The Tourism Life Cycle in a Small New Zealand Town
How residents of a tourist destination quickly go from welcoming visitors to shunning them
The tourism industry, upon ‘discovering’ an emerging destination, has the capability of bringing numerous positive impacts to the area through benefits such as infrastructure investment, unprecedented commerce, and increased cultural awareness. Local residents of an emerging tourist area often greet these new visitors with open arms, and many pounce on the plethora of economic opportunities now available. (Beeton 2006:39) Although these perks may be quite appealing at first, however, they are often followed by multiple repercussions: issues such as overcrowdedness, pollution, and the development of undiversified economies as destinations become increasingly dependent on the industry. Accordingly, attitudes of residents can undergo dramatic shifts, potentially jeopardizing the endured viability of a destination’s tourism appeal. In order to proactively manage a destination region, it is therefore crucial to minimize factors that could potentially add to residents’ resentment. (Henderson 2007:73) Thus, analysing destinations with tools such as Doxey’s Index of Resident Irritation (Doxey’s Irridex) and Butler’s Tourism Area Life Cycle (Butler’s Cycle) enables managers to measure resentment amongst residents, as well as accurately predict what the future may hold. Kaikoura, New Zealand is the perfect example to take a closer look at the implications of each model, as it demonstrates most, if not all, segments with clarity. But first, a closer look at Doxey’s Irridex and Butler’s Cycle.
Doxey’s Irridex and Butler’s Cycle have generally corresponding segmentations and are often used in conjunction. By positioning a destination along this segmented timeline, both models are capable of tracking the destination region from conception to decay, allowing for simple, qualitative analysis of all types of destinations. Firstly, both begin with an initial discovery phase described as the ‘exploration and involvement’ stages on Butler’s Cycle, relating to the initial feelings of euphoria on Doxey’s Irridex. (Beeton 39) During this period, tourists are just beginning to arrive at a destination that was not previously considered a tourist area. According to Butler’s Cycle, These tourists are almost exclusively adventurers and do not expect to have access to normal tourism amenities, such as resorts, currency exchange businesses, or even traditional hotels. (Butler 2006:5) Doxey’s Irridex claims that this is a time of euphoria, as the arrival of domestic and international tourists is a novelty for local residents and can often come with immediate positive impacts. (Beeton 39) As the arrival of tourists becomes increasingly reliable, business transactions that were not occurring previously are now possible, and entrepreneurial locals can reap the benefits by becoming involved directly in the industry. Despite the new development, however, Interactions between residents and tourists remain quite high at this stage and may remain as such until the destination continues its progression along Doxey’s Irridex and Butler’s Cycle. (Butler 6)
A high degree of interaction with the host community may be a strong pull factor for the trailblazing adventure tourists, but as the industry expands at a destination locals may soon feel like they are constantly being ‘gazed upon.’ Over time, a gap begins to widen between visitors and hosts, frequently resulting in the “development of staged authenticity,” as described by Ian Morisson, or the attempt to segregate tourists in an artificial replica of the destination. (Morrison 2013:36) The destination progresses to the ‘development’ stage on Butler’s Cycle, corresponding to the residents’ feelings of apathy on Doxey’s Irridex. This is the period during which tourist arrivals continue increasing in the destination region as word spreads throughout new and existing generating regions. (Beeton 40) As a result, domestic and foreign capital begins rolling in as various infrastructure is put in place, benefiting both tourists and residents. Facilities and services seeking to attract business from tourists begin to pop up, especially through the construction of resorts or the introduction of new flight routes and bus connections. Until this point, residents and visitors have enjoyed what has mostly been a mutually beneficial relationship. The local entrepreneurs who joined the industry early enjoy the fruits of owning a tourist service company, while tourists enjoy the increasing amenities and continued ‘trendy’ status of the destination. (Beeton 30)
Next, consolidation occurs through the construction of areas designated exclusively for tourists, such as outlet malls and resort strips. (Butler 7) With the advent of new transportation technologies, it is now easier than ever to travel directly to a resort with minimal interactions with local communities, and once there, all necessary facilities are localized. (Lovell & Bull 2018:92) Furthermore, the dynamic of interactions between residents and tourists begins to shift, especially as fewer thrill-seekers and needier tourists have begun arriving. What was once a novel, friendly relationship has become more of a formal business exchange: the tourists discovered an appealing destination, but the locals discovered a new, enticing market. For those locals not involved in the industry, discontent builds, marking the shift along Doxey’s Irridex toward annoyance. (Beeton 38) Tourist arrivals have begun hitting or exceeding the destination’s carrying capacity, and the industry is now dominated by big corporations and franchised chains receiving the majority of benefits. Additionally, consequences from penetrating the carrying capacity ceiling become more apparent in everyday life through nuisances as pitiful as traffic jams to as critical as housing shortages. Overall, this stage marks a paradigm shift for many of the location’s residents. The tourism industry for which many were once grateful now seems to be the source of most problems. (Butler 7)
Finally, the destination begins to stagnate and decline. Residents, especially those who lived through the entirety of the cycle while experiencing minimal involvement, begin expressing antagonism toward tourists. This stage differs significantly from the ‘annoyance’ stage on Doxey’s Irridex, though, for antagonized residents outwardly express their misgivings. As a result of this tension, the destination’s formerly powerful pull factors may be undermined. (Henderson 73–75) Additionally, the negative impacts of breaching the carrying capacity start affecting tourists in addition to residents. The destination may no longer be seen as trendy and hip, but rather as an overrun and cliché vacation spot. (McCool & Lime 2001:381) From this point, the destination can proceed down one of two paths: rejuvenation or continued decline.
