72 A CRITICAL APPROACH TO THE TOURIST EXPERIENCE – Contributions by Jennie Small

Background to my Place in Tourism Studies

My involvement in tourism studies began in the mid-1970s when undertaking my MSc degree in Environmental Psychology at the University of Surrey. I had left a teaching position in psychology at the Australian National University to further my studies in this emergent psychology field.  If I had known, prior to departure from Australia, that there was a tourism program at Surrey, I might have chosen that course. Travel and tourism were ‘in my blood’ – my extended family were great travellers and I, too, had travelled quite extensively by that stage. I was both personally and academically interested. Despite being in a psychology program, I was fortunate that my supervisor, Peter Stringer, was interested in the connection between tourism and psychology, enabling me to focus my thesis topic on tourist behaviour, in particular, family roles on holiday and their interaction with the physical environment.  Back then, with only a handful of tourism texts and tourism journals, the study of tourism was a different experience from today[1]. Returning to Australia I continued my interest in tourism with postgraduate diplomas in Urban Studies and Tourism Management and, eventually, a PhD at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). In the early nineties, I was invited to develop a course in Tourist Behaviour at UTS. At the time, there were few universities which had incorporated the study of tourists into their programs/subjects (with the exception, perhaps, being marketing subjects). Tourist behaviour/experience has remained my main field of interest.

My Contributions

Theoretical and Methodological Contributions

In the 1990s I was introduced to Critical Theory and Social Constructionism which changed my world view and the direction of my teaching and research. At the same time, I was introduced to the feminist, social constructionist method, Memory-work (Haug, 1987). Taking a critical approach, has meant examining social justice issues and power structures in the tourist experience, to ask: Who is included and who is excluded in tourism? Whose interests are served in the tourist experience? Since 2008, I have also been involved in the coordination of the Critical Approaches in Tourism and Hospitality Special Interest group of the Council for Australasian University Tourism and Hospitality Education (CAUTHE) with Erica Wilson (Southern Cross University) and Candice Harris (Auckland University of Technology). With these colleagues, I have contributed to the Critical Tourism field (Harris, Small & Wilson, 2017; Small, Harris & Wilson, 2008; Wilson, Harris & Small, 2008; Wilson, Small & Harris, 2012).   Since 2005, the critical field has developed to become a significant force in Tourism Studies with regular international Critical Tourism Studies conferences in Europe, North America, and Asia. Sharing knowledge and working with like-minded others has been a great support to those of us who did not fit the mainstream, positivist paradigm of traditional tourism studies.

Fitting with my critical approach has been the research method, Memory-work which I have introduced to Tourism Studies, critiqued, employed and adapted in much of my research (see Jonson et al., 2015; Onyx & Small, 2001; Small, 1999, 2004; 2005a, 2005b; Small et al., 2007, 2011). Aligned with a social constructionist approach, the method focuses on how we construct ourselves into existing social relations. It considers that the self is constructed through memories. In other words, the way significant events are remembered and constructed, contributes to the construction of self. Memories are thus the data. It is a collective method with a group of participants searching for understanding and shared meaning of women’s construction. The method collapses the subject and object of research, with the researched becoming researchers/co-researchers. Memory-work is feminist in intent, the hope being that collective understanding of women’s construction will be emancipating.

My research has tended to centre on the everyday, taken-for-granted experiences of travel and holidays that have often been neglected/ignored. While my research and teaching have spanned different areas of tourism, I consider that my major contributions relate to my studies of the tourist experience: the study of gender and age; disability (vision impairment); and mobility (air travel). These are interrelated and linked through a Critical Tourism approach.

Gender, Age and Tourism

I commenced research in gender in the 1990s, at a time when gender was gaining recognition as a subject worthy of tourism study. Meeting like-minded colleagues at the Gender/Tourism/Fun(?) Conference (University of California-Davis) in 1997 and, later, gender researchers, Erica Wilson and Candice Harris has contributed to the direction I have taken. My research in gender and tourism has centred on women as tourists, commencing with my doctoral work on the holiday experiences of women and girls over their life-course (Small, 2002, 2003, 2005a, 2005c, 2007, 2008). Here, I employed Memory-work to study the memories of   different aged groups (12, 20, 40, 65+ years) examining their positive and negative holiday experiences at their current age and earlier ages. With four to six groups in each age cohort, the total number of memory-work sessions was 46. The study explored the commonalities/differences in the holiday memories within each age cohort, across historical periods and between different age cohorts at the time of the research. Memory-work, allowed for the social construction of the tourist experience to emerge at different ages. The research design allowed me to look at the holiday stories of the women and girls from a diachronic (multigenerational) as well as synchronic (intragenerational) viewpoint. The study exposed different elements which constitute a good holiday experience and a bad (or not so good) holiday experience and indicated that gender, age/family life stage, and historical cohort are significant in defining the tourist experience. However, inherent in the memories across all age groups and times was the importance of social connectedness for women and the physical, emotional, embodied experience of the holiday.

