30 TOURISM ECONOMICS – Contributions by Aliza Fleischer

If you had asked me, during my childhood or in my teens, what I wanted to be when I grew up, the last thing I would have told you is a tourism researcher. It was not in my “color palette” nor did I hear of a person with such a career. My close friends went to university and chose to study English literature, Theatre or Philosophy. Some more distant friends studied Engineering or Medicine. I personally had no idea what to study. I only knew I was good at math. The easy decision was to follow in my brother’s footsteps and thus I went to study economics. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it as I graduate.

The tourism researcher that I am today, with my unique colors and contributions, is a product of this first step of choosing to study economics and the path I have travelled over the years. I paved my route through the flow of information, courses and work following my inner truths and inclinations. I believe that I chose my professional path similar to the way water finds its way from its source to the ocean. The source is determined arbitrarily but afterward it depends on the nexus between the water and its environment. Water finds the soft and lowest spots in the path, and it carves the route where it can flow in accordance with its nature as water and with the force of gravity of our planet. I would risk and say water finds the path that it enjoys the most. This is the best way I can describe my way to where I am today. I let myself be immersed in the gravity of all that I truly enjoy.

Let’s go back to my story. The first year at Tel Aviv University was a disaster. Now in retrospect I can say that I had no clue what it means to study at university. Only starting from the second year did I understand what was easy for me and what I enjoyed studying is: microeconomics, statistics (econometrics) and development economics. I specialized in economics of developing countries and from there the leap to my Master’s degree in agricultural economics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was easy. My thesis was on the monetary approach to the balance of payment. As you understand, it had nothing to do with development. However, it led me to the path of doing research that I am in today. I discovered the world of research. I found out that I like conducting research and analyzing data; it was my way to be creative. As a result, the easiest and most obvious direction to move forward in my journey was to pursue my Ph.D.

That decision took me a long way from the Middle East to the Midwest in the USA, to the University of Wisconsin in Madison – a drastic change in climate and culture. By way of illustration, I had never seen snow before I reached Madison nor knew what -30°C feels like, not even in my freezer. I specialized in statistics and econometrics and applied it in my thesis estimating consumer demand systems. As you can tell, so far, tourism was not part of my professional life. However, I was developing the skills that I am using as a researcher today. I learned to conduct research, pose hypotheses, collect data and analyze it as an economist and express all of this in writing.

When I came back to Israel, I joined a small research and teaching institute named the Development Study Center, and yes, I was back to my previous interest in development economics. We had programs in regional development for students from developing countries and we conducted research in rural and peripheral areas of Israel. I studied women employment in rural areas and analyzed different support schemes for peripheral regions. Here came my first professional encounter with tourism. In the mid 1980’s farmers in Israel had faced economic difficulties and many of them started to look for another source of income. As a result, rural tourism started to spread at the grass root level. Farmers started to rent rooms on their farms to families who were looking for an alternative vacation to the traditional hotels, wherein they can combine nature walks and rural environment with affordable accommodations. With the entrance of more and more farmers into this endeavor, both the government and the farmers, understood that there is a need for governmental support due to many market failures in the market. Farmers knew how to feed cows but really did not know how to feed tourists. Moreover, the villages were designed to support the production of agricultural products and the small number of families living in them but not to support a large number of tourists renting accommodations and looking for diversion. That is when I was asked to study rural tourism in Israel and that was my first step as a tourism researcher. I applied my skills as a researcher to this new phenomenon in rural areas.

A few years later the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment of the Hebrew University posted a position for a researcher in tourism that would be part of the staff of the Agricultural Economics Department. That is when my career path started fully carving its way through the tourism research realm. I continued with my research on rural tourism and have not left this topic until this day (Fleischer & Pizam, 1997; Fleischer & Felsenstein, 2000; Felsenstein & Fleischer, 2003; Fleischer & Tchetchik, 2005; Tchetchik, Fleischer & Finkelshtain, 2008; Tchetchik, Fleischer & Finkelshtain, 2012; Fleischer, Tchetchik, Bar-Nahum & Talev, 2018; Hatan, Fleischer, & Tchetchik, 2021). These papers were published not only in tourism journals but also in agricultural economics and ecological economic journals. Although they deal with tourism they also deal with issues of rural and environmental economics. Thus, although I expanded my research topics to tourism, while working on rural tourism I noticed the contribution of the rural amenities and the ecosystem services of the agricultural land ecosystem to rural tourism. Here I branched out again to valuing ecosystem services mainly to landscape, seascape and open spaces (Fleischer & Tsur, 2000; Fleischer & Tsur, 2009; Fleischer, 2012). I did not leave my discipline of agricultural and environmental economics and I have been conducting research on ecosystem services and climate change issues in parallel to my tourism research.

