Types of tourist destinations | Understanding tourism

Sep 9, 2020 | Learn about tourism, Tourism management

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(Last updated on: 09/09/2020)

There are many different types of tourist destinations, which facilitate different types of tourism. If we are to ensure that tourism is profitable and sustainable, it is important that we understand the different types of tourist destinations and the types of customers that they attract. In this article, I will tell you about some of themes common types of tourist destinations.

What is a tourism destination?

A tourist destination is a place or area that relies heavily on the economic benefits of tourism.

A tourist destination can be large, for example a city. It can also be small, for example a small coastal resort or village.

In fact, the term tourism destination is somewhat subjective, and there isn’t really a universal definition. In other words, what one person may say is a ‘destination’, another person may not agree.

Anyway, lets keep things simple, shall we?

Here is my definition of a tourist destination-

A tourist destination is any area, large or small, that attracts and caters for tourists, with tourism being the dominant, or one of the dominant, income generators for the area.

The types of tourism destinations

There are different types of tourist destinations around the world.

Of course, no two destinations are the same (this is what makes travel so exciting!), but we can generally group destinations together into categories.

The most common different categories of tourist destinations are as follows:

  • Beach areas
  • Natural areas
  • Towns and cities
  • Winter sport areas
  • Areas known for culture and heritage

Below, I will explain what each of these types of tourist destination categories mean and I will give you lots of examples. I will also tell you about my favourite tourist destination, because a little travel inspiration never hurt anyone, right?

Beach areas

types of tourist destinations

Beach areas are popular types of tourist destinations.

Some people travel a long way to reach a beach, whereas other people may only travel a short distance. Beach tourism is therefore popular with both domestic tourists and international tourists.

Beach areas are not all of the same. In fact, beach areas vary considerably! Islands, resorts and secluded spots, make up just three different types of beach areas.

Islands

Examples of islands: Bali (Indonesia), Jamaica (Caribbean), Maldives, Koh Lanta (Thailand), Isla of Wight (UK), Galapagos Islands (Ecuador).

Island tourism is a popular type of tourism.

Islands are land masses that are surrounded by water. They are separated form the mainland. As a result, islands have long coastlines.

Many islands are lined with beaches. Some of these are tropical, with soft sands and warm waters. Others may boast temperate climates, pebbled beaches, cliffs edges and rock faces.

Because of their abundant beaches, islands are a popular place for beach tourism to occur.

types of tourist destinations

My favourite island: Koh Lipe

Koh Life is a tiny island in the south of Thailand. You can reach Malaysia by boat in just a couple of hours.

Koh Life has the perfect ‘island vibe’- Reggae music playing on the beach, long tail boats, mango shakes and the best pad Thai you could ask for!

The island is so small that you can walk from one end to the other in just a few minutes. It has some of the softest sand I have ever feet beneath my feet. This place was literally a dream!

Beach resorts

Examples of beach resorts: Maguluf, Majorca (Spain), Malia, Crete (Greece), Borocay (Philipines), Kuta, Bali (Indonesia), Manuel Antonia (Costa Rica).

Beach resorts are areas that are specifically developed for tourism. They will generally consist of the beach area, hotels, bars and restaurants and entertainment venues and activities.

Usually, a resort will be developed with a top-down approach in mind, meaning that tourism development planning occurs, at least to begin with, at the Government level.

This enables private travel and tourism organisations to then develop their own tourism provision within the beach resort area.

In recent years, the concept of the holiday resort has changed slightly. Nowadays, not only does the term ‘beach resort’ refer to the tourism area, but it is also the term often used by private travel and tourism organisations who build all-inclusive facilities.

Personally, I find this a bit confusing, so I will refer to organisations with all-inclusive facilities ‘resort hotels’.

A resort hotel is when a private organisation develops tourist provision within a contained area. A form of enclave tourism, this will generally include a private beach, bars, restaurants, hotel accommodation, leisure facilities and entertainment options.

These types of development promote economic leakage in tourism and are renowned for their negative social impacts.

types of tourist destinations

An interesting example of beach resorts: Phu Quoc Island

‘Visit before it is ruined’. That’s what I read about Phd Quoc Island in Vietnam. Hailed as the hidden gem of Vietnam, I felt that I had to visit this tropical paradise. But I was too late.

The once pristine, unspoilt beaches were mostly filled with cranes. The sounds of the waves replaced with drills and hammering. This island will never be the same again.

