Tourism destination: proposed operational definition as a basis for sustainable development

(Published in 15.01.2024, in greek)

The sustainability and viability of tourism destinations are at the top of the agenda of the public dialogue on tourism. Tourism, as one of the main pillars of Greece’s development, is continuously attracting comments, both by those who know, and by those who think they know about tourism (this category includes those who were born in tourism areas and almost everyone who goes on vacation).

In this context, we consider it useful to make an effort to clarify and define some basic concepts related to the sustainability and viability of tourism destinations.

So, this is the first out of five interventions for sustainable tourism development. The purpose is to set a framework for discussion about strategic directions and specialization of actions, using widely accepted terminology and definitions.

A key point of reference and difference in the public debate on sustainable tourism development is the tourism destination. Of reference, because tourism development, more or less sustainable, is directly related to a tourism destination. Of difference, because it is more than certain, all of us define a tourism destination in the same way.

So, we attempt an approach to the definition of a tourism destination.

One of the conclusions of the discussions on the planning and implementation of actions for sustainable tourism development has shown that in general and in principle, there is an agreement of almost all parties involved, for the general directions of sustainability plans. But - and especially when specializations and quantifications are required - opinions diverge. This fact is due to two (2) main reasons: Firstly, to different political approaches and secondly and most importantly, to the different interpretation and application of basic principles of tourism development.

A typical example is the divergent opinions on how a tourism destination is defined. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)[1], “A tourism destination is a physical space with or without administrative and/or analytical boundaries in which a visitor can spend an overnight. It is the cluster (co-location) of products and services and of activities and experiences along the tourism value chain and a basic unit of analysis of tourism”.

It is obvious that the above definition is open to many interpretations. Thus, both tourism academia and - to a lesser extent - businessmen-professionals in the field, do not agree, for example on the point “with or without administrative boundaries”. Also, the requirement to have a specialized management unit (ie, some kind of professional management structure) leaves the majority of destinations out of the discussion.

A functional definition for the tourism destination is therefore proposed, which is as follows: “A tourism destination is a geographical area, with specific entry points to it, which has attractions, both natural and man-made and supported by tourist superstructures and infrastructures”.

This definition greatly facilitates the cases of the Greek islands, where (almost) every island itself can be considered as a tourism destination. This approach requires special care in assessing/defining entry points. In the case of mainland destinations, things are less simple. If we are not attached to administrative boundaries, entry points - combined with the locations-distances from attractions - can define a tourism destination and its wider area. Also, in this case, the distances from the entry points play an important role in defining the destination boundaries. If we do this exercise on a nationwide level in Greece, the number of destinations that will emerge will be significantly less than the current number of Municipalities. In other words, it is not possible for each Municipality to be an autonomous tourism destination, to have its own Management Organization, its own local Observatory, its own Tourism Satellite Account, etc.

However, according to the legislation, Law 4875/2021 “Model Tourism Destinations of Integrated Management, Organizations for Management and Promotion of Destinations, Thermal Springs of Greece and other regulations for the enhancement of tourism development”, while initially referring to “regions”, then considers that each Municipality can establish a DMMO! This approach is far from functional, apart from being highly bureaucratic. So, after many years of discussions, there is no real DMMO in Greece. (Do not confuse the DMMOs with the Tourism Promotion Organizations, which operate in a few Municipalities).

Conclusion: at the level of destination management, we are still at the theoretical stage, with superficial approaches, which do not produce any operational results.


George Drakopoulos