PAP 54 : The rediscovery of cultural and proximity tourism, a low-carbon asset

Rereading Hassan Zaoual 1

Roger Goudiard, janvier 2022

Le Collectif Paysages de l’Après-Pétrole (PAP)

Anxious to ensure the energy transition and, more generally, the transition of our societies to sustainable development, 60 planning professionals have joined together in an association to promote the central role that landscape approaches can play in land use planning policies. Retired from the French Development Agency, Roger Goudiard is a member of the Scientific Council of the Morvan Regional Natural Park, of the Boards of Directors of the Bibracte Mont Beuvray Great Site and of the National Network of Great Sites of France, and President of its Foresight Commission.

The urgency of climate change requires us to put an end to our use of fossil fuels. Calling for a major upheaval in world tourism, the time has come for this industry to move beyond oil 2. Breaking with the democratization process of the late 20th century, will international leisure travel become increasingly selective again due to the contraction and increase in the cost of air travel in the low-carbon era?

In order to cope with this considerable shock, France’s tourism industry, the world’s leading destination, must anticipate the in-depth reinvention work that awaits it. With the temporary shutdown of the world’s air fleet, the Covid-19 pandemic gave a foretaste of the transformations that will have a lasting effect on leisure practices. During this period, two trends emerged: the return to geographical proximity and the importance of inner experience, the rediscovery of the « self ». This register, essential to landscape approaches, seems destined to play a key role, in France as elsewhere, in the reconversion of tourism. Tourism by default during the confinements of 2020 and 2021 has made it possible to rediscover a change of scenery within reach. The notion of a proximity tourism has emerged. It remains to be characterized because a certain vagueness remains when it comes to defining the alternative forms of tourism that have flourished on the ruins of mass tourism that favors distant destinations. Ecotourism, participatory tourism, fair tourism, solidarity tourism, slow tourism: « Several charters and codes of conduct established in the wake of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit correspond to these different notions », whose « certification systems do not seem to be entirely satisfactory for the time being », notes the international NGO OXFAM 3. At this stage, and without trying to elaborate a nth definition, let us note the geographical criterion that is beginning to be agreed upon: « tourism within a three-hour drive from home ». Instead of going through an obligatory list of exotic monuments, exploring the surroundings of one’s place of life also means rediscovering another proximity, the more intimate one of the relationship to oneself in the sensitive experience. We will continue the analysis by rereading the somewhat forgotten work of Hassan Zaoual, a development economist and promoter of a theory of sites and a concept, site tourism, at the beginning of the 2000s 4.

Landscape theory and site theory

There were several academic definitions of the notion of landscape, before the European Landscape Convention reconciled them since the same year 2000. In his book « La nécessité du Paysage », Jean-Marc Besse comments it in an enlightening way 5 . A landscape is at the same time a natural ecosystem, a territory inhabited by men and an object of attachment on their part. The ecosystem is composed of a natural environment with which a community of interdependent living beings - including humans - are in interaction. This territory has generally been inhabited by a plurality of human beings, social and economic actors, who have succeeded one another over the generations, leaving the traces of a historical heritage. Human beings maintain emotional and cultural links with their living environment. Whether it is individual or collective, the attachment thus defines as many symbolic atmospheres for an environment. In contrast to this notion of attachment, the catalog of international tourism - high mountains, waterfalls, panoramic views, sunsets - selects a set of natural sights on which human influence is not always visible and even less valued. The Sphinx of Giza, the columns of the Parthenon, the profile of the Eiffel Tower, mass tourism seeks images that it collects without much curiosity for the cultures that shaped them.

