The following article has the purpose of defining what "Alternative Tourism" is. To understand this concept we should explore what tourism is and begin classifying in some way the diverse types of tourism. The diverse tourism types are created from the experiences that tourists want to experience; such are the cases of the nature tourism, cultural tourism, adventure tourism, among others. Each type of tourism is a way to give a denomination to a new market niche for a different experience.
Such is the case of the two big types of tourism: (1) mass tourism, and (2) alternative tourism.
"Mass Tourism" or "Traditional Tourism" generally refers to the big conglomerates or tourist resorts in the world. Where the tourist companies are property of big transnational corporations, where one expects the same type of service and facilities whether in Bali or in New York, and where there is little interaction with the local communities.
On other a counterpart has arisen hence its name "Alternative Tourism", concept that is defined as not being mass tourism. Under the alternative tourism concept we can find a series of classifications and types of tourism. What characterizes the concept of "Alternative" is the existence of small or medium companies, created by families or friends, where there is the possibility of more contact with the communities and where most of the times there is a respect for the environment. This concept is generally used by government institutions and academics, and very rarely a traveller will ask in an information centre for places or activities of alternative tourism.
Some researches have tried to define alternative tourism as a tourism that gives emphasis to the contact and understanding between the hosts and the tourist, as well as the environment (Smith & Eadington, 1992 as cited in Newsome, Moore & Dowling, 2002). Also as a tourism that is consistent with the natural, social and community values and that allows a positive relationship among locals and tourists (Wearing & Neil, 1999 as cited in Newsome, Moore & Dowling, 2002). Alternative tourism includes micro and small companies of local inhabitants' property (Cater, 1993 as cited in Newsome, Moore & Dowling, 2002). Other characteristics of alternative tourism are smaller impacts in the natural and social environments, links with other sectors (agriculture, craft) of the local economy and retention of earnings in the region (Newsome, Moore & Dowling, 2002).
As we already mentioned government institutions use the concept and many times in an incorrect way, including in the "alternative" activities things like golf! In spite of these errors and the incorrect classifications that governments make of the different types of alternative tourism, we consider that the concept is useful.
The classifications that can be included under the concept of alternative tourism can be Natural, Cultural, Events and Others. The "Natural" (tourism that you can undertake in natural places, about the nature, and/or for the preservation of the natural environment) it includes: adventure tourism, ecotourism, and nature tourism. The "Cultural" (tourism that involves contact and learning about a culture) it includes the archaeological, rural tourism, religious and ethnic. "Events" (tourism interested in experiencing characteristic events of an area or important annual events) that include sports, carnivals and festivals for example. In the classification of other everything enters that you cannot include in the other classifications like volunteering, farm stays, educational tourism, etc.
The present article tried to define what alternative tourism is and its usefulness as a concept to classify the diverse types of tourism that emerge in the international market. It was not defined only by its counterpart "mass tourism", but also through the type of experiences lived by the tourist, the way it is supplied through small and medium operators, as well as by whom is benefited with the revenues of these companies. Although it is a concept many times criticized to be of little use by the operators and tourists it helps us to understand that the experiences searched for by the tourists are changing. Tourism is looking for an "alternative" both cultural and natural, both personal and authentic, an "alternative tourism."
Newsome, D., Moore S.A., Dowling, R.K. (2002) Natural Area Tourism: Ecology, Impacts and Management. UK: Channel View publications, Ecoturismolatino