POPULAR CULTURE AS A POWERFUL DESTINATION
MARKETING TOOL: AN AUSTRALIAN STUDY
Thesis submitted by
Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Research Thesis (Tourism)
College of Business, Law and Governance,
James Cook University, Townsville, AUSTRALIA
1.2 Youth, leisure and popular culture
According to Tourism Australia’s official statistics, young adults are gaining numbers in terms of their
representation within international (incoming) tourist traffic. With regards to Australian travel market,
for the year ending June 2016 “youth arrivals increased by 10 per cent to 2.0 million, while youth
visitor spend reached $17 billion, up 14 per cent for the same period” (Tourism Australia’s
International Visitor Survey, 2016). Tourism Australia defines the youth segment as males and
females, aged between 15 and 29 years. According to Tourism Australia, the youth market contributes
25% of all visitor arrivals to Australia and 44% of all visitor spend. The youth leisure segment spends
more than many other leisure travel segments in Australia mainly due to higher than average length of
stay and propensity to combine work, visiting friends and family, and leisure experiences. The
renewed focus on the youth market expressed by Australian tourism authorities greatly influenced the
topic choice for this thesis.
The rise of youth leisure is not a new phenomenon and has been around for some time (Boukas, 2012;
Dallari & Mariotti, 2016; Ragsdale, Difranceisco, & Pinkerton, 2006). With the whole field
undergoing growth and change, new categories of tourists emerge. According to the UNWTO's Asia-
Pacific Newsletter (2012), as households and families become more diverse – more multi-generational,
more singles, more ‘second’ families – all businesses will have to adapt to respond accordingly to this
Marketing and communications will have to address new needs and wants that result from these
emerging family and household structures… For example, communications will have to
demonstrate an understanding of the diverse needs of those travelling in multi-generation
parties. [The older tourists (55+)] will have a ‘younger’ outlook than previous generations of
older tourists and may well be more adventurous wanting to try new things (UNWTO's Asia-
Pacific Newsletter, 2012).
If marketing and communications will have to adjust to new demographic and economic realities, so
must tourism. The future of global tourism, explains Nurse (2001), is in the diversification of the
traditional tourism product away from mass tourism toward specialty markets. An introduction of
alternative tourism products would be an essential step in this direction. When it comes to alternative
tourism, considering the realities of Australian travel market which is currently experiencing growth of
the youth leisure segment, what alternative path would be most accommodating to the customers?
The TripBarometer’s (2016) study shows that young adults are most likely to be influenced by popular
media when making travel decisions. It is also believed that among the vast audiences of the popular
media, young adults happen to be among the top consumers of popular culture (Ingman, 2016; Hintz,
Basu, & Broad, 2013; Twenge, 2014). Moreover, popular culture tends to be more accommodating and
flexible in dealing with tourists of different ages (Chua & Iwabuchi, 2008; Gottdiener, 2000;
McRobbie, 2004; Salkowitz, 2012; Strinati, 2004). It is also important to mention that Tourism
Australia Act 2004 outlined the requirement for Tourism Australia to place significant efforts into
promoting the events sector. This recommendation, states Stokes (2008), must create a foundation to
raise awareness and improve understanding of the events sector in Australia. With "significant public
expenditure injected to promote events" (Stokes, 2008, p. 253), there is an expectation that current
tourism strategies utilise events in its promotion material.
The Figure 1.1 sums up and ties together the above-mentioned statements.
Figure 1.1 Changing needs of the Australian economy
Despite the many needs, there is a solution that can satisfy the requirements outlined in Figure 1.1.
This work offers to consider popular culture tourism (PCT) as an alternative destination development
Inexorably appealing to large numbers of people, popular culture is an important part of the
entertainment industry, as well as a unique destination marketing tool (Beeton, 2010; Cho, 2011; Chua
& Iwabuchi, 2008; Croy, 2010; Fawcett & Cormack, 2001; Gunelius, 2008; Larson, Lundberg, &
Lexhagen, 2013). Its potential to attract vast numbers of visitors has been reported in many influential
studies (Reijnders, 2010, 2011, 2016; Roesch, 2010; Salkowitz, 2012; Smith, 2003). Popular culture is
actively utilised by destination marketing organizations as well as tourism businesses (Beeton, 2016;
•Traditional exports are declining
•Service sector is driving the economy
•Tourism, popular media and entertainment accounting for
more than half of all services exports
Need for non-exhaustive
•Rise of youth leisure
•Households and families become more diverse
•Need for alternative tourism products
•Requirement for Tourism Australia to promote the
Gibson & Connell, 2003; Hudson & Ritchie, 2006b). It has proven to be an effective way of reaching
out to millions due to its very nature and characteristics.
