HomeTourism and outdoor sport territories in transition

HomeTourism and outdoor sport territories in transition

Tourism and outdoor sport territories in transition

Les territoires touristiques et sportifs en transition

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Published on Tuesday, December 08, 2020 by Céline Guilleux


Using geographical approaches, the aim of this thematic issue of Géocarrefour is to analyse how different types of tourist destinations react faced with the changes outlined above and how new sustainable and hybrid models of development are set in motion and how they function. These models represent the culmination of the process of tourism transition as identified here. They are characterised by their mix of activities, by new interactions between social groups, (resident or tourist populations) and by new territorial forms. The impacts of these adaptations will also be discussed and analysed.



  • John Tuppen Professeur émérite, Institut d’Urbanisme et de Géographie Alpine, Laboratoire PACTE, Université Grenoble-Alpes
  • Marc Langenbach Maître de Conférences, UFR STAPS, Laboratoire SENS, Université Grenoble-Alpes


Over a long period, tourist territories have been dependent on sporting activities through the organisation of different events or in response to the demands of tourists and visitors as well as those of local residents. Tourism and related sporting activities have experienced strong and consistent growth over recent years and as such have become a key driving force of social and economic development in numerous regions and in particular in rural and mountainous territories. Nevertheless, all these tourist territories are now strongly affected by global changes (both climatic and especially societal) and need to take them into account in their future development in order to survive. In addition, they must increasingly face up to new challenges linked to contemporary economic, financial, health-related and environmental crises, as well as to changes in tourist supply and demand. In the same way, account needs to be taken of new political approaches to tourism development as well as to the need to elaborate new development and planning models incorporating the notion of sustainability; together these tendencies have led to the concept of ‘recreational transition’ (Corneloup, 2017) or in this specific case of “tourism transition”.

Sporting activities play an increasingly important role in contemporary societies (the « sportification of societies », Higham, 2005), both due to a heightened interest for sport and for health reasons (Augustin, 2016; Langenbach & Tuppen, 2017b). In this context, a strong link exists between ‘sport’ and ‘holidays’, notably in the case of outdoor, adventure sports (Thierry, 2013). For many of these activities (hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, canyoning …) the natural resources and accessibility of an area are essential elements in their development (Higham & Hinch, 2018). Increasingly there are examples of tourist destinations where sporting activities have had a major influence on their development (Weed and Bull, 2004; Higham & Hinch, 2018).

Thus, many tourist territories are in the process of transition involving transformations in terms of organisation, identity or their range of tourist activities. As such, this issue of Géocarrefour concerns the field of tourism geography (Hall & Page, 2002; Williams & Lew, 2015; Duhamel, 2018) using an interdisciplinary approach through the notion of transition studies which take into account the dynamics of social and organizational innovation (Loorbach et al., 2017; Köhler et al., 2019).

This over-arching notion of tourism transition can be studied in relation to one or several of its characteristics such as the questions of adaptation, mitigation, specialisation or diversification. Thus, for example, the diversification of tourism activities and of the economic and social fabric of tourist places frequently plays an initial and often major role in the process of transition. In mountainous regions in particular such diversification has been focused to a large extent on sporting activities (outdoor adventure sports, for example), which act as a major attractive force for these tourist territories and which are often linked to ‘health’ or ‘wellness’ facilities.

Using geographical approaches, the aim of this thematic issue of Géocarrefour is to analyse how different types of tourist destinations react faced with the changes outlined above and how new sustainable and hybrid models of development are set in motion and how they function. These models represent the culmination of the process of tourism transition as identified here. They are characterised by their mix of activities, by new interactions between social groups, (resident or tourist populations) and by new territorial forms. The impacts of these adaptations will also be discussed and analysed.

If, in presenting these questions, particular emphasis is given to rural and mountainous territories, it also seems pertinent to consider situations which relate to other types of tourist territory (such as coastal or urban areas) which have also been faced with the need to renew and diversify their tourist activities, often based on sporting pursuits (MIT, 2011; Violier, 2013). Such comparisons make it possible to determine the extent to which the issues and the processes of adaptation are similar.

Contextual elements: socio-spatial issues of the tourism transition through sporting activities

The question of the tourism transition as presented here concerns principally but not exclusively mountainous and more widely rural regions, as much in Europe as in North America (Scott, 2007; Steiger, 2010; Scott et al., 2014). As for the related processes, they fall within a context of change and crises concerning the environment, notably in relation to climate and associated with global warming and problems of snow cover (Clivaz et al., 2015; Bonnemains & Clivaz, 2019). However, they also concern political issues (the emergence of new models of governance of resorts), economic crises (endemic financial difficulties and declining public funding) or indeed demographic changes (an underlying fall in the number of tourist arrivals in mountainous regions and adaptations to tourist activities with the ageing of the population).

