainland, and when we got there it was crowded with people. I wonder where they’re all going, I thought as we started to split up based on whom each had ordered the trip from.

My trip was arranged through a small local hotel, which meant that I had an expectation that I would experience something authentic and unspoiled. What was to come made me sad, upset and angry. We were stowed into large motorboats with petrol engines of 2×350-horsepower; there was a veritable fleet of boats that raced out to the island.

On the boat we could buy or rent most things we would need. Once we arrived, we had to wait for a snorkelling spot – there was simply not room for all of us tourists in the water at the same time. The ensuing lunch was like a meal at Gothia Cup, one of the world’s largest football tournaments and a big sport tourism event – we had to stand in long queues and then we had to eat fast, since the next group was waiting in the wings.

The whole thing was terribly depressing, and the worst thing was that I am part of the reason that it had become like this – but even long before I gained my scuba diving certificates on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 1998, tourists like myself have violated nature in so many different ways.

The paradox is that the quest for the authentic, healthy and natural has created a desire to be a traveller and a genuine explorer with high environmental awareness in rhetoric, but an energetic, nature-destroying tourist in action.

Reading Sport Tourism and Sustainable Destinations made me think about the tourism concept and the concept of sustainability, and, not least, how I contribute to the development myself. Roughly, sports tourism can be classified in two different categories; one where you go to see others exercise sports; Premier League football in England, Fomel 1 in Monaco, etcetera, and another where you practice physical activity yourself; Yoga trips to India, Marathon runs in Berlin, Hiking in Norway, to name but a few examples. This book cover both dimensions of sport toruism.

The 10 chapters in the book have previously been published in the Journal of Sport & Tourism, and collected in this volume the different articles make an important contribution to everyone who is interested in sport tourism and its impact on different forms of sustainability – economic, sociocultural, environmental, policy and technological.

In chapter 1, the book’s editors contextualize the content in the different articles based on the questions:

    • What do we know?
    • What do we not know?
    • What do we need to know?

The question to ask after that is whether the book answers these questions in an appropriate way.

On the third question, the editors respond that we need to know more about

    • differing scales both in terms of activity and destination;
    • single versus multisport destinations;
    • sport destination resources and civic investments;
    • the interplay of sport and destination lifecycles;
    • sport tourism’s contribution to and impacts of climate change; and
    • more explicit theorizing .

Since previous research on sports tourism has concentrated on major sports events, the idea here is that one should focus on small-scale events, and focus in the book is indeed on small-scale events within cycling, surfing, running, football, nature parks, etcetera.

A key concept in the book is serious leisure – the idea that engagement in a leisure activity ranges from casual to serious as individuals adopt a lifestyle participation: “Six distinctive qualities define serious leisure: perseverance, career potential, significant personal effort, durable benefits, a unique ethos and identification with the leisure pursuit” (p 15, and Stebbins 1982).

Chapter 2 deals with how destination developers attract more tourists through, among other things, focusing on fellow travellers to those who practice sports tourism themselves, cycling in this case. Here, it is about economic development and sustainability.

They find that the core group were men in their thirties or forties, who were highly educated and employed, and this is in line with other research findings regarding cycling events.

Chapter 3 discusses localism and surfing in Costa Rica and how different groups relate to (local) knowledge and etiquette. Do you have to share, sisterly and brotherly, the best waves or should you keep the best spots for yourself? It is a discussion of localism and human territoriality – a social construction of boundaries around a space that is deeply rooted in notions of power (p 35).

The authors use Goffman’s terms frontstage and backstage to explain how this localism can be explained: “Tourists are presented with a frontstage by hosts, but they want to experience the authentic backstage of a destination, where the set-up of the tourism site and daily life of the community occurs” (p. 47).

This chapter focuses on interpersonal relationships and the sustainability of these if Costa Rica will continue to be able to make money from its surf tourism. And the biggest threat is not localism but crowding, too many people in relation to available waves.

Chapter 4 starts somewhat disturbingly for me who is Norwegian – the scene is outside Liverpool FC’s Anfield Stadium, where the home team will meet Everton FC, and the Everton fans are singing “You’re not from here, you’re not from here, go back to Norway, you’re not from here “. The chapter is about local identity in what is perhaps the most globalized sport, English Premier League football.

Liverpool’s Norwegian supporters’ association has over 40,000 members in Norway and has five full-time employees – no wonder that many English, local supporters shout words for those who have been involved in driving ticket prices out of reach of local residents.

Football tourism is huge in Liverpool and accounts for over 10% of the local GDP. The gap between the football-loving Liverpool and Everton tourists’ cash flow and those who live in the stadium areas is striking: “Despite having two football stadia that draw thousands of visitors each weekend the neighbourhood is considered in the highest quintile in the UK’s index of deprivation – a national measure of income, housing, crime, health and education” (p. 62, and Anon, 2014).