There can be two ways of approaching popular culture in the context of tourism: 1) a holistic approach
– where popular culture tourism is explored as a comprehensive multi-category method for destination
development.; or 2) hybrid demand-based approach – where among the variety of popular culture
activities only two or more (e.g., films and art, or fashion, cosplay and food) participate in the
destination development strategies. In the latter approach, the activities are decided after analysing
how each individually affects the market. There are very few studies that approach PCT in such a way.
Few, if any, investigate popular culture and its many constituent parts, and try to analyse how they
compete, interact or reinforce one another. The complexity of these relationships is partially explored
in this work. It is necessary to have a deeper understanding of popular culture to discern the potential
behind this diverse and powerful tool.
1.3 What is popular culture?
The difficulties with developing a nonbiased definition of popular culture are legendary in academia
(Fedorak, 2018). It is a divergent member of the ‘culture’ family: contradictory and often inconsistent.
It is a term that is hard to explain and a subject that is hard to teach. Carla Freccero described her
experience teaching popular culture by noting her students' reaction. For them "popular culture was a
domain of degraded culture" (Freccero, 1999, p.1). Yet this, explains Freccero, provided her with the
ideal opportunity to argue the case for the importance of popular culture. It was the
“contradictoriness”, the “potential progressive productivity”, the liberalism, and the hidden complexity
that finally drew in the students.
Much of what follows is a summary of the different ways in which popular culture has been defined
and analysed. Unfortunately, it is beyond the scope of this study to introduce an all-encompassing
analysis of popular culture. Instead, the focus is on formulating the best explanations possible by
drawing from three different theoretical perspectives: 1) previous conceptual and empirical research,
2) non-academic information resources, and 3) the researcher’s subjective interpretations. The popular
culture is one of those cases, where ‘subjective experience’ variable plays a big role in the
investigation of the phenomenon. In some extreme cases, it may hold true that the explanation behind
the nature of popular culture depends solely on a subjective perception of a person (or group of
persons) at a particular time and place. This may seem counter-intuitive, as the ‘popular’ in popular
culture implies a unified comprehensible set of ideas universally accepted by many people. In
approaching popular culture, its polycultural nature should lack complexity: (a) must be altogether
apparent and comprehensible, and (b) be amenable to easy interpretation and analysis. Unfortunately,
it is not the case. As Bennett (1980) points out, “the concept of popular culture is virtually useless, a
melting pot of confused and contradictory meanings capable of misdirecting inquiry up any number of
theoretical blind alleys” (p. 18).
Defining popular culture is an ambitious agenda, and a certain hesitation in laying out the ideas is only
natural. From linguistic perspective, there may be two approaches to explaining the term popular culture.
One, synchronic approach, considers the term at this particular moment in time – the present – without
taking its history into account. The other, a diachronic approach, considers the development and
evolution of the term through history. Given the complexity of the task, it has been decided to start with
the basics, such as providing general description and historical background; followed by synchronic
semantics, cultural role and public perception.
One of the distinctive features of popular culture is the dynamic diversity. The dynamism is driven by
the advancement of new technology, while its diversity lies within the deeper nature of the phenomenon.
It is quite challenging to explain popular culture without fragmenting it, and most attempts to subsume
it under one category proved futile (Bennett, 1980; Malinowska & Lebek, 2016; Storey, 1994, 2012). It
is in fact a very broad conceptual category. Many people intuitively understand what popular culture
means, yet there is no one widely accepted definition. The multifaceted nature of popular culture raises
more questions than it answers. Therefore, the aim of this section is to map out the general conceptual
landscape of popular culture. As Storey (2009) reflects, "to study popular culture we must first confront
the difficulty posed by the term itself" (p. 1).