Faced with this situation, different strategies have been pursued to diversify resorts’ tourist activities and to provide them with new opportunities (Bramwell, 2004; Lozato-Giotart et al., 2012; Langenbach & Tuppen, 2018) at local and regional levels and also at a national scale (Rolland, 2006). These strategies have various dimensions: an economic dimension with notably the emergence of new commercial initiatives linked to sporting activities; a spatial dimension with a rethinking of the limits of the resort as a single growth pole for tourism in mountainous areas; a political dimension with the creation of specific regional development policies and government policies to encourage tourism over recent decades; an environmental dimension to reduce pressure on natural habitats or water ressources but also to create a sustainable tourist development model (Francois, 2007; Marcelpoil, 2010; Achin & George-Marcelpoil, 2013; Bonnemains, 2015; George-Marcelpoil et al., 2016); a social dimension illustrated notably by the development in resorts of new outdoor sporting activities designed to also provide for the needs of local inhabitants.

In France, different territorial approaches to outdoor sports development (Bordeau, 2007; Langenbach et al., 2017) or to the sociology of the interplay of actors (Corneloup, 2009; Perrin-Maltère, 2015) have considered the role of sporting activities in the diversification of tourism in mountainous areas. Other research on the effects of organising events in resorts (sporting as well as culturel) on local tourist systems (Suchet, 2009; Bessy & Suchet, 2015) have shown how diversification can be organised. Finally, in the context of a society which accords more and more importance to the health and well-being of people, certain activities that have long been present in tourist destinations and have often had a direct link with sporting activities (Panchal, 2014; Higham & Hinch, 2018), such as hydrotherapy, have experienced a renewed interest and have themselves adapted their activities as illustrated by the development of ‘wellness’ tourism (Erfurt-Cooper & Cooper, 2009). As a result, the notions of adaptation and diversification form part of a large and complex process involving different activities, territorial dimensions and strategies. However, outdoor sports activities represent one of the main pivots supporting new tourist development in mountainous regions whether it concerns hiking-related activities, mountain biking or trail running. This trend is also associated with new patterns of spatial and territorial development and with increased concern for the environment, notably through more sustainable approaches; and with new visitor patterns both over time and in relation to different social classes.

As elsewhere, tourism is characterised by its seasonal character. This well documented phenomenon represents one of the problematic aspects of tourist activity, impacting on its territory, on local employment and on the use of infrastructure and natural resources at certain periods of the year (Martin et al., 2012). In the same way, destinations which rely on particular climatic conditions for specific sporting activities such as skiing, golf or hiking (Higham & Hinch, 2018) are subject to the problems of seasonality in their use rendering them vulnerable notably to climatic fluctuations. By way of response to these global changes, and in terms of tourism transition, the use of artificial snow to compensate for the chronic shortage of snow in ski resorts is a good illustration (Spandre et al., 2015). At the same time reducing this seasonal dependence can be actively pursued by opening resorts over a longer period and pursuing a policy of “4 seasons” tourism (Violier, 2013) and by developing outdoor sports. Alternatively, resorts can simply adapt to climatic changes by adjusting their seasons; in mountainous regions, for example, this implies opening at an earlier date and for a longer period in summer and opening later in winter. Such trends more or less oblige tourist systems to adapt. It is also possible to organise sporting or other types of events outside the main periods of tourist activity (Higham & Hinch, 2018), especially in relation to niche markets.

Thus, the modification of tourist activities can be motivated by several factors or by a combination of them. Diversification is often the reflection of a desire to enlarge the range of activities provided in a resort so as to attract new categories of tourists (Vlès, 2006; Muller et al., 2010; Farmaki, 2011; Moraru, 2011; Violier, 2013). This widening of the clientele may take various forms: diversification within a single field of activities or season (for example, in winter diversifying the range of winter sports or developing non-ski related activities; alternatively, in winter or summer, the development of training facilities for high-level sports competitors – mountain biking, athletics, football, (Langenbach & Tuppen, 2018); an orientation towards expanding tourist markets (business tourism, for example); making use of under-utilised periods of the year such as the summer season for resorts highly dependent on winter-sports (World Tourism Organisation, 2014); the development of new forms of accommodation and services (for example, the AirBnB rental platform).

 The adaptation of a tourist destination to present market changes needs to take account also of modifications in demand. As with the provision of tourist activities and facilities, the evolution of demand can relate to various factors linked either to the socio-cultural expectations of tourists themselves (Perrin-Maltère, 2015) or to current events as illustrated by the recent popularity for holidays in rural and mountainous districts linked to the Covid19 virus. Demand has also evolved in various other ways, extending from holidays with an increased importance given to adventure activities to the development of short breaks and day visits; in addition, many tourist destinations have become attractive for permanent residents. Adapting to new tourist demands also applies an opening up to new categories of clientele, illustrated by the growing importance accorded to tourists originating from countries such as China or from Eastern Europe. In addition, demand is affected by certain structural and societal trends such as the ageing of populations and the emergence of an important market comprising senior citizens.

