Ethnographic studies of tourism

Convenors: Monica Gilli (Università di Torino) & Giovanna Rech (Università di Trento)


Interest in a qualitative approach in tourism studies has increased in recent years, although a quantitative approach is still prevalent (for a review see Riley & Love, 2000), as evidenced in academic journals. Manual on qualitative methodology and case study collections have been published to expedite the recommended approach to qualitative research for tourism studies (eg Goodson & Phillimore, 2004; Veal, 2006), with the objective of ensuring more rigorous, credible and transparent findings (eg Richards & Munsters, 2010).

Researchers have numerous opportunities to explore tourism using a qualitative and ethnographic approach, not only in terms of its economic dimensions, but also when tourism acts as a vehicle through which major socio-cultural transformations in contemporary society can be observed. These transformations are hardly detectable using a macro approach, when the goal is to define numbers and percentages.

A micro perspective is best suited to using the qualitative approach, with analysis limited to a temporary communitas of travellers, or failing that, to just a single traveller; inclusive of his or her experience, projections, expectations and role assumptions. Accordingly, the tools of analysis are adapted to the tourist context being investigated. Hence, in this way, it is possible to address subjective issues, such as the numerous dimension of tourist experience, tourist emotions, perceptions of authenticity, the relationship between self and others (i.e., tourists, the host community and the local institutions), and that between the extraordinary (the holiday) and ordinary ( everyday) life.

Some tourism research topics are particularly beneficial to the application of a qualitative and ethnographic approach.

Among these, we suggest:

- the creation and the interpretation of the tourist sites;

- the participatory approach to tourism;

- the tourist values in cultural and natural heritage;

- the interpretation of history and memory in the tourist sites (between decolonization and memories of war);

- the communication and edutainment in the tourist sites (reviews, tour guides and tour guides);

- the tourist experience as practice and performance.


Goodson, L. & Phillimore, J. (Eds.) (2004). Qualitative Research in Tourism: Ontologies, Epistemologies and Methodologies, London and New York: Routledge.

Richards, G. & Munsters, W. (Eds.) (2010). Cultural Tourism Research Methods, Wallingford, UK: CABI.

Riley, R. & Love, L. (2000). The state of qualitative tourism research, Annals of Tourism Research,  27, 164–187.

Veal, A. J. (2006). Research Methods for Leisure and Tourism: A Practical Guide, Harlow Pearson Education.

Comments are closed.