38 SOCIOLOGY OF TOURISM AND MIGRATION – Contributions by Raquel Huete
Why did I study Tourism?
When I was a child, I used to play at being a travel agent. My younger brothers were my clients and we would play together, organising trips to faraway countries or even around the world. I was lucky enough to start travelling abroad alone at a very young age, which was unusual in the social context in which I lived. Perhaps the fact that I was born on the border between France and Spain kindled within me an interest in learning about other cultures. It soon became clear to me that I wanted to dedicate my life to travelling, and it seemed that studying a Tourism Studies Degree would be the best way to turn my hobby into my profession. At the age of 22, I started making my first trips as a tour guide. I can still remember the excitement of that first trip to the World’s Fair in Seville in 1992. After that I held various positions in a large travel agency. I really liked that job, but not so much the working conditions. Those were the years in which Spain was undertaking the first legislative reforms aimed at making the labour market more flexible, while at the same time intensive privatisation of large public companies was taking place. Tourism remained on the margins when it came to making major decisions in Spanish economic policy, which is still the case today.
Why did I study Sociology?
While at the travel agency, I started to ask myself why the exact same client could be sold a trip to the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands or Benidorm indiscriminately. I was also interested in understanding how the relationship between tour operators and retail agencies worked and what the consequences of tourism were for the places whose landscapes were shaped by this activity. At this point, Sociology was beginning to be taught at the University of Alicante (UA) — a city I had moved to for family reasons — which caught my attention. The Sociology of Tourism did not yet exist as a subject in Spanish universities (Huete, 2008). At the time, it was an emerging discipline that was not taught in the degree course I started in 1993, although there were other subjects in the syllabus that helped me to understand how the Mediterranean had been radically transformed by tourism and its accompanying urbanisation processes since the mid-twentieth century. In this way my initial interest in tourism as a profession gave way to social-scientific curiosity.
The reasons that have been suggested to explain the underdevelopment of Sociology of Tourism in Spanish universities are varied but connected: most contributions on the subject have been made from outside formal academic-university contexts; there has been a lack of interest within the Spanish university environment in analysing a process of social change perceived as less important in comparison to other supposedly more conflictive realities; the impact of so-called “mass tourism” took place in regions far from the main centres of sociological production in the country (at least until the end of the 1980s); the lateness of the incorporation of tourism studies in universities (it was not until 1996), which is further exacerbated when it comes to searching for courses on the sociology of tourism within sociology degrees; the limited international repercussion of texts written by Spanish researchers in this period (as they were not published in English); and the lack of institutional support, coupled with the fact that sociological analyses tend to reveal critical aspects of the realities under study, which seldom pleases the authorities responsible for their management, who are more comfortable with economic analyses (Huete, 2015; Mantecón and Huete, 2019).
Why did I become interested in research?
For a few years I combined working in various companies associated with the internationalisation of higher education (another form of tourism: educational tourism) with participation in a research group at the University of Alicante (UA). This group focused its work on the analysis of the relationships between tourism, urbanisation processes and new forms of residential mobility (Huete et al., 2008a, 2008b; Mantecón and Huete, 2018; Mazón et al., 2009, 2011); that is, in the confluence of tourist activity with property development. This has had profound consequences for the society, culture and environment of the region where I ended up settling, which is known as the Costa Blanca.
Little by little, I fell in love with research, so I abandoned my other professional activities to join the UA full time and pursue a career as a lecturer and researcher.
My doctoral thesis analyses the motivations of people who end up becoming residents of the places they first visited as tourists. I submitted my doctoral thesis in 2008, and the following year I published it as a book with the title Turistas que llegan para quedarse. Una explicación sociológica sobre la movilidad residencial (Tourists who come to stay. A sociological explanation of residential mobility) (Huete, 2009). In this work, I attempt to discover the reasons why thousands of Northern Europeans are so attracted to the Mediterranean. Within the study, which could be considered my main theoretical contribution, my interest in understanding the motivations of tourists converges with an analysis of the process of transformation of a tourist space into a residential space. The original contribution of the study and the publications derived from it is the identification and quantification of the boundaries separating residents, tourists, second-home owners, and temporary residents (Huete and Mantecón, 2010, 2012). This classification is framed within the new mobilities paradigm developed by Sheller and Urry (2006). Undoubtedly, my post-doctoral visiting scholarship at CeMoRe (Centre for Mobilities Research) in Lancaster, in 2007, strengthened my conviction that this is an essential paradigm on which to build research into the complex reality in which tourism is embedded.