The ticket prices have gone up 751% since PL was formed in 1992 – the gentrification seems to have removed both the English working class and hooliganism from the beautiful game.

The authors mean, however, that the local supporters must learn to live with the Norwegians and other football tourists: “The local fans of both clubs have to negotiate how it is they deal with an influx of global fans” ( p. 67).

This chapter focuses on the mix between local football culture, finances and the site’s authenticity, among other things by using Lefevbre’s ideas about social construction of space.

Chapter 5 is based on a survey from Banff National Park in Canada. The chapter concludes that: “the paper verifies the key role of attachment in fostering destination and event loyalty, and the potential role event attachment may play in advancing destination attachment” (p. 94).

The question is therefore which factors are most important for people when they decide to come back to the same destination and same event several times – event sustainability – and the answer is the suitability of the place. The chapter focuses on how to get people to come back so economic sustainability can prevail.

In chapter 6 the focus is on cycling again – this time it is the Tour of Flanders Cyclo event that is scrutinized by heritage-based active sports tourism. The authors use the concept of event leverage to describe “the strategies used by stakeholders to maximise immediate and long term economic benefits from hosting events” (p. 103). They find that the core group were men in their thirties or forties, who were highly educated and employed, and this is in line with other research findings regarding cycling events. They conclude that sport heritage can be an important tool to increase cycling tourism.

Chapter 7 asks how serious leisure can be used to frame the study of destination preferences among mountain bikers by discussing six characteristics for how serious leisure can be understood an identified. It’s a fruitful discussion and the authors find that the bikers developed a subcultural capital and that “Visiting and discussing mountain biking tourism also provides respondents with a sense of belonging and social connectedness. It confirms and strengthens their social identity and membership in the subculture /…/ and they seek identity-constructing experiences” (p 137- 139).

Chapter 8 problematizes the concept of sustainable tourism and its various dimensions – economic, sociocultural, environmental, policy and technological – when discussing destination sustainability in the coastal area of the Aveiro region in Portugal. The bottom line of most of the explanations about “sustainable development” comes from the former Norwegian prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, when she was the leader of World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED): “meets the need of the present without compromising the ability of future generations” (p. 146). The authors discuss the different forms and dimensions of sustainability, including and analysing perspectives from the companies that arrange sport tourism in this area. The in-depth case study finds, among other things, that small-scale sport companies have an important role to play to develop sustainability in all dimensions mentioned above.

Chapter 9 takes us to the German highland and the study is about cross-seasonal comparisons – do tourists prefer to go to the highland in wintertime or in summertime? Most people prefer wintertime and they conclude that “family tourists” create a high economic impact and that “future destinations strategies should focus on this segment /…/ (p 183). This chapter also has an economic focus on sustainability.

In chapter 10, three aspects among cycling spectators are in focus; place attachment, subculture identification and subjective norms. The ecological footprints of watching big cycling tours, like Tour de France, are huge. The two aspects, according to the authors, of environmentally responsible behaviour of sport spectators are situational intention and future intention (p 191). They present a very useful table of how environmentally responsible behaviour can be measured. They conclude, among other findings, that the social identity (as a fan) “may dominate other identities such as environmental identity” (p 201).

The book is an important contribution to an academic field that will grow in interest in the coming years, since sport tourism is expanding and the issue of sustainability is more important than ever. Personally, I would be interested in reading more about the combination of sociocultural, environmental, policy and technological sustainability, and maybe let the economic growth aspect take a back seat.

Copyright © Aage Radmann 2019


Table of Content

  1. Sport tourism and sustainable destinations: foundations and pathways
    T. D. Hinch, J. E. S. Higham & B. D. Moyle
  2. The role of travel conditions in cycling tourism: implications for destination and event management
    Richard J. Buning and Heather J. Gibson
  3. Surf localism in Costa Rica: exploring territoriality among Costa Rican and foreign resident surfers
    Lindsay E. Usher and Edwin Gómez
  4. Local identities in a global game: the social production of football space in Liverpool
    Daniel Evans and Glen Norcliffe
  5. Factors effecting destination and event loyalty: examining the sustainability of a recurrent small-scale running event at Banff National Park
    Elizabeth A. Halpenny, Cory Kulczycki and Farhad Moghimehfar
  6. Leveraging sport heritage to promote tourism destinations: the case of the Tour of Flanders Cyclo event
    Inge Derom and Gregory Ramshaw
  7. Serious about leisure, serious about destinations: mountain bikers and destination attractiveness
    Julie Moularde and Adam Weaver
  8. Sports tourism development and destination sustainability: the case of the coastal area of the Aveiro region, Portugal
    Maria João Carneiro, Zélia Breda and Catarina Cordeiro
  9. Motivation of active sport tourists in a German highland destination – a cross-seasonal comparison
    Alexander Hodeck and Gregor Hovemann
  10. Determining the influence of the social versus physical context on environmentally responsible behaviour among cycling spectators
    E. A. du Preez and E. T. Heath


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