General tourism issues started to hold more appeal to me and I ventured outside the rural tourism realm. The topics I pursued depended on calls for research funds of different organizations and topics my colleagues worked on and I wanted to join. As a result, I branched out from one research topic to the other. I was curious to find out what happens in different markets such as pilgrims, senior citizens, the economic impact of negative (terror attacks) and positive (the Eurovision song festival) events in Israel. These all seemed to be interesting issues to investigate. I analyzed decision making and economic behaviour in different tourism markets using my tool kit of an economist.

While working on different tourism markets I noticed a new generator of change in these markets – digital technology. Whereas digital technology is the representation of movement of information in bits, and tourism activity requires a movement of mass, still, the tourism markets have enthusiastically embraced digital technology and have been transforming in accordance ever since. I consider myself lucky to be a researcher during this period of rapid change because it provided me with a whole new plethora of phenomena to investigate.  I was fascinated by this technology and its economic impact on tourism markets, and I started exploring it.

The main economic changes caused by digital technology are reductions in search, tracking, and verification costs. The reduction in these costs were the impetus behind the development of a new electronic reputation system and accordingly took care of the asymmetric information that had been a problem in many tourism markets. It also led to the improvement of matching between buyers and sellers that paved the way to the development of online peer-to-peer (also called sharing economy) platforms such as Airbnb and Uber. The role of trust and information in these platforms triggered my curiosity. The more I went through these platforms especially, Airbnb, I kept asking myself what is the role of the hosts and guests’ photos? Why do Airbnb (and also Uber) publish the photos and how do they benefit from them? These questions led to a series of studies (Ert, Fleischer & Magen, 2016; Ert & Fleischer, 2019; Ert & Fleischer, 2020; Fleischer, Ert & Bar-Nahum, forthcoming) mainly on Airbnb. These studies show that the photos have an important role in trust-forming between buyers (guests) and sellers (hosts) in this market. And it is a well-known fact that trust is an important ingredient for an efficient functioning of a market.

All along my journey I met different people. Each one had her and his unique contribution to my work. Together with them, with my knowledge and skills and the changing world around me, I created my unique contribution to the world of knowledge of tourism. I would like to end my story with a citation from Ithaka which I feel expresses my professional experience:

“As you set out for Ithaka

hope the voyage is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians and Cyclops,

angry Poseidon – don’t be afraid of them:

you’ll never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body.”

(The Poem Ithaca by Constantine Cavafy, 1911, Translated by Edmund Keeley/ Phillip Sherrard from www.cavafy.com).

Written by Aliza Fleischer, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
Read Aliza’s letter to future generations of tourism researchers

References

Ert, E., Fleischer, A., and Magen, N. (2016). Trust and Reputation in the Sharing Economy: The Role of Personal Photos in Airbnb. Tourism Management, 55(2016), 62-73.

Ert, E., & Fleischer, A. (2020). What do Airbnb hosts reveal by posting photographs online and how does it affect their perceived trustworthiness? Psychology and Marketing, 37, 630-640.

Ert, E., & Fleischer, A. (2019). The evolution of trust in Airbnb: A case of home rental, Annals of Tourism Research, 75(2019), 279-287.

Fleischer, A. (2012).  A room with a View – A Valuation of the Mediterranean Sea View. Tourism Management, 33(3), 598-602.

Fleischer, A., & Felsenstein, D. (2000). Support for Small-Scale Rural Tourism: Does It Make a Difference? Annals of Tourism Research, 27(4), 1007-1024.