Nevertheless, I also feel indebted to the line of research on lifestyle migration, which deals with different residential strategies oriented not so much by economic motivations as by the broader aspiration of living the “good life”. This line of work has been very fruitful because it helps to understand essential aspects of trips to second homes and to better manage the impacts that this type of mobility has on the host society. Indeed, perhaps my second most significant sociological contribution is the questioning of the theoretical and methodological foundations of the analytical approach based on the concept of lifestyle migration (Huete et al., 2013).
While I was engaged in this research, I became interested in other central themes of the Sociology of Tourism: the search for authenticity in the tourist experience (Mantecón and Huete, 2008); the consideration of landscape as a tourist resource (Huete, 2013; Huete and Mantecón, 2017); the perceptions of the host society (Mantecón and Huete, 2011), work in the tourism sector (Marrero and Huete, 2013); and, in particular, gender-based labour inequalities (Huete et al., 2016). More recently my research has focused on the digitalisation of the tourism economy (Huete, 2019), the effects of Brexit in Spain (especially in the regions with the highest influx of British visitors) (Giner-Monfort and Huete, 2021) and accessible tourism, among other issues.
Why did I accept a position of political responsibility in the public management of tourism?
Due to my interest in analysing the working conditions of women working in tourism (an issue that has concerned me since my earliest stages as a professional), in autumn 2015, I was invited to give a lecture aimed at councillors and municipal tourism managers. I explained that human resources are essential for tourism development and that a successful tourism product cannot be designed without taking into account the training requirements and working conditions of workers in the sector. At the end of the talk, someone asked me for my contact details, and within a few weeks I became the Director-General of Tourism of the Region of Valencia. The region has a population of 5 million inhabitants and received 19 million international tourists in 2019, making it one of Spain’s top tourist destinations. In my new position, I was not only responsible for promotion as head of the regional Destination Management Office, but also for the organisation and regulation of tourism activity.
It was my opportunity to directly influence laws and public policies. Working at the regional Tourism Ministry (Turisme Comunitat Valenciana), I intensified cooperation with universities, promoting innovation as one of the cornerstones of Valencia’s tourism policy. I am pleased to have helped advance key milestones in Valencian tourism such as the Libro Blanco para una nueva estrategia turística de la Comunitat Valenciana (White Paper for a New Tourism Strategy for the Valencia Region) and, above all, the Ley de Turismo, Ocio y Hospitalidad (Law on Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality), as well as working in strategic areas such as projection of supply, Valencia’s tourism know-how in the European Union, the development of smart destinations, the regulation of tourist accommodation and the strengthening of accessible tourism, among other aspects. As I mentioned before, some of these crucial issues would go on to permanently form part of my research agenda.
I am pleased to have contributed towards promoting public policies that have transformed the region and its tourism management through a new form of governance based on smart planning. To this end, the incorporation of technology for the sustainable management and protection of tourist areas has been encouraged, but plans have also been developed to promote the inclusion of all people, making accessibility a central focus of regional tourism policy.
Why do I agree to participate in research dissemination activities outside the academic sphere?
In Spain, relations between knowledge institutions, (in particular universities) and politicians are not straightforward. Research projects are often contracted to legitimise previously taken political decisions. In other cases, research is carried out without taking into account the real needs of the tourism sector.
Personally, I would like to share my view of the steps that the tourism industry and planners should take in order to successfully implement sustainable tourism development plans. That is why I take advantage of the debates and interviews I am offered to present ideas for the medium and long term.
Since my return to academic life in 2019, I see my primary objective as transferring everything I have learnt in public management to research and teaching, but also to contribute to giving tourism a relevant role in public debate and making tourism professions more widely appreciated in Spanish society.