Phu Quoc Island is currently undergoing rapid tourism development. The beaches are predominantly now owned by private organisations (think Radisson, Hilton etc). Any hotels not on the beach are on the brink of closure, because unless tourists are staying in one of these hotel resorts, they cannot access the beaches.

Development on this island is changing the landscape, the society and the economy. Enhanced globalisation, economic leakage and gentrification are all issues that the island is now suffering. And for what? More tourists but less money. THIS is why tourism must be sustainably developed and managed!

Secluded beaches

Examples of secluded beaches: Green Island Beach, Antigua (Caribbean), Hidden Beach, Puerto Vallarta (Mexico), Breivika, Vaeroy Island (Norway), Vatersay Beach, Outer Hebrides (Scotland).

Secluded beach areas are just as it says on the tin- areas of beach that are away from built up areas.

Secluded beach areas are generally one of two things:

1- They are not developed areas and there are not many people live nearby. The transport network is not well developed and it is not easy for tourists to reach the area. The areas may be protected areas.

2- They are areas reserved for exclusive tourism. The most expensive and luxurious beach tourism often occurs on secluded beaches. Tourists may arrive by private plane or boat. The price of a holiday here is high.

Many people search for secluded beaches because they wish to enjoy unspoilt beaches and to get away from the crowds.

These areas may not be cleaned as regularly as busier beaches, so you may find seaweed or washed-up litter on the shoreline.

Secluded beaches often have few or no amenities- no shade from the sun, no place to buy water or go to the toilet. For me, that’s all part of the fun- but it’s not for everyone!

types of tourist destinations

My favourite secluded beach: Tortuga Bay

When my husband and I visited the Galapagos Islands for our honeymoon, we were in awe of all of the beautiful landscapes that we encountered. But one particular beach stood out: Tortuga Bay.

Tortuga Bay requires a 45 minute trek or a boat to reach it. The walk was actually my favourite part… because we had the long stretch of beach all to ourselves, well- us and the iguanas!

Because there are so few people who visit (due to the visitor number caps imposed by the Government), the animals are not afraid of people, meaning that you can get up close and personal with these creatures. It was a really special experience!

Natural areas

Hiking in Yunnan

Natural areas are popular types of tourist destinations too. Natural areas can be broken down into different types of natural areas, such as mountains, forests and countryside areas.

Mountain areas

Mountain area examples: The Alps (France), The Canadian Rockies (Canada), The Himalayas (Nepal), Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania).

Mountain areas are popular with tourists.

There are many different activities that you can do in the mountains, such as mountain climbing, hiking, skiing, horse riding, quad biking and more.

The activities available to tourists depends on the season, the altitude and the weather.

types of tourist attractions

My favourite mountain area: Mount Kilimanjaro

Reaching the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro was one of my greatest life challenges! The physical and mental endurance is like nothing I had experienced before and the feeling of reaching the top, and being higher than anybody else in Africa, was so elevating!

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is something that I recommend to both people who are active climbers and those who are in search of an adventure. The physical act of climbing isn’t all that difficult and sitting on the roof of Africa gives you a new perspective on life!

Forests

Examples of forests: Daintree Forest (Australia), Redwood National Park (USA), Sagano Bamboo Forest (Japan), Great Bear Rainforest (Canada).

Forests are popular types of tourist destinations.

There are forests all over the world, although the flora and fauna differs according to the geographical location, they are share one thing in common- trees!

Many tourists choose to travel to forest areas. Some travellers will visit for a short time and others may stay for days or weeks.

There are many tourist facilities and resorts that have been developed within forests. In the UK the Centre Parcs chain is probably the most well-known. These holiday parks feature chalets and villas in a forest area. There are many activities such as rock climbing and mountain biking. There are also many facilities provided such as swimming pools and restaurants.

types of tourist attractions

My favourite forest: Monteverde Cloud Forest

Visiting the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica was a once in a lifetime experience!We were literally living in the clouds! We spent our days amongst the nature, watching the humming birds, looking for sloths and talking gentle walks through the forest.

Countryside areas

Examples of countryside areas: The Peak District (UK), Ontario Wine Country (USA), Cappadoccia (Turkey), Sapa (Vietnam), Mendoza (Argentina).

Countryside areas, otherwise known as rural tourism areas, actually encompass both of the above categories. Countryside isn’t just open landscape- it includes mountain areas, lakes, hills, forests, woods, plains and fields.