Stemming from the analysis of failed operations in developing countries, Zaoual’s theory of sites emphasizes, in contrast, the cultural construction that brings consistency and meaning to a given place, and accounts for the characteristics of its visual form. The appropriation of a place by its inhabitants has shaped its identity, the fruit of a history and the narratives that make up its substance. Noting the strength of these connections, Zaoual rejects approaches to development based on a « belief in universal economic automatisms. « Whether one adopts the point of view of liberalism or Marxism, the culture of development isolates the economic and postulates it as a determining factor in the evolution of societies. The « culture of mastery » of the dominant thought is « programmed to produce principles, definitions and behaviors, which would be valid once and for all, in all places and at all times ». However, in the field, it is obvious that « each site induces its own modes of regulation and inter-individual coordination » because it is inscribed in a logic of social relations and a local culture which make its strength and give the keys. According to Zaoual « the human being can only function from a symbolic site… (made) of beliefs, practices, meaning. On the scale of the planet, there are billions of such sites! A village, a neighborhood, a city, a region can be symbolic sites. So can a company. From an anthropological point of view, each of these sites has « endogenous resources, intrinsic capabilities, rhizomic activities, mobilized within the framework of family and community networks. To be legitimate and fruitful, tourism must know how to direct the visitor’s interest towards this local cultural dimension of which the life of a place is made. In order to be successfully rooted locally and to ensure their legitimacy, projects aimed at developing a tourism economy must take into account the « common sense » shared by the actors in the situation in the territory in question. This notion of common sense describes a body of locally transmitted knowledge - accumulated experiences, local knowledge, issues deemed vital, values and beliefs, symbolic representations - and the rules that derive from them to animate relationships and activities in small human communities. Zaoual places on an equal footing this common sense on which the degree of consent of the inhabitants is based, and the expertise of the institutional actors who work there, the objective being to hybridize the feeling of some and the knowledge of others for a shared understanding and a rise in collective competence.

Zaoual’s theory of sites is based on three principles: a site is « a ‘black box’ made up of values, singularities, stories, trajectories, and affects »; « its development must be based on its local resources and cultural springs »; « and be based on the pragmatic use of local techniques, shared knowledge, collective know-how, and community heritage ». This definition provides an interesting and innovative framework for understanding what we call landscape in Europe. These principles come more particularly to illuminate what we call « spirit of place » in landscape approaches, that is to say a character that is as much due to its physical configuration as to the impact it has had on human sensitivity over the centuries, for the many generations that have woven a history there, lived it and passed it on.

By combining these two systems of categories - the components of the landscape defined by the European convention and the principles of the Zaoual’s theory of the sites - we understand more explicitly how a landscape weaves in an inseparable way an objective reality and the symbolic dimension of the social representations that make it unique. This definition opens up an extremely wide range of possible landscapes, the result of a multitude of arrangements of all these factors. If we add the plurality of scales - from the piece of land to the territory as a whole - the field of possibilities is immense. Zaoual speaks of « mosaic site », meaning that « a territory, while being a site, is in turn populated by interlocking and singular sites. This process extends to infinity.

Tourism of site, tourism of landscape

The author puts forward a proposal of « situated tourism » articulated on the fact that this « often invisible variety of a site is likely to improve its tourist attractiveness ». A situated tourism embraces the richness and subtlety of the territories, their intimate diversity which is due both to their configuration and to the way they are experienced locally. This complexity makes it possible to organize a « diffuse tourist offer » including minor corners and secret routes that are revealed little by little. The « tourism » of places that today are not or hardly visited allows visitors to vary their approach and to enrich their access to the great heritage itself. The dispersion of the flows allows the reception of a greater number of visitors without the effect of mass or dense crowd which can put off. Moreover, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, it makes it possible to manage the injunction of social distancing. Such diversification also makes it possible to keep visitors longer in the area and thus increase the economic benefits.

The theory of sites emphasizes that tourism is based on an economy of experience, an experience whose nature must be understood in terms of service, while situating it in a social history 6. At a time when tourism is entering the era of mass consumption, Zaoual, a development economist, emphasizes the importance of the intercultural dimension, which is the basis of commercial exchange: « The tourism service is one of the most relational services. The relationship is the exchange and the exchange is here symbolic before being monetary. It is this « incalculable » that is at the heart of the economic value of the new tourist services. This incalculable of the landscape is both natural and cultural: « In concrete terms, the clientele is looking for ‘real’ sites combining authenticity and the depth of intercultural exchange on the one hand, and harmony with nature and the memory of the place on the other. This demand is therefore a real demand for landscape, linked to fundamental human issues: « The new tourist demand is an existential demand, whose ‘civilizational’ content has not yet been fully deciphered ».

In search of authenticity and intercultural legitimacy, the new tourist practices tend to open up to the anthropological and existential dimension of exchange and to go deeper into the folds of the visited landscapes: « Even if, from the outside, a territory, however small, seems relatively homogeneous in its culture, history and economic structures, the more one practices immersion or any form of knowledge of the inside, the more one will realize that it conceals its own endogenous diversity. The doctrinal basis of situated tourism allows for the renewal of its offer based on the observation that « diversity is omnipresent and even proliferating on the condition that we change our perspective ». « Each territory has a great variety of sites, and therefore of imaginary references, histories and memories ». This approach sheds light on what can nourish the relationship of the visitor to a landscape that he discovers. Reciprocally, the work of constructing the offer must take into account the fact that « tourist resources depend on the systems of representation that the actors of the site have ».