I have continued working for inclusive tourism, developing a research project on the integration of people with disabilities in tourism companies. In this regard, I continue to work with the regional government in further planning of accessible tourism.
A fundamental field of work for me is that of retraining professionals in the tourism sector and the incorporation of innovation in tourism companies (Huete et al., 2020). The consequences of overtourism and the possible rejection of tourism by residents are also issues which form the focus of my research interest (Huete and Mantecón, 2018; Ribeiro et al., 2020). These issues are related to regulation of the sharing economy, in particular the use of private dwellings for tourism purposes, a problem that was one of my biggest dilemmas when I was involved in regional policy.
Why should we prioritise research and public policies that promote sustainability, training and inclusion in tourism?
In 2020, the coronavirus crisis burst into our lives and transformed everyone’s work plans, including my own.
The collapse induced by the pandemic placed Spanish society in front of a magnifying mirror that exaggerated both our virtues and our shortcomings. According to the World Economic Forum, which ranks Spain as the world’s most competitive destination year after year, what are our strengths? Its indicators highlight tourism elements whose maintenance and improvement are closely related to public investment: safety, the health system, tourism infrastructures, accessibility (i.e., the ease of reaching destinations, which has nothing to do with accessible tourism), and natural and cultural heritage.
Except for tourism infrastructures, where the private sector plays an important role, particularly in the Spanish hotel industry (which is one of the most modern and highest quality in the world), the rest represent Spain’s strength not only as a tourist destination but as a country. In other words, being a tourist destination is good for us if, thanks to tourism, we have better services. But this works both ways: tourism also benefits enormously from public investment in order to attain these indicators of excellence it can boast of.
The weaknesses of Spanish tourism have been well identified for many years, and all strategic plans in the last four decades have proposed actions to remedy them. Without attempting to make an exhaustive list, these weaknesses are: dependence on certain tourism source markets; high specialisation in products with low added value (an entrepreneur would say low productivity); fragmentation of tourism offered (vast majority of small and medium-sized enterprises and self-employed workers); saturation of some tourist destinations (which gave rise to incidences of social disputes in previous summers); low private and public investment for the adaptation of tourism to the digital economy; and, above all, human capital that does not receive training within companies and is poorly qualified (as recognised in reports by the World Economic Forum itself).
To this, I would venture to add that hospitality, which is difficult to measure in econometric terms, is one of our great strengths. However, the scant regard for the social considerations of tourism, and of the professions associated with it, is one of the reasons why every year there is talent drain to other sectors.
Lately I have insisted that the pressing need to bring Britons to Benidorm or Germans to the Balearic Islands clouds the vision of what is important: to diversify markets by creating products with more added value. This is necessary to: 1) improve productivity; 2) attract a demand with more spending power; and 3) improve the working conditions of workers, and in particular, of the workers who occupy the lowest paid positions in the sector.
What are the policies that I believe Spain needs to strengthen? First: workers’ training must be improved in order to facilitate their incorporation into the digital economy. This proposal goes hand in hand with improving their working conditions if a talent drain is to be avoided. If efforts in this direction are not intensified, it will be very difficult to access higher-spending market segments and, ultimately, to increase productivity.
Second, we need to further develop mechanisms to ensure governance-based tourism management. Public-private collaboration is still not taken seriously. It is not acceptable to improvise expert committees in the face of a crisis. These committees should be permanent and be the same ones that make strategic decisions, consulting the necessary specialists according to the problem. The public authorities and the business community must be represented on these committees, but also trade unions, knowledge production institutions and citizens’ representatives, as they are the ones who will receive the tourists.
Third, but no less important, is to place the sustainability of tourism at the core of all debates. Do Spaniards really want 83 million tourists to return to the country in the same conditions of overcrowding as in 2019? Do they want them to continue arriving through packages bought from German or English tour operators who take a substantial cut of the amount paid for the trip? Do they want the owners of accommodation, and now also of restaurants, to continue paying commissions of up to 20% to foreign technology companies that promote the marketing of their services, but which do not pay taxes and are outside regulatory control? Sustainability must also be economic and, on this issue, a serious problem is the extent of the hidden economy and informal employment in the tourism sector (job insecurity, legal insecurity for suppliers and users and the tax fraud that comes with it, are not features of an advanced society).