Before making any attempts to define popular culture, it seems necessary to first examine the term
‘culture’. As with popular culture, the term culture has been the subject of numerous elaborate and
abstract definitions. One of the earliest definitions of culture, and one still used today, was offered by
British anthropologist Sir Edward Burnett Tylor. Sir Edward Tylor (1871) offered a broad definition,
stating that culture in its wide ethnographic sense is “that complex whole which includes knowledge,
belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of
society” (p. 1). In the 20th century American anthropologist Ruth Benedict offered a more succinct
definition by characterising culture as a set of ideas and standards that people have in common (Benedict
& In Mead, 1959). Years went by and the term culture evolved into something bigger than a set of
standards, customs and beliefs. It added symbolism to its pool of meaning. An explanation provided by
Geertz (1973) described culture as “a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by
means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward
life” (p. 89). This explanation takes us a step closer to the modern interpretation of the term. According
to Samovar, Porter, and McDaniel (1999), the contemporary definitions of culture commonly mention
shared values, attitudes, beliefs, behaviours, norms, material objects, and symbolic resources. In their
work they propose a simplified explanation of culture, stating that culture is the “rules for living and
functioning in society" (p. 10).
The culture is too dynamic to be contained within the borders of a single explanation. The same process
of constant change is seen in the popular culture theories. After all, and this may seem like stating the
obvious, popular culture is part of culture, thus allowing for the same forces to shape its structure and
As with culture, the term popular culture is not static. It evolves and changes as centuries go by,
absorbing new meanings and discarding old ones. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the debate persists even
today as to the exact meaning of this term. No matter what source is used, a dictionary or an academic
work, neither can offer a uniform explanation. That does not mean that the definition does not exist. It
simply means there is more than one to choose from.
In the 20th century dictionary, for example, an old edition of Oxford English Dictionary, popular culture
is defined as “the cultural traditions of the ordinary people of a particular community” (Smith, 2009, p.
627). A 21st century dictionary, such as Collins English Dictionary (the web version created in 2011 is
available online) defines popular culture as “the general culture of a society, including ideas, music,
books, and the mass media, as opposed to high culture”. These two definitions, when compared, reveal
an interesting fact: popular culture, quite literally, is capable of growth. From cultural traditions of “a
particular community”, popular culture transformed into the “general culture of a society”. These
examples illustrate how in the course of time popular culture can broaden its influence and stretch
beyond the extent of a ‘particular’ community. This gradual yet constant transformation persists
probably owing to the fact that social borders become more blurred the further we enter into the 21st
century, and technologies provide easier access to the many cultural resources.
The changes in the definition of popular culture take place not only due to the social evolution of cultures
and societies over periods of time. The differences in the interpretation of popular culture occur in
coexisting contemporary sources as well. For example, the online Urban Dictionary
Urbandictionary.com defines popular culture as "a widely accepted group of practices or customs" (n.d.).
While as the online dictionary Oxforddictionaries.com, developed by the University of Oxford, defines
popular culture as a modern culture transmitted via mass media and aimed particularly at younger people.
It is interesting to note that both contemporary definitions do not differentiate between social classes.
The same tendency pertains in academic texts. Depending on the study, the definition varies. In the late
18th and early 19th century in some intellectual circles popular culture has been described as a quasi-
mythical folk culture (Storey, 2009). Yet in the capitalist societies there is no so-called authentic folk
culture against which to measure the ‘inauthenticity’ of mass culture (Fiske, 1989). Instead, as some
studies suggest, in capitalist societies popular culture is viewed as part of the ‘commodity fetishism’.
For example, Adorno (1991) uses Marx's theory of commodity fetishism to understand popular culture.
