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The Destination Lifecycle

In discussing tourism, the term destination becomes ubiquitous; however, it is not always clear what a destination is.  Is it a hotel, a city, a region, or a country?  Bierman (2003, P.2) defines a destination as “a country, state, region, city or town which is marketed or markets itself as a place for tourists to visit.”  Regardless of what geographic scope one assigns to the term destination, a destination is a product that must be marketed to its consumers. 

Like most products, destinations have a lifecycle.  In his 1980 article, Butler proposed a widely-accepted model of the lifecycle of a tourist destination.  The basic idea of Butler’s 1980 Tourism Area Life Cycle (TALC) model  is that a destination begins as a relatively unknown and visitors initially come in small numbers restricted by lack of access, facilities, and local knowledge, which is labeled as Exploration in Figure 1 (Miller and Gallucci, 2004). 

As more people discover the destination, the word spreads about its attractions and the amenities are increased and improved (Development).  Tourist arrivals then begin to grow rapidly toward some theoretical carrying capacity (Stagnation), which involves social and environmental limits.  The rise from Exploration to Stagnation often happens very rapidly, as implied by the exponential nature of the growth curve. 

The possible trajectories indicated by dotted lines A-E in Figure 1 are examples of a subset of possible outcomes beyond Stagnation.   Examples of things that could cause a destination to follow trajectories A and B toward Rejuvenation are technological developments or infrastructure improvements leading to increased carrying capacity.  Examples of things that could cause a destination to follow trajectories C and D are increased congestion and unsustainable development, causing the resources that originally drew visitors to the destination to become corrupted, or no longer exist.  The trajectory in Figure 1 of most interest to this research is trajectory E, which is the likely path of a destination following a disaster or crisis. 

It is also important to point out that the Law of Diminishing Returns could cause a destination to follow trajectories similar to those of C or D, and that the concepts and practices of destination recovery, as applied to destinations recovering from a disaster, could easily be applied to a destination in Decline as a result of the Law of Diminishing Returns. 

Butler's Tourism Area Lifecycle Model
Figure 1 Hypothetical Evolution of a Tourist Area (Adapted from Miller and Gallucci, 2004)

Butler is not the only researcher to acknowledge this concept; in fact, many tourism researchers have written about it. Stankey wrote about destination lifecycle in his 1985 article, referring to it as ‘recreational succession’, which he defines as the gradual deterioration of a camping site as it becomes increasingly popular with visitors (Stankey and McCool, 1985). Iyer (1988, p.30) also eluded to the destination lifecycle in the following quote about Bali, “Hardly has a last paradise been discovered than everyone converges on it so fast that it quickly becomes a paradise lost.”












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