Felsenstein, D., & Fleischer, A. (2003). Local Festivals and Tourism Promotion: The Role of Public Assistance and Visitor Expenditure. Journal of Travel Research, 41(4), 385-392.

Fleischer, A., & Pizam, A. (1997). Rural tourism in Israel. Tourism Management, 18(6), 367-372.

Fleischer, A., & Tchetchik, A. (2005). Does Rural Tourism Benefit from Agriculture? Tourism Management, 26(4), 493-501.

Fleischer, A., Tchetchik, A., Bar-Nahum, Z., & Talev, E. (2018). Is Agriculture Important to Agritourism? The Agritourism Attraction Market in Israel. European Review of Agricultural Economics. 45(20), 273-296.

Fleischer, A., & Tsur, Y. (2000). Measuring the Recreational Value of Agricultural Landscape. European Review of Agricultural Economics, 27(3), 385-398.

Fleischer, A., & Tsur Y. (2009). The Amenity Value of Agricultural Landscape and Rural-Urban Land Allocation. Journal of Agricultural Economics, 60(1), 132-153.

Hatan, S., Fleischer, A., & Tchetchik, A. (2021). Economic valuation of cultural ecosystem services: The case of landscape aesthetics in the agritourism market. Ecological Economics, 184, 107005.

Tchetchik, A., Fleischer A., & Finkelshtain,I. (2008). Differentiation and Synergies in the Rural Tourism: Estimation and Simulation of the Israeli Market. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 90(2), 553-570.

Ert, E., & Fleischer, A. (2019). The evolution of trust in Airbnb: A case of home rental. Annals of Tourism Research75, 279-287.

Ert, E., & Fleischer, A. (2020). What do Airbnb hosts reveal by posting photographs online and how does it affect their perceived trustworthiness?. Psychology & Marketing37(5), 630-640.

Ert, E., Fleischer, A., & Magen, N. (2016). Trust and reputation in the sharing economy: The role of personal photos in Airbnb. Tourism management55, 62-73.

Felsenstein, D., & Fleischer, A. (2003). Local festivals and tourism promotion: The role of public assistance and visitor expenditure. Journal of Travel research41(4), 385-392.

Fleischer, A. (2012). A room with a view—A valuation of the Mediterranean Sea view. Tourism Management33(3), 598-602.

Fleischer, A., & Felsenstein, D. (2000). Support for rural tourism: Does it make a difference?. Annals of tourism research27(4), 1007-1024.

Fleischer, A., & Pizam, A. (1997). Rural tourism in Israel. Tourism management18(6), 367-372.

Fleischer, A., & Tchetchik, A. (2005). Does rural tourism benefit from agriculture?. Tourism management26(4), 493-501.

Fleischer, A., & Tsur, Y. (2000). Measuring the recreational value of agricultural landscape. European review of agricultural economics27(3), 385-398.

Fleischer, A., & Tsur, Y. (2009). The amenity value of agricultural landscape and rural–urban land allocation. Journal of Agricultural Economics60(1), 132-153.

Fleischer, A., Ert, E., & Bar-Nahum, Z. (forthcoming). The Role of Trust Indicators in a Digital Platform: A differentiated good approach in an Airbnb Market. Journal of Travel Research.

Fleischer, A., Tchetchik, A., Bar-Nahum, Z., & Talev, E. (2018). Is agriculture important to agritourism? The agritourism attraction market in Israel. European Review of Agricultural Economics45(2), 273-296.

Hatan, S., Fleischer, A., & Tchetchik, A. (2021). Economic valuation of cultural ecosystem services: The case of landscape aesthetics in the agritourism market. Ecological Economics184, 107005.

Tchetchik, A., Fleischer, A., & Finkelshtain, I. (2008). Differentiation and synergies in rural tourism: Estimation and simulation of the Israeli market. American journal of agricultural economics90(2), 553-570.

Tchetchik, A., Fleischer, A., & Finkelshtain, I. (2012). An optimal size for rural tourism villages with agglomeration and congestion effects. European Review of Agricultural Economics39(4), 685-706.

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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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