For Adorno and the Frankfurt School, commodity fetishism is the basis of the theory on how different
cultural forms can secure the domination of capitalism (Strinati, 2004). Naturally, this line of thinking
inspired disagreement. In his work Fiske (1989) offers a contrasting perspective. He states: "Popular
culture is not consumption, it is culture – the active process of generating and circulating meanings and
pleasures within a social system" (p. 23). He further elaborates by saying that “All the culture industries
can do is produce a repertoire of texts or cultural resources for the various formations of the people to
use or reject in the ongoing process of producing their popular culture" (1989, p. 24). This means that
popular culture is far more complex than a mass consumption of a cultural resource. It is an elaborate
process of selection and rejection of cultural practices.
There many other definitions of popular culture. For example, popular culture can be seen as a struggle
between the subordinate groups and the forces of dominant groups (Gramsci, 2009; Bennett, 2009).
There are theories that argue that popular culture is a competitive site for political constructions of ‘the
people’ and their relation to the power bloc (Hall, 2009). These theories describe popular culture as an
extremely political concept. Though many definitions carry political connotations, there are some that
assume a more abstract form. For example, De Certeau (1984) defined popular culture as the art of
making do with what the system provides. Fiske (2010) wrote that it is the art of being in between. Storey
(2009) explained popular culture as an empty conceptual category that can be filled in a wide variety of
The battle of opinions continues as researchers regard the definitions provided as too narrow, or too
obscure, or too wordy (Burke, 2009). However, there exists a congruity between definitions. What many
academic works on popular culture have in common is the fact that it is mostly defined, implicitly or
explicitly, in contrast to or as a product of other conceptual categories, such as folk culture, mass culture,
high culture, dominant culture, low culture.
There is a group of definitions that characterise popular culture as an inferior culture. They do so by
contrasting it with the culture of the elite. Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci described popular culture as
an unofficial culture of the non-elite, the subordinate classes (Burke, 1983, p. xi). This implies that
popular culture is related to the lower class and is inferior. As some sociologists say, "the culture that is
left over after we have decided what is high culture" (Storey, 1998, pp. 7–8). Which leaves us with yet
another definition of popular culture as the culture that is not included into high culture. Storey (2009)
explains that popular culture cannot be part of high culture, because to be high culture it has to be
difficult. "Being difficult… ensures its exclusive status as high culture" (Storey, 2009, p. 6).
This leads us to a group of definitions that look upon popular culture as mass culture. For example,
Dwight Macdonald, a social critic and philosopher, divides Western culture into two cultures: the
traditional kind, known as high culture, and the mass culture – a "manufactured wholesale for the
market" (Guins & Cruz, 2005, p. 39). In his work A Theory of Mass Culture, he advocates that the "mass
culture has developed new media of its own, into which the serious artist rarely ventures: radio, the
movies, comic books, detective stories, science-fiction, television" (Guins & Cruz, 2005, p. 39).
As Storey (2009) reflects, another way to look at the definition is to say that popular culture is a
temporary mass-produced commercial culture with a short life-span. This means that things considered
to be part of popular culture remain so for only a limited time and then fall into oblivion. As with previous
cases, this definition attracted a lot of criticism. The critics would point out that William Shakespeare is
now seen as the epitome of high culture, yet as late as the 19th century his work was very much a part
of popular theatre (Storey, 2009). A more contemporary example is the works of an American director,
producer and screenwriter Martin Scorsese. Together with the so-called "movie brats" (Spielberg, Lucas,
Coppola, and De Palma) he helped the "film noir" develop into a serious genre, though before the 70s it
was often simply referred to as ‘melodramas’ (Bould, 2005). What started as popular cinema is now the
preserve of academics and film makers (Storey, 2012).
Another concept describes popular culture as a postmodern culture that no longer recognises the
distinction between high and popular culture (Sontag, 1966, p. 302). It shows the blurring of the
distinction between ‘authentic’ and ‘commercial’ culture (McRobbie, 1996). Ultimately, it can be
concluded that popular culture in its contemporary form is less about social stratification than it used to
be in the 20th century. As Sontag (1966) notes, the distinction between high and low culture seems less
and less meaningful. The social development is a constant exchange between many layers of cultural
soil. What could be considered a work of high culture can become popular, and what is popular can
appeal to ‘elites’, since social tastes are not static.