It is the latter that has particularly interested me and led me to investigate further women’s relationship with their bodies on holiday, in particular, their physical appearance (Small, 2016, 2021). Once again, I have used memory work to study the experiences of women (aged 20s, 30-49, and 50 + years). In summary, the findings have dislodged the taken-for-granted narrative that a holiday is a time of escape, when one can relax societal norms. Across all age groups, memories of physical appearance on holiday (whether positive or negative) were aligned with the ideal body norm (slim, tanned, young, and appropriately clothed). The only exceptions were amongst a few of the older age group for whom the focus was not on how their body ‘appeared’ but what the body could ‘do’. For most women, holidays were not a time to resist societal prescriptions. Indeed, a holiday could often be a time to reinforce the perfect body. This body (slim, white-but tanned, young, able-bodied and bikini-ed) is reinforced by the media, as evident in my study of the portrayal of Australian beach bodies in women’s lifestyle magazines (Small, 2017) and Jordan’s (2007) earlier investigation of British media images of women’s beach bodies.

My research has also looked more broadly at gender and the body in leisure and tourism (Wearing, Small & Foley, 2017), examined the female traveller as ‘çhoraster’ (Small & Wearing, 2016), and studied the position of gender in tourism’s high-ranking journals (Small, Harris & Wilson, 2017).

Vision Impairment and Tourism

Another field of research to which I have contributed is disability and tourism. Working with Simon Darcy (UTS) stimulated my interest in the field, particularly in relation to vision impairment which, at the time, had been largely neglected in the disability and tourism literature, the focus being on mobility disability. My research on vision impairment has centred on the tourist experience. It has been informed by the theory of embodied ontology (Shakespeare & Watson, 2001; Small & Darcy, 2010a) which extends the social model of disability to incorporate corporeality and embodiment (Small & Darcy, 2010b). In other words, it is the intersection of social attitudes (often oppressive) with the individual’s physical experience of their body/impairment that constitutes the experience of a tourist with disability, differentiating their experience from that of an able-bodied tourist. Embodied ontology thus challenges the dichotomies of impairment/disability, allowing for both structure and agency. Inherent in disability research are social justice principles; those with vision impairment have the same rights to citizenship and access to a quality tourist experience as do able-bodied tourists.

 

That tourists with vision impairment encounter many difficulties across all stages of the travel journey, and all sectors of the tourism industry, was confirmed in a study by Small, Darcy and Packer (2012). In summary, inclusion or exclusion in the tourist experience was related to access to information, ease of wayfinding, the knowledge and attitudes of others, and availability of facilities for a guide dog. Also highlighted were the means by which the tourists managed their interactions with the different sectors of the tourism industry.  Further studies have looked at the experiences of tourists with vision impairment at specific tourist attractions (Small & Darcy, 2016), at airports and in flight (Small, forthcoming).  My research has also explored the relationship of tourists with vision impairment and their sighted guides (Small, 2015a) to understand how this partnership might affect the tourist experience of both parties. The findings from this study, which employed both autoethnography and questionnaire survey, highlighted the interconnectedness   of mobility. It was found that, for the tourist with vision impairment, having a sighted guide facilitated their mobility, allowing them to enjoy the benefits of travel. For the sighted tourist, new ways of mobility were experienced through guiding.  However, mobility could also be constrained by the personality, interests, and motivation of one of the parties. One party could control the mobility of the other.

The conclusion from the above studies is that, as with other disabilities, vision impairment, in itself, is not a barrier to enjoying the benefits of tourism, yet a disabling environment specific to the person’s embodiment can lessen the experience and, for some, prevent their participation all together. The findings also highlight the many ways that government, community, and tourism providers can enhance the experience for tourists with vision impairment.