Of course, the sustainability of tourism must also be based on respect, preservation and enhancement of the cultural identity and natural heritage of each region. I am constantly reiterating that tourism constitutes an important return on investment in culture. It must also play an essential role in the conservation of environmental resources and biodiversity, drastically reducing its impact on global warming.
As part of this effort to link my academic side with political activism, I am deeply involved with TurismoRESET. This is a digital platform, of which I am co-founder, in which hundreds of tourism professionals and companies share their concerns and which, in May 2020, launched the Manifesto for the regeneration of the tourism sector through a socially equitable, environmentally respectful, and economically sustainable model, which at the time of writing is supported by 1,300 professionals and 300 stakeholders.
Why does being a professor of Sociology of Tourism seem to me to be the best job in the world?
When I enter into a classroom I meet young people who want to learn how to analyse social reality and who are also determined to make the world a better place. At the university, I feel that I am part of a transformation process that goes beyond the transmission of knowledge. We instil values such as critical thinking, solidarity and tolerance. I believe that sociology has a lot to contribute to tourism. That is why teaching courses on the sociology of tourism is an opportunity for me to open young people’s eyes to the consequences of one of the social phenomena that most shapes today’s society. As they proceed along their career paths, young people transform what they have learned in university classrooms into concrete actions, and that makes me happy.
Spain’s recent history, like that of so many other countries in the world, cannot be understood without tourism. Today, the tourist experience continues to transform the way in which the world’s peoples relate to each other. In the development of the interactions that make up the tourism system, complex socio-cultural, economic, demographic, urban, political and environmental effects are generated. With the help of my students, I try to construct an explanation that examines this reality in greater depth, hoping to awaken in them new research vocations.
As a lecturer at the UA, I have also had the opportunity to take part in international tourism research teams and networks, especially in Latin America, where I maintain strong emotional and intellectual ties.
Finally, I believe that the UA (placed 36th for Tourist Studies in the Shanghai Ranking) has a long way to go, which is why I have taken over direction of the life-long learning and postgraduate studies centre. This is my most recent challenge. The Spanish university system faces great challenges, such as digitalisation, which brings new ways of teaching, and can see universities with traditional teaching systems sidelined. Public universities must rely on research as the basic pillar on which knowledge is built. In Spain, the focus on research distinguishes public universities from private universities. The latter focus their educational efforts on programmes created hastily, in response to market demands, but without a solid research background behind them.
In short, being based at the university, I find myself in the best position to contribute towards my country remaining a world leader in tourism and, at the same time, to help correct its weaknesses. In this way it will be able to continue creating the prosperity required to make the world a fairer place.
Written by Raquel Huete, University of Alicante, Spain
Read Raquel’s letter to the next generation of tourism researchers
Giner-Monfort, J., & Huete, R. (2021). Uncertain sunset lives: British migrants facing Brexit in Spain. European Urban and Regional Studies, 28(1), 74–79.
Huete, R. (2008). Tourism Studies in Spain: the Role of Sociology in Degree Programmes. Journal of Teaching in Travel and Tourism, 7(2), 73–92.
Huete, R. (2009). Turistas que llegan para quedarse. Una explicación sociológica sobre la movilidad residencial. Alicante: Publicaciones de la Universidad de Alicante
Huete, R. (2013). Au-delà de l’authenticité, une marchandisation du paysage. Les représentations du littoral et de l’arrière-pays dans une région de tourisme résidentiel (région d’Alicante). In: Perrin, C. (ed.) Un littoral sans nature? L’avenir de la Méditerranée face à l’urbanisation. Rome: École française de Rome, pp. 37–45.
Huete, R. (2015). ¿A qué se dedica la sociología del turismo en España? Revista Atlántida: Revista Canaria de Ciencias Sociales, (6), 17–32.