Another conclusion that can be drawn from the many definitions, is the fact that popular culture is a
culture that emerged following industrialisation and urbanisation. It is a phenomenon that is now
strengthening its positions due to globalization. As Williams (2009) points out, the “culture of a society
will always tend to correspond to its contemporary system of interests and values” (p. 68). Therefore, as
society develops, so does popular culture.
Perhaps, the controversy surrounding popular culture can never be resolved, for there is no single or
right answer. Maybe Storey (2009) is right and there is no simple explanation. One must note that it is
not enough to state that popular culture is simply a culture that is widely favoured by many people,
because this naturally brings up a new issue: how many supporters does a phenomenon require to be
considered popular? Pérez (2014) states that attempting to establish these numbers is simply unpractical.
He further concludes that unless the researchers agree on a figure, using the ‘widely favoured’
characteristic is almost useless in the conceptual definition of popular culture. Therefore, as Storey
(2009) concludes, a quantitative index is not enough to provide an adequate definition of popular culture.
So far, the discussion has touched upon the findings drawn from many academic sources. Yet those who
study popular culture do not necessarily come from an academic background. The non-academic
communities and groups that hold discussions about the nature of popular culture consist of people with
different levels of education, experience and social circumstances. What unites these popular culture
enthusiasts is a true fascination with popular culture phenomenon. They follow the cultural trends,
participate in discussions, voice their opinions and deal with criticism just like any other researcher with
an academic background. The Internet provides them with necessary tools to explore the phenomenon
and share their findings with other people. A good example would be Gary West.
Gary West is a popular culture enthusiast who has been blogging about popular culture since 1999.
According to his website, Mrpopculture.com, Mr. West managed to collect a “50,000-page tribute to
modern pop culture” ("Contact Mr PopCulture" by Gary West, n.d.). Its main attribute is a timeline diary
that features some thousands of pages of text and over 1,000 videos dedicated solely to popular culture.
Mr. West gives the following explanation of popular culture:
You know it when you come to the Internet, listen to music, watch television, app-gaming or go
to a movie, concert or stage show. You know the artists, the actors and actresses, sports
personalities and the games they play. Today, anything with a buzz is deemed pop culture. The
book definition says pop culture is a collection of thoughts, ideas, attitudes, perspectives, images
(you name it) preferred by the mainstream population. A sort of common denominator (“What
Is Pop Culture, You Ask?” by Gary West, n.d.)
This intuitive definition is made up of natural observations: you know it when you see it. Words such as
‘common denominator’ and ‘buzz’ indicate the highly exposed nature and recognisability of popular
culture. Another liberal definition states: "Pop, aka, ‘Popular’ Culture is where the ‘Cool’ stuff ends up
when it gets old" (Delano, 2017).
While reviewing the non-academic sources of popular culture knowledge, one theme seemed to underlie
the varied comments – the bidirectional character of popular culture. On one hand, popular culture is
strongly associated with works of creative fiction (e.g., superhero characters, various cinematic
universes, literary characters); on the other hand, popular culture celebrates the commonplace objects
and people of everyday life (Figure 1.2).
Figure 1.2 Fiction and mundane in popular culture
Despite the somewhat expected antagonism between the realms of fiction and mundane, they exist
congruously in popular culture. In a way, popular culture is as much about the can of soda as it is about
being a Batman.
Again, one must accept defeat and agree that the web sources cannot provide a simple definition of
popular culture. However, the investigative process helped capture some general features of popular
culture. In a very broad sense, popular culture can be described as:
1) a product of mass culture that attracts ubiquitous attention,
2) something we see, hear, wear, eat and/or buy on virtually a daily basis, and
3) a phenomenon as indefinite as anything related to human behaviour.
At this point it is sensible to stop any further attempts to finding the perfect definition, as no one
definition of popular culture seems able to withstand the critique without inciting new criticism. Instead,
all the definitions should be regarded as being complementary rather than in conflict with each other,
for every explanation carries a truth applicable to that present time and the people involved (Figure 1.3).