No destination region is excluded from these cycles, for any destination worth visiting will inevitably undergo the various phases of discovery, growth, and eventual decline. Like any resource in a capitalist system, supply is never infinite, and this is especially relevant in a tourism setting. To further analyse and understand Doxey’s Irridex and Butler’s Cycle, the town of Kaikoura on the south island of New Zealand lends itself perfectly.
Throughout the mid 1970’s, tourist arrivals to Kaikoura were rare and mostly visited for the sake of taking a quick break before continuing traveling. Still in the exploration phase, tourism was not yet viewed as a main industry. In the late 1980’s, however, the State Owned Enterprise Act resulted in the layoffs of numerous Maori laborers, creating a necessity to find a new economic base. In 1987 Te Runanga O Kaikoura, the Maori council of Kaikoura, responded by starting Kaikoura Tours Limited, a whale watching company based in the town’s harbour. This marked the first involvement of residents in the tourism industry. With only ten seats on the boat, the business was still catering to thrill seeking adventure travelers, and residents were enjoying feelings of euphoria as visitors started flocking to the small town. The business soon became a massive success, with over 25,000 passengers purchasing tours by 1992. The town had now entered the development phase, and by 1996 the company was operating a fleet of seven vessels for a total capacity of 180 passengers. In 1996 over 140,000 visitors arrived in Kaikoura, with 40,000 purchasing whale watching tours. (Poharama, Henley, Smith, Fairweather & Simmons 1998:17,25–27) Though heavily marine-based, development was not limited to whale watching. Companies soon began offering services such as swimming with dolphins or excursions to enjoy the scenery of the coast. (Simmons, Horn & Fairweather 1998:14)
It didn’t take long for residents to begin feeling annoyed with tourists, however, especially considering the annual arrival of nearly 900,000 visitors by 2000. Furthermore, since they were consolidated within 3 kilometres of the town centre, residents frequently encountered tourists inadvertently. Domestic visitors that were once visiting Kaikoura as a convenient stop en route to another destination were now joined by travelers from even farther, travelers who would be sharing the small town with locals and even staying overnight. Such circumstances inevitably lead to growing resentment amongst residents, many of which began blaming tourists for problems as apparently marginal as the construction of a grocery store. (Horn & Simmons, 2002) There are multiple observable factors indicating that Kaikoura’s residents were increasingly becoming dissatisfied with the tourism industry. Negative outlooks on the tourism industry gave way to blatant antagonism, with residents going as far as blaming tourists for minor price discrepancies in food products in relation to the new grocery store. On a more serious note, Kaikoura residents strongly believed that the presence of tourists increased the price of living in their town, and that the high prices of tourist attractions excluded locals. When compared to nine other New Zealand towns, Kaikoura residents were most opposed to foreign investment in their community. (Lawson, Williams, Young & Cossens 1998:251)
Any analysis that fails to include the sea life of Kaikoura in the category of ‘residents’ would be incomprehensive. Despite the vital role whales, dolphins and seals play in the ecology of Kaikoura’s harbour, these residents also experienced inadvertent and often negative interactions with tourists. When in the presence of whale watching boats or aircraft, whales were observed to alter behaviours such as ventilation and vocalization, and often changed their direction upon encountering sightseeing vessels. As a result of such research conducted in the area, a ten-year suspension on new permits for whale watching vessels was put in place by the Department of Conservation, which ended in 2012. (Richter, Dawson & Slooten, 2006) Such strict control on whale watching permits as well as the popularity of free natural attractions like the seal colony meant that only a small proportion of the town’s permanent population was benefiting from tourism. These factors contributed to a stagnation during the early 2000’s, eventually making way for a decline beginning around the 2008 financial crisis and continuing through the end of the decade. As depicted in Figure 1, whale watching reaches its peak in 2008 before steadily declining until 2012. Likewise, Figure 2 depicts a similar trend, but in the number of annual overnight stays.
After 2011, it is clear that Kaikoura began a similarly steady rejuvenation; however, a devastating earthquake in 2016 closed the state highway for a year, seriously impacting all aspects of life in the town. (Robinson 2018) The midnight disaster destroyed all land access in and out of the town, blocking tourists from entering. Additionally, damage from the quake negatively impacted many tourism-oriented businesses. Despite such a considerable setback, Kaikoura’s rejuvenation eventually continued with vigour. In late 2016, the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment published a recovery framework report, highlighting the priority of restoring land access as rapidly as possible.(Simmons, Wilson, Doscher & Hutchinson 2016:5) Two years later, Kaikoura was selected as the number one global trending destination on AirBnB’s list, a valuable promotional distinction that will certainly aid in the town’s continued rejuvenation. (“Kaikoura has Topped” 2019)
By utilizing Doxey’s Irridex and Butler’s Cycle, any destination region can be analyzed in a similarly comprehensive fashion. After carefully researching the attitudes of host residents in response to tourism as well as the status of industry involvement, the destination can be assigned a segment on the tourism area life cycle, better assisting those who depend upon and regulate the tourism industry. As we have seen, relations between visitors and hosts can become precariously fragile. Thus it is in the best interest of all tourism actors to be aware of Doxey’s Irridex and Butler’s Tourism Area Life Cycle; ready to enact policy or change course if necessary.