The Passenger Experience of Air Travel

Air travel is a key element in the journey for many tourists, yet, with the exception of the sustainability literature, the passenger experience has attracted little interest from a critical tourism perspective. Employing netnography and Fairclough’s (1993) Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), Candice Harris and I have explored the passenger experience through the online discourse on air travel. In particular, we have been interested in the passenger-passenger   relationship, such as passengers’ experience of crying babies (Small & Harris, 2014) and passenger body size/obesity (Small & Harris, 2012). Discourse on other behaviours (air rage, passenger shaming, passenger dress, and attitudes to older female flight attendants) has also been examined. Using CDA, we have analysed the text, the discursive practice and the socio-cultural practice to uncover the ways in which social power and inequality are enacted, reproduced, and resisted in the air travel experience. Across all studies, the identified central themes have been the moral question of rights: the rights of the individual passenger (the focus of neo-liberal societies) versus the rights of the collective, and the neglect of the airline industry in addressing many of the issues.  The research acknowledges that an understanding of the passenger experience requires us to go beyond discourse to consider the embodied practice of movement and the material world in the passenger’s reality – the technologies, objects, and things which surround and with which they interact corporeally. In applying a critical lens to the passenger experience of air travel, the research highlights the politics and ethics of mobility. Power relations are evident in how we move (our experience of mobility) based on class, gender, age, ability, race, ethnicity etc. A critical lens exposes the mobility gap; not all have access to air travel and, amongst those who do, some have a more comfortable trip than others (Small, forthcoming).

To Conclude…

In writing this piece, I have struggled somewhat with the meaning of ‘contribution’ – how do I measure contribution? There are the metrics, the citations, but the most meaningful for me has been the personal feedback (that comment from a student, often years later) that my work had an impact (however, small that might have been).  I have not ‘forged’ my career on my own. I have been assisted by students, colleagues, research participants. There are many who have shared the path with me. Thank you to all those who have contributed over the years to ‘my contribution’ to Tourism Studies.  This publication attests to how far we have come over the recent past with the number of impressive contributions by women in the field. Tourism Studies is clearly in safe hands!

 

Written by Jennie Small, University of Technology Sydney, Australia

References

Fairclough, N. (1993). Discourse and social change. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Harris, C., Small, J. & Wilson, E. (Eds.) (2017). A critical lens on hospitality and tourism work. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 33.

Haug, F. (1987). Female sexualization. London: Verso.

Jonson, P. T., Small, J., Foley, C. & Schlenker, K. (2015). All shook up at the Parkes Elvis Festival: The role of play in events. Event Management: An International Journal, 19(4), 479-493.

Jordan, F. (2007). Life’s a beach and then we diet: Discourses of tourism and the ‘beach body’ in UK women’s lifestyle magazines. In A. Pritchard, I. Ateljevic & N. Morgan (Eds.), Tourism and embodiment: Critical issues of gender, sexuality and the body (pp. 92-106). Wallingford, Oxfordshire: CABI.

Onyx, J. & Small, J. (2001). Memory-work: The method. Qualitative Inquiry, 7(6), 773-786.

Shakespeare, T. & Watson, N. (2001). The social model of disability: An outdated ideology? In S. N. Barnartt & B. Mandell Altman (Eds.), Exploring theories and expanding methodologies Vol. 2, (pp. 9-28). Stamford, CA: JAI Press.

Small, J. (1999). Memory-work: A method for researching women’s tourist experiences. Tourism Management, 20(1), 25-35.

Small, J. (2002). Good and bad holiday experiences: Women’s and girls’ perspectives. In M. Swain & J. Momsen (Eds.), Gender/tourism/fun(?) (pp. 24 – 38). New York: Cognizant Communication Corporation.

Small, J. (2003). The voice of older women tourists. Tourism Recreation Research, 28(2), 31-39.

Small, J. (2004). Memory-work. In J. Phillimore & L. Goodson (Eds.), Qualitative research in tourism: Ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies (pp. 255 – 272). London: Routledge.

Small, J. (2005a).  Holiday experiences of women and girls over the life-course, Unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Technology Sydney.

Small, J. (Ed.) (2005b) Memory-work Conference, School of Leisure and Tourism Studies & School of Management, UTS, Sydney, 18-19 February 2000.

https://opus.lib.uts.edu.au/simple-search?query=%22Memory+work+conference%22&location=10453%2F35431&rpp=10&sort_by=score&order=desc

Small, J. (2005c). Women’s holidays: The disruption of the motherhood myth. Tourism Review International, 9(2), 139 – 154.