Figure 1.3 Popular culture evolution
To avoid being trapped in an endless discussion of popular culture definition, this study offers a different
way to approaching the phenomenon. Perhaps, it is wiser to step away from semantics and move towards
pragmatics. Brandom (2008/2010) wrote that semantics and pragmatics, where one is concerned with
meaning and the other with use, should be regarded as aspects of one picture. He argues that we can
deepen our semantics by the addition of pragmatics: “that what makes some bit of vocabulary mean what
it does, is how it is used” (pp. 8-9). This notion could be the key to understanding the phenomenon.
Rather than concentrating only on the meaning, the focus should shift towards the use. Perhaps it is
possible to make popular culture more comprehensible by dividing it into categories which can then be
sorted into main and subsidiary groups (Figure 1.4).
Figure 1.4 Popular culture categories: main and subsidiary groups
The list above is not exhaustive. There are many arguments as to what can be counted as popular culture.
Recent explanations include body art (e.g., henna art, tattoos, piercings), collectibles (e.g., cars, dolls,
Lego toys), sports memorabilia (e.g., baseball cards, jerseys), crafts (e.g., Washi paper art, Malaysian
batik painting), mass media, and even leisure activities (e.g., glamping, paddle-boarding) (see Brochado
& Pereira, 2017; Fedorak, 2018; McKnight, 2015). Some studies suggest looking at sports as an "avenue
of popular culture" (Newkirk, 2002) or consider "sports-spectatorship" as part of popular cultural
practice (Edensor, 2002). In tourism research, sports has been a consistent theme over the past several
decades, particularly in Australia (Deery & Jago, 2005; Ritchie & Adair, 2002; Ritchie, Mosedale, &
King, 2002), therefore, the decision was made not to focus on sports related content. This study will
limit its focus to the categories listed in Figure 1.4.
The technology has yet to establish its niche in popular culture, but the first steps are made, and the
future looks promising. Popular culture is transmitted by means of technology, whether it is television,
Popular TV shows
Comic books, graphic novels, and
Music Popular music, popular music events
Urban art, pop art, and famous
Urban Fashion, popular fashion,
popular brands and stores
Urban photography and related trends
Food Trendy foods and urban food culture
Technology Tech trends and popular digital
radio, or internet. Therefore, it is rightful to say that without access to modern technologies we do not
have or have a very limited access to popular culture, and vice versa: those of us who have unlimited
access to technologies are more exposed to popular culture. There is a direct link between popular culture
and the development of technologies (Bernstein, 1991; Ito, Okabe, & Matsuda, 2005; Reisinger, 2013).
Over the last decade technology became immensely commercial. The products are no longer judged
solely on their usability. Instead, they are judged based on their visual appearance and ergonomics.
Quoting Don Reisinger, a technology and business writer for CNET, New York Times, Computerworld,
and Fortune: "Computers are now personality-extensions, with branding and design to reflect that"
(Reisinger, 2013). With the help of such prominent figures as Steve Jobs, technology can be considered
as a new addition to popular culture family. More discussion of this perspective can be found in later
1.4 What is popular culture tourism?
As it often occurs in science, or in life in general for that matter, all new and emerging phenomena are
initially treated with suspicion and a healthy dose of skepticism. And so it happened, that older scientific
fields first welcomed tourism studies with traditional condescending scorn.
We may be loath to admit any relationship to the sandal-footed, camera-toting legions in our
midst, the truth is that tourism can be an ideal context for studying issues of political economy,
social change and development, natural resource management, and cultural identity (Stronza,
Tourism struggled until the 1990s to be accepted as a standalone field of research in the academic
community (Taillon & Jamal, 2009). Conscious of its youthfulness, tourism fought hard to define itself
in ways which would give it academic weight (Tribe, 1997). One of the early questions tourism
researchers tried to tackle was whether tourism studies is a discipline or a multidisciplinary field.
Unfortunately, the map or the boundaries of tourism studies are still not agreed on (Goodson &
Phillimore, 2004; Hall, Williams, & Lew, 2014). Since there seems to be no consensus on this matter,
this work assumes the latter. Not only does the multidisciplinary aspect of tourism lead to the definition
of tourism as an industry (Valente, 2015), it helps explain the theoretical framework and justify the
paradigm choice in later chapters of this thesis.