How to establish a living relationship between inhabitants and visitors? The situated tourism that Zaoual advocates starts from the observation that « tourists want to be actors in their exchanges with other worlds » and that « the local actors of the sites want to participate ». For the coherence and robustness of the tourism offer, it is therefore essential to work simultaneously with these two communities in order to detect and activate their latent synergies. The site manager must encourage the « self-recognition capacity of the territory’s actors. This is the only way that what is not a resource can become a resource. On the visitors’ side, the need to be an actor « founds the necessity of a tourist governance that values not only the actors of the tourist site, but also the tourists by involving them. Thus, « situated tourism » organizes intercultural exchange and ensures social and ecological sustainability. Thus defined, the situated tourism offer is convergent with the need to take care of the landscape, both being facilitated by the fact that the springs of tourist attractiveness are often the same as those of the inhabitants’ attachments to places and landscapes.

Ordinary tourism, tourism of the landscape

All these insights open up the question of the ordinary in tourism, which is well problematized in a PUCA research program that « resituates it in the recent sensitivity of the human and social sciences to the theme of the ordinary » 7. Since the 1990s, many disciplines have been questioning the place to be reserved for the ordinary, the everyday, the familiar in geography, urban planning, sociology and political anthropology. This « democratic » enlargement can also be observed in the field of tourism, in the field of heritage as well as in the field of nature tourism. Interest has thus gradually shifted from the sacred to the profane and from the monumental to the small heritage. In the same way, the notion of ordinary nature has emerged by distinguishing itself from approaches focused on the conservation of endangered species and places considered wild. For the PUCA team, « the term ‘ordinary place’ becomes synonymous with ‘non-touristy place’ insofar as it is not marked by a remarkable element making it attractive. Ordinary is thus defined by the negative, by opposition. « Any place in this sense would be « ordinary » before being discovered by tourists. A potential place of ordinary tourism appears then as a place to invent. The term « invention » is preferred to that of « discovery », which denotes the exploration of an unknown place, whereas the term « invention » emphasizes the change of view. Inventors are those who know how to propose another reading, translating the irruption of another socio-economic system carrying new values, and to make it known to their contemporaries. In a society of leisure where a service economy is developing, the territory becomes an object of cultural consumption for the generations that have left the land and return to places that are now ancestral and whose history and traditions they rediscover 8 .

At the basis of the attachment that the inhabitants have for it, the tourist activity of a territory has impacts on its singularity; and also, more prosaically, on their way of life and in fine on their well-being. As a result, the development of tourism in ordinary places raises very concrete problems of acceptability for those who use them on a daily basis and who often place a part of their intimacy there. The PUCA study thus warns that « the emergence of the value of a place that was previously devoid of value is often the cause of a gap with the local population, which only gradually becomes aware of the new value of the place ». This can lead to « problems of cohabitation linked to the hybridization and diversification of the uses of the place ». It is therefore recommended that « tourism be promoted from below, by players outside the tourism sphere », but this is the basis of the consistency and legitimacy of the reception of external visitors.

Bibracte - Mont Beuvray, a great mosaic site

With a museum welcoming nearly 50,000 visitors a year and archaeological excavations attracting twice that number, the attractiveness of Mont Beuvray (821m) dominates the Bibracte territory. However, in addition to this flagship, many other sites deserve to be known and visited. Some of these natural heritage sites allow visitors to understand the long history of the area, and thus qualify the often fixed vision they have of the current landscape. The Grand Site de France includes an ecological site of a peat bog whose analysis of pollens trapped over thousands of years has allowed the reconstruction of the evolution of the climate and forest vegetation over a long period of time, thus showing that the landscapes are by no means immutable and can still evolve 9 . Another example: following its extension to the whole of the Haut-Morvan as part of the renewal of its label, the Grand Site now includes a site of tourist abandonment at Haut-Folin (901m), where a small ski resort operated between 1950 and the end of the 1980s. Since nature has reclaimed its rights since the end of its activities, this establishment has left no trace.