The economic structure, the governance and the organisation of the tourist destination can also be influenced by the tourism transition. Concerning the local economy, tourism can act as a driving force for the development of related activities (for example, health and well-being). At the same time, the positive image of a territory resulting from its tourist attraction can facilitate the location of other activities notably in the field of services. This trend has been encouraged in part by the growth of remote working. The existence of extensive accommodation, under-used for part of the year, can also encourage the organisation of different types of event outside the main tourist seasons. The increase in the residential function of resorts (Davezies, 2008) is another example of the adaptation of tourist territories. This process is linked to the arrival of mobile populations, especially retired people, or to people choosing to live in the resort but working outside of it. Such trends are clearly at work in mountain tourist regions in France (Talandier, 2008; Martin et al., 2012) as well as elsewhere in Europe, such as in Switzerland (Guex & Crevoisier, 2017). The multiplicity of actors, often of local origin, concerned by the development of tourism implies the need for more complex forms of governance in which these different actors are represented (Gerbaux & Marcepoil, 2004). In this context, it is important to encourage the local anchoring of tourist activities (François, 2007; François & Billet, 2010) or indeed to enlarge the territorial perimeter of the destination beyond the resort itself and its related resources (Bessière et al, 2016).

Clearly, one of the main objectives of the process of transition is to make tourist destinations attractive (or attractive again) through offering a greater range of tourist and non-tourist products with, in addition, the creation of synergies between activities, taking the form of a tourism cluster or a tourism ecosystem (Hautbois & Durand, 2004; Boes et al., 2016; Capone, 2018; Kachniewska, 2013). Such synergies should lead to a reduction in costs for all the actors (Benur & Bramwell, 2015). The creation of ‘local systems of tourist development’ benefitting all the actors involved in the network (Langenbach & Tuppen, 2018) illustrates the role played by this type of co-operation in the field of outdoor sports activities. With the aim of giving destinations more flexibility to adapt to changes in tourist demand and to minimise the risks associated with an activity such as tourism, it is logical to base development on a wider range of products and to avoid an excessive dependency on a single actor (public or private). This principle also applies on a larger scale to the economic development of regions (Weidenfeld, 2018). By reinforcing the attractiveness of a destination, both for tourists and for investors and private-sector actors in other economic fields, this can bring new professional skills to the area, contributing to a repositioning of the destination based on new markets.

Articles should relate to the following major themes:

  • The role of sport and the development of tourist-related territories in relation to the “tourism transition”.
  • The development of new models of economic development notably in mountain resorts and rural tourist destinations; the use of outdoor sport tourism as a lever of territorial development in non-resort areas; the emergence of new tourist “clusters” which are multi-activity: ”amenity territories”
  • The adaptation of existing forms of governance and the introduction of alternative models of governance and territorial organisation in areas dependent on sport and tourism.
  • Case studies of tourist destinations transformed by diversification based on sporting activities; comparisons (between coastal and mountainous areas, for example) concerning the processes of diversification and adaptation; case studies of different sports and their role in the development or transformation of destinations.
  • A territorial approach to the abandonment of tourism in a locality; what are the effects on tourist territories when the “tourism transition” does not occur?

Deadlines and instructions

Authors who are interested in submitting an article should send a one-page abstract to the guest editors, John TUPPEN, john.tuppen@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr Marc LANGENBACH, marc.langenbach@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr

by 31.01.2021.

An answer will be sent before 15 March 2021. Definitive articles should be submitted by 31 May 2021.

The proposal should be written in French or in English, in Word format, Times New Roman font. It should include: a title, an abstract of 3,000 to 5,000 characters (including references) presenting the topic of the article, the theoretical background, the field(s) of study on which the paper is based, a short bibliography, and 3 to 5 key words.

The article should be written in a style that complies with the journal’s guidelines (http://journals.openedition.org/geocarrefour/1017). It can be written in French or in English, with a maximum length of 40,000 characters including spaces. Articles will be peer-reviewed using a double-blind process. The authors will be notified of the decision (and instructions for correction) before 30 June 2021.


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  • Lyon, France (69007)


  • Sunday, January 31, 2021


  • sport, transition, tourisme, changement global


  • Marc Langenbach
    courriel : marc [dot] langenbach [at] univ-grenoble-alpes [dot] fr
  • John Tuppen
    courriel : john [dot] tuppen [at] univ-grenoble-alpes [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • André Buisson
    courriel : andre [dot] buisson [at] univ-lyon3 [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« Tourism and outdoor sport territories in transition », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, December 08, 2020, https://calenda.org/822751

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