Small, J. (2007). The emergence of the body in the holiday accounts of women and girls. In A. Pritchard, I. Ateljevic & N. Morgan (Eds.), Tourism and embodiment: Critical issues of gender, sexuality and the body (pp. 73-91). Wallingford, Oxfordshire: CABI.

Small, J. (2008). The absence of childhood in tourism studies. Annals of Tourism Research, 35(3), 772-789.

Small, J. (2015a). Interconnecting mobilities on tour: Tourists with vision impairment partnered with sighted tourists. Tourism Geographies, 17(1), 76-90.

Small, J. (2015b). Tourist behaviour: An annotated bibliography 1964-1991 http://hdl.handle.net/10453/41627

Small, J. (2016). Holiday bodies: Young women and their appearance. Annals of Tourism Research, 58, 18-32.

Small, J. (2017). Women’s “beach body” in Australian women’s magazines. Annals of Tourism Research, 63, 23-33.

Small, J. (2021). The sustainability of gender norms: Women over 30 and their physical appearance on holiday, Journal of Sustainable Tourism. DOI: 10.1080/09669582.2021.1874396

Small, J., Cadman, K., Friend, L., Gannon, S., Ingleton, C., Koutroulis, G., McCormack, C., Mitchell, P., Onyx, J., O’ Reagan, K. & Rocco, S. (2007). Unresolved power for feminist researchers employing memory-work. In I. Ateljevic, N. Morgan & A. Pritchard (Eds.), The critical turn in tourism studies: Innovative research methodologies (pp. 261-278). Oxford: Elsevier.

Small, J. & Darcy, S. (2010a). Tourism, disability and mobility. In S. Cole and N. Morgan (Eds.), Tourism and inequality: Problems and prospects (pp. 1-20). Wallingford: CABI.

Small, J. & Darcy, S. (2010b). Understanding tourist experience through embodiment: The contribution of critical tourism and disability studies. Accessible tourism: Concepts and issues (pp. 73-97). Bristol: Channel View Publications.

Small, J. & Darcy, S. (2016).  The accessibility of Sydney attractions for visitors with vision impairment. School of Hospitality and Tourism Management Conference: Making an impact: creating constructive conversations, University of Surrey, 19-22 July.

Small, J., Darcy, S. & Packer, T. (2012). The embodied tourist experiences of people with vision impairment: Management implications beyond the visual gaze. Tourism Management, 33, 941-950.

Small, J., Harris, C., Ateljevic, I. & Wilson, E. (2011). Voices of women: A memory-work reflection on work-life dis/harmony in tourism academe. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Education, 10(1), 23-36.

Small, J. & Harris, C. (2012). Obesity and tourism: Rights and responsibilities. Annals of Tourism Research, 39(2), 686-707.

Small, J. & Harris, C. (2014). Crying babies on planes: Aeromobility and parenting. Annals of Tourism Research, 48, 27-41.

Small, J., Harris, C. & Wilson, E. (2008). A critical discourse analysis of in-flight magazine advertisements: The ‘social sorting’ of airline travellers. Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, 6(1), 17-38.

Small, J., Harris, C. & Wilson, E. (2017).  Gender on the agenda? The position of gender in tourism’s high ranking journals. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 31,114-117.

Small, J. & Wearing, S.L. (2016). Expanding understanding: Using the ‘choraster’ to provide a voice for the female traveler. In C. Khoo-Lattimore & E. Wilson (Eds.), Women and travel: Trends, journeys and experiences (pp. 103-116). New Jersey: Apple Academic Press.

Wearing, S.L., Small, J. & Foley, C. (2017). Gender and the body in leisure and tourism. In L. Mansfield, J. Caudwell, B. Wheaton & B. Watson (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of feminism and sport, leisure and physical education (pp. 95-109). UK: Palgrave MacMillan.

Wilson, E., Harris, C. & Small, J. (2008). Furthering critical approaches in tourism and hospitality studies: Perspectives from Australia and New Zealand. Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 15, 15-18.

Wilson, E., Small, J. & Harris, C. (Eds.) (2012). Beyond the margins? The relevance of Critical Tourism and Hospitality Studies, Special Issue Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Management, 19(1).


  1. By 1991, it was still possible to produce a reasonably ‘comprehensive’ bibliography on tourist behaviour (Small, 2015b). A daunting task today!

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Women’s voices in tourism research by Antonia Correia and Sara Dolnicar is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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