Huete, R. (2019). La digitalización de la economía y el fin del turismo. In: Álvarez-Sousa, A.; Mantecón, A. and Puertas, I (eds.) Sociología del turismo. Madrid: CIS, pp. 299–321.
Huete, R.; Brotons, M., & Sigüenza, M.C. (2016). La desigualdad entre mujeres y hombres en el sector hostelero español. Estudios y Perspectivas en Turismo, 25, 73–87.
Huete, R.; Brotons, M., & Sabater, V. (2020). La gestión del conocimiento en la innovación turística. In: Simancas, M. and Peñarrubia, M.P. (eds.) El valor de los datos turísticos. Tirant lo Blanch, pp. 67–100.
Huete, R., & Mantecón, A. (2010). Los límites entre el turismo y la migración residencial. Una tipología. Papers. Revista de Sociologia, 95(3), 781–801.
Huete, R., & Mantecón, A. (2012). Residential tourism or lifestyle migration. Social problems linked to the non-definition of the situation. In: Moufakkir, O. and Burns, P. (eds.) Controversies in Tourism. Wallingford: CABI, pp. 160–173.
Huete, R., & Mantecón, A. (2017). La clave es el paisaje. Explorando alternativas al turismo de masas. Arbor, 193(785), a397.
Huete, R., & Mantecón, A. (2018). El auge de la turismofobia ¿hipótesis de investigación o ruido ideológico? Pasos. Revista de Turismo y Patrimonio Cultural, 16(1), 9–19.
Huete, R.; Mantecón, A., & Estévez, J. (2013). Challenges in Lifestyle Migration Research: Reflections and Findings about the Spanish Crisis. Mobilities, 8(3), 331–348.
Huete, R.; Mantecón, A., & Mazón, T. (2008a). Analysing the Social Perception of Residential Tourism Development. In: Costa, C. and Cravo, P. (eds.) Advances in Tourism Research. Aveiro: IASK. pp. 153–161.
Huete, R.; Mantecón, A., & Mazón, T. (2008b). ¿De qué hablamos cuando hablamos de turismo residencial? Cuadernos de Turismo, 22, 101–121.
Mantecón, A., & Huete, R. (2008). The value of authenticity in residential tourism. The decision-maker’s point of view. Tourist Studies, 8(3), 359–376.
Mantecón, A., & Huete, R. (2011). Sociological insights on residential tourism: host society attitudes in a mature destination. European Journal of Tourism Research, 4(2), 109–122.
Mantecón, A., & Huete, R. (2018). Urbanization, Tourism and Migrations: Interrelationships and Challenges in Spain. In: Trémblay, R. and Dehoorne, O. (eds.) Entre tourisme et migration. Paris: L’Harmattan, pp. 55–74.
Mantecón, A., & Huete, R. (2019). La sociología del turismo en España (1964–2016). In: Álvarez-Sousa, A.; Mantecón, A. and Puertas, I. (eds.) Sociología del turismo. Madrid: CIS, pp. 63–92.
Marrero, R., & Huete, R. (2013). La opinión pública sobre el empleo turístico en la Comunidad Valenciana. Cuadernos de Turismo, 32, 189–206.
Mazón, T., Huete, R., & Mantecón, A. (eds.) (2009). Turismo, urbanización y estilos de vida. Las nuevas formas de la movilidad residencial. Barcelona: Icaria.
Mazón, T., Huete, R., & Mantecón, A. (eds.) (2011). Construir una nueva vida. Los espacios del turismo y la migración residencial. Santander: Milrazones.
Ribeiro, C., Quintano, A., Simancas, M., Huete, R., & Breda, Z. (2020). Handbook of Research on the Impacts, Challenges, and Policy Responses to Overtourism. Hershey, PA.: IGI Global.
Sheller, M., & Urry, J. (2006). The new mobilities paradigm. Environment and Planning A, 38(2), 207–226.
TurismoRESET (2020). Manifesto for the regeneration of the tourism sector through a socially equitable, environmentally respectful, and economically sustainable model. https://www.turismoreset.org/en/