The other question that troubled tourism researchers was the meaning of the word tourism. The word
tourism is problematic, explains Tribe, because it is used in common parlance: “its use is often
permissive and imprecise, and thus it can encompass a variety of meanings” (1997, p. 639). Depending
on the context, it can be described as an activity, a social or economic phenomenon, a business, or an
industry. Tribe (1997), for example, describes it as “an activity engaged in by human beings” that
includes “the act of travel from one place to another, a particular set of motives for engaging in that
travel (excluding commuting for work), and the engagement in activity at the destination” (p. 640).
Mathieson and Wall describe it as “the temporary movement to destinations outside the normal home
and workplace, the activities undertaken during the stay, and the facilities created to cater for the needs
of tourists” (1982, p. 1). The same themes, with an emphasis on the economic and business aspects of
tourism, can be found in Ryan’s definition of tourism. He describes it as “a study of the demand for and
supply of accommodation and supportive services for those staying away from home, and the resultant
patterns of expenditure, income creation, and employment” (1991, p. 5). Major players, such as airlines,
hotels, travel agents, guides, and tour operators, have increasingly integrated in the industry further
blurring the boundaries of tourism. Indeed, Poon argues that “as the boundaries among players are re-
defined, what becomes more relevant are the activities along the value chain that they control” (1993, p.
A contemporary definition of tourism, this time offered by the World Tourism Organization, reads as
Tourism is a social, cultural and economic phenomenon which entails the movement of people
to countries or places outside their usual environment for personal or business/professional
purposes. These people are called visitors (which may be either tourists or excursionists;
residents or nonresidents) and tourism has to do with their activities, some of which involve
tourism expenditure” (UNWTO, 2014).
In a way, tourism is akin to popular culture. Quite like early tourism, popular culture has played many
secondary roles in academic discourse, provoking casual disdain due to its potential lack of intellectual
credibility. The connection between popular culture and tourism becomes even more pronounced if you
look at it through the lens of sociology. Popular culture, explains Grindstaff (2008), is traditionally
perceived as a subfield of sociology, but it can also be a separate arena of inquiry taken up by other
disciplines. So is tourism. Combined, popular culture and tourism are yet to make a leading appearance
in the scientific world.
Contemporary tourism is very diverse. Tourists are encouraged to explore the most incredible places on,
under or even above the earth (Lemelin, Dawson, & Stewart, 2013). The opportunities provided by
modern technologies push the boundaries of the travel market further each year, helping the market
expand its product range (UNWTO Secretary-General Speech at ITB Berlin, 3 March 2015). As it
expands the travel sector interacts with other industries. A good example of such expansion is the giant
entertainment industry, which has developed rapidly with the help of communication media. PwC’s
Cities of Opportunity report (Bothun et al., 2015) shows that less than 30 big urban cities alone are
estimated to spend a staggering $184 billion on the entertainment and related media by 2018 with
employment at 6.3 million people. Tourists are among the increasing numbers of those in the
entertainment and media driven audiences. Such travel is triggered not only by the real-world images
but also by the images from the imaginary worlds (Reijnders, 2010; Shandley, Jamal, & Tanase, 2006).
Strange though it may sound, people travelling to such locations are willing to enter the imaginary places
of fiction through real places. Jean Baudrillard (1994), to a certain extent, has explained this paradox
between reality and simulacra in his work on Simulacra and Simulation, which speaks of relationships
among reality, symbols, and modern society. Being a big part of the entertainment world, popular culture
has branched beyond that industry and is now aiming to establish itself in tourism. This has created a
phenomenon known as popular culture tourism (PCT).
Some researchers believe that popular culture tourism started to evolve in the early 1930's, with films
causing tourists to rush to different film locations (Roesch, 2010). In the 1950s, an American
entrepreneur Walter Elias Disney inspired by the success of early screen tourism opened his first
Disneyland. It all started with a desire to build a tourist attraction to entertain fans who wished to visit
his production studios in Burbank. Inspired by many screen fans, and his daughter, Walt Disney created
a symbol of modern popular culture – Disneyland, the world's most famous theme park. This symbiosis
between early popular culture and tourism was well described by Ritzer & Liska (1997) and Shaw &
Williams (2004) in their works about McDisneyfication and tourism.