Countryside areas are popular types of tourist destinations. People can get some fresh air, relax and take part in a wide range of activities.

types of tourist destinations

My favourite countryside area: Somerset

The United Kingdom has some of the best countryside areas in the world! I was fortunate enough to spend several weeks in Somerset, which is a wonderful rural tourism destination.

There is so much to do here such as hiking the Mendip Hills, caving in Cheddar, visiting the cathedral in Wells and admiring the beauty of the Strawberry Line. Axbridge is a quintessentially English village that’s worth visiting too!

Towns and cities

big ben bridge castle city

Examples of tourist cities: Paris, Rome, London, New York, Sydney, Shanghai, Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro.

Towns and cities are popular types of tourist destinations.

One of the reasons for this popularity is accessibility. Typically, large towns and cities are well connected. Cities usually have at least one airport and many low cost airlines will offer affordable flights, especially within Europe.

Towns and cities attract many different types of tourists. Whether you are travelling for a stag party, a business trip or a family getaway, there is something to suit everyone- and that’s what makes towns and cities such popular types of tourist destinations!

types of tourist destinations
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My favourite city: Bangkok

The capital city of Thailand has always had a special place in my heart.

I have visited Bangkok many times, given that it is a central hub connecting much of South East Asia. And with each visit my fondness grows that little bit greater…

I love the hustle and bustle, the dirt cheap massages, the delicious street food and the tranquility of the Buddhist culture. I feel at home in Bangkok- I just love it!

Winter sport areas

two man hiking on snow mountain

Examples of winter sports destinations: Whistler (Canada), Niseko (Japan), Serre Chavalier (France), Alpbach (Austria).

Winter sports areas are one of the major types of tourist destinations.

Winter sports is a popular form of active sports tourism. People travel to destinations with winter conditions (real or artificial) for a range of winter sport activities.

Popular winter sports activities include:

  • Skiing
  • Sledging
  • Snow mobiling
  • Husky riding
  • Snow walking
  • Snowboarding
  • Ice skating
  • Tobogganing
types of tourist destinations
You can read all about this amazing festival here.

My favourite winter sports destination: Harbin

Whilst I haven’t been to Harbin YET, it looks like an incredible place to go for a winter sports holiday.

The skiing in Harbin is said to be the best in China. But what makes this place really special is the Harbin Ice Festival. Between November and December each year there are hundreds of ice sculptures that are beautifully lit up.

It is a unique tourist destination, like no other!

Areas known for culture and heritage

person sitting beside beige concrete church

Examples of areas known for culture and heritage: Ankor Wat (Cambodia), The Great Wall of China (China), Taj Mahal (India), Great Barrier Reef (Australia) Galapagos (Ecuador).

The last type of tourist destination that I will discuss is areas that are known for their culture and heritage.

Usually, these destinations feature high on cultural tourism agendas and offer many tourist attractions which offer cultural and heritage attractions.

Many of these areas are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites are areas that have been designated by the United Nations as having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance. There are more than 1000 UNEXCO World Heritage Sites around the world.

Anuradhapura

My favourite area known for culture and heritage: Anuradhapura

On our travels around Sri Lanka with our baby, we spent a day at Anuradhapura. This ancient city is fascinating. The temples are huge and really impressive and it took us most of the day to explore.

There were monkeys too, which my baby girl loved!

Types of tourist destinations: To conclude

As you can see, there are many different types of tourist destinations. Whilst we can roughly group them together as being similar (e.g. beaches, mountain areas, cultural places etc), no two tourist destinations are the same. And that’s one of the wonderful things about the travel and tourism industry- it is so diverse and everyday you can see some place new, if you want to!

If you want to learn more about the travel and tourism industry or if you are a travel and tourism student, I strongly suggest you consult the texts listed in the further reading section below. These books are core texts for travel and tourism students, covering all of the fundamental tourism management topics that you will surely be studying.

Further reading

  • An Introduction to Tourism: a comprehensive and authoritative introduction to all facets of tourism including: the history of tourism; factors influencing the tourism industry; tourism in developing countries; sustainable tourism; forecasting future trends.
  • The Business of Tourism Management: an introduction to key aspects of tourism, and to the practice of managing a tourism business.
  • Tourism Management: An Introduction: gives its reader a strong understanding of the dimensions of tourism, the industries of which it is comprised, the issues that affect its success, and the management of its impact on destination economies, environments and communities.
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Hi, am Dr Hayley Stainton

I’ve been travelling, studying and teaching travel and tourism since I was 16. Through Tourism Teacher I share my knowledge on the principles and practice of travel and tourism management from both an academic and practical perspective.

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