On the other hand, some heritage sites that are currently unidentified or too discreetly listed allow us to understand the way past generations have inhabited the area. Thus, three high fortresses - Glenne, Touleur and Roussillon - structured the territory between the 11th and 14th centuries, showing the medieval origin of the Morvan settlement. The region exported firewood to Paris for nearly four centuries, from the 16th to the 19th century, which led to a significant artificialization of the upper Yonne River, which is perceived today as wild because the floating infrastructures are now hidden in the forest, as for example at Port-les-Lamberts. Finally, the military prison site of the Bagne des Blandins bears witness to the horrors of the First World War 10 .

Very ancient signs of human presence in the landscape, the network of paths of the Bibracte Great Site, 1100 km long, constitutes a landscape form conducive to the development of all these sites in the site. Linking villages, hamlets, woods, meadows and fields whose functional complementarities they materialize, this network of paths once ensured the circulation of people and rural resources. The agricultural parcels and the roads were kept away from the reparcelling operations of the 60s and 80s. When one compares the current computerized cadastres to the Napoleonic cadastre, which evokes the configurations of the agrarian landscape at the end of the Revolution, they appear to be fossilized. An inventory and a cartography of these roads have been made available to the twelve municipalities of the Grand Site in the form of a GIS. The paths today declared « common good » can thus be reappropriated by the inhabitants, their elected representatives and all those who wish to discover these places. By going further in the direction of the so-called ordinary components of the local landscape, many other tourist potentialities may be revealed within the perimeter of the Great Site of Bibracte Mont Beuvray, allowing a multitude of approaches of a hitherto underestimated value to be discovered 11 . The inexorable entry into the low-carbon and post-oil era will have a severe impact on conventional tourism models, which will be forced to reinvent themselves in depth. The landscape approach offers a potentially fruitful path, especially when it is deepened by the work of Hassan Zaoual on situated tourism. What will become of the globalized exchanges of cruises and long-distance travel in times of ecological transition? By relocating to the scale of nearby territories, landscape tourism can become a tourism of solidarity between the city and the countryside, while waiting to see whether or not, on the scale of North-South relations, an ethically responsible and sustainable tourism will be established, capable of ensuring a viable and equitable economic activity, respecting heritage and encouraging intercultural tolerance while preserving the essential ecological processes.

  • 1 Hassan Zaoual, born in Rabat in 1951, died in 2011 in Lille, was a Doctor of State in economics and lecturer at the Université du Littoral de Dunkerque.

  • 2 On this point, see Guillaume Cromer’s presentation at the Annual Meeting of the GSF 2021 Network (7-8 October 2021).

  • 3 «  Alternative tourism - definition of concepts ", OXFAM, 2010.

  • 4 Hassan Zaoual, «  Development, organization and territories : a South-North approach ", Innovations magazine, 2006. «  From mass tourism to situated tourism : what transitions ? ", Marché et organisations magazine, 2007

  • 5 «  La nécessité du paysage ", Jean-Marc Besse, Editions Parenthèses, 2018.

  • 6 The philosophy of the Grands sites de France has joined this analysis : «  We are entering a new tourism economy : the economy of experience, lived experience, sensitive, authentic ", «  Framework document on tourism in the Grands sites de France  » adopted in 2014.

  • 7 PUCA Plan Urbanisme Construction Architecture ( ), «  La mise en tourisme de lieux ordinaires et la déprise touristique - Quelle implication de la société civile ? ", Université de Paris 1, Aurélie Condevaux, Francesca Cominelle, Géraldine Djament-Tran, Edith Fagnoni, Marai Gravari-Barbas, Sébastien Jacquot, 2016.

  • 8 Subject addressed in the recent book by Jérôme Fourquet and Jean-Laurent Cassely La France sous nos yeux. Economie, paysages, nouveaux modes de vie, Le Seuil 2021.

  • 9 Classified site and Natura 2000 label around Mount Préneley (855m) and the Sources of the Yonne.

  • 10 Many French soldiers who were punished during the great indiscipline crisis of 1917 were imprisoned there. The masonry base of the barracks remains alone, drawing under the forest the ground plan of the camp.

  • 11 This interpretation of the mosaic character of the site is at the heart of the temporary exhibition Portrait of a Territory : the Beuvray Country organized in 2020 to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Bibracte Museum.