The early academic studies related to PCT focused mainly on screen or film-induced tourism. Connell
(2012) notes that the first rigorous studies emerged in the early 1990s. As the connection between
popular culture and tourism strengthened with every blockbuster and bestseller released, more research
papers appeared. The works explaining a variety of phenomena, such as screen tourism (Beeton, 2010;
Chua & Iwabuchi, 2008; Larson, Lundberg, & Lexhagen, 2013; Roesch, 2010), literary tourism (Fawcett
& Cormack, 2001; Hoppen, Brown, & Fyall, 2014; Mansfield, 2015), music tourism (Gibson & Connell,
2003, 2005, 2007) start attracting the attention of many tourism stakeholders. It is, therefore, hardly
surprising to find destination marketing organizations (DMOs) all around the world becoming
increasingly interested in the subject of PCT. Despite being a relatively new element of tourism activity,
high-profile DMOs utilise PCT in inbound marketing campaigns, most notably in the UK, USA, Canada,
New Zealand, and Korea (Chua & Iwabuchi, 2008; Connell, 2012; Fawcett & Cormack, 2001).
There is no strict rationale for explaining the success behind PCT. Thornton (2016) observes that more
people want a live experience which is not mediated by the screen even though the initial interest may
be triggered by it (the screen). Perhaps, as Baudrillard explained back in 1983, with the "real" being
produced from models, from matrices, from memory banks – it no longer needs to be rational, since it
is no longer measured against some ideal instance. This yearning for “imaginary elsewhere” and an
“imaginary elsewhen” (Friedberg, 1993, p. 8) creates new cultural landscapes, offering a new
community to belong to and operate in (Jewell & McKinnon, 2008). The scenario such as Disneyland is
an "imaginary effect concealing that reality no more exists outside than inside the bounds of the artificial
perimeter" (p. Hlynka & Belland, 1991, p. 454). Beeton (2016) even refers to this type of behaviour as
a new cultural pilgrimage.
Further inquiries into the topic of reality and simulacra, reveal one of the more important traits of PCT.
Once again quoting Jean Baudrillard:
When the real is no longer what it used to be, nostalgia assumes its full meaning... There is an
escalation of the true, of the lived experience; a resurrection of the figurative where the object
and substance have disappeared (Baudrillard, 1981, p. 369).
Nostalgia is often seen as a major driving force of PCT (Chua & Iwabuchi, 2008; Cho, 2011; Jewell &
McKinnon, 2008; Lai, 2001; Salkowitz, 2012). Jewell and McKinnon (2008) describe it as a form of
“imagined nostalgia”, where nostalgia symbolises an “idyllic bygone era” (p. 155) or a romantic
ideology (Goulding, 2001). This assumption can explain the significant span of ages (18 through 60+)
among pop-culture adult tourists (for more details see Chapter 3).
Another important characteristic of PCT is familiarity. There are many works on authenticity and
familiarity in tourism destinations, arguing about the importance of the “equilibrium between authentic
features of a tourist destination and familiar elements” (Tasci & Knutson, 2004, p. 85). Tasci and
Knutson (2004) describe familiar “as frequently seen or experienced, easily recognised, of everyday
occurrence, common, customary, every day, frequent” (p. 88). They argue that people, in general, have
a tendency to "be on the safe side", and are more likely to purchase the products that they have already
seen, tried, or heard about (p. 88). They further explain that familiar objects and services at the
destination might ensure the sense of security and comfort for those tourists who feel threatened by new
environments. There are not many things more familiar than popular culture. The PCT seems like an
ideal solution that can help a destination achieve a balanced level of authenticity and familiarity.
In the end, what is popular culture tourism? Lexhagen, Larson, and Lundberg (2014) refer to the term as
“tourism induced by pop culture” (p. 134). The definition offered by Lundberg and Lexhagen (2014),
which is probably the one most widely agreed upon in the field today, describes PCT as tourism that
emerged from pop culture phenomena such as books, films, and music. To make the term more inclusive
and reflective of the diversity that permeates popular culture, one must also add that PCT is a unique
product concept that offers an experience which combines two powerful sectors of economy: popular
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