The Role of Ethnographic Techniques in Tourism Planning

Topics: Ethnography, Research, Scientific method Pages: 26 (8850 words) Published: March 3, 2011

Peter John Sandiford
(Research Student)
Department of Hotel and Tourism Management
Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: Hong Kong (852) 2766 6356Fax: Hong Kong (852) 2362 9362

John Ap
(Associate Professor)
Department of Hotel and Tourism Management
Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Tel: Hong Kong (852) 2766 6348Fax: Hong Kong (852) 2362 9362


Full Citation: Sandiford, P.J. and Ap, J. (1998) The role of ethnographic techniques in tourism planning, Journal of Travel Research, 37(1), 3-11.



This paper discusses ethnography and its application as a tool for tourism planning. It is suggested that different methodologies can complement each other in complex planning situations, and that ethnography offers advantages at particular stages of the planning process. Furthermore, planners can better understand planning issues by using ethnographic techniques.

There has been a growing realisation, in recent years, that planning for tourism development is necessary if perceived benefits are to be maximised and problems avoided (Pearce 1989:244). Most tourism planning approaches and models, such as those identified by Gunn (1994), Inskeep (1990) and Getz (1986) incorporate a survey or research phase which provide the basis for plan formulation. The nature and extent of the research conducted is likely to vary from project to project and, in many circumstances, may not be very in depth due to resource or time constraints.

Many of the resultant tourism plans, however, appear to have had rather limited success. Choy (1991), for instance, pointed out particular weaknesses in a selection of Pacific island tourism plans, mentioning failure to include social, cultural and environmental concerns in some plans and the lack of a ‘helpful body of knowledge’ for planners to utilise (Choy 1991:328). Getz (1986) appears to support this argument, advocating a tangible link between tourism planning and research, whereby those involved in examining tourism could work in concert with planners.

In the 1960s cultural anthropologists began to show a direct interest in the field of tourism, beginning with the Milwaukee Symposium held by the Central States Anthropological Society in 1964. Since then concern with tourism has been shown in numerous papers (e.g. Chopra 1990; Greenwood 1972; Howell 1994 and texts (e.g. De Kadt 1977; Smith 1989 (a); Nash 1996).

Ethnography refers to the usual fieldwork stage of research carried out in cultural anthropology (Levi-Strauss 1963). It is used to classify, describe and analyse particular cultures or cultural phenomena. Ethnographic techniques have been utilised in the examination of various proposed development projects because they are perceived as providing ‘background information on the people involved,’ (Pottier 1993:18) and may be useful in evaluating the likely effects of a scheme being considered. Many ethnographic studies have been carried out in the tourism field (e.g. Adams 1992; Nunez 1963; Scures 1994; Smith 1989).

The purpose of this paper is to examine and discuss ethnography as a tool for tourism planning. A tourism planning model outlined by Getz (1986) was used to help identify different ways that ethnography could assist planners in their job. Getz’s tourism planning model is briefly described, although it is not intended to provide a painstaking evaluation of the model itself, rather the intention is to demonstrate how ethnography can be used and/or applied in tourism planning generally. A brief introduction to ethnography is followed by a comparison of ethnography with survey research, highlighting some of the advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches. It is suggested that although the two methodologies are not necessarily linked, they may...
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