Discourse(s) of growth and sustainability in national tourism policy documents

Torkington, Kate, Stanford, Davina and Guiver, Jo W orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-6126-3662 (2020) Discourse(s) of growth and sustainability in national tourism policy documents. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 28 (7). pp. 1041-1062. ISSN 0966-9582

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1080/09669582.2020.1720695


Using a corpus of seven European national tourism policy documents, this research examined the language used to resolve the apparently conflicting goals of economic growth and social and environmental sustainability. The detailed discourse analysis, using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, found wide scale appropriation of the term ‘sustainable’, but no definitions or operationalisation. In fact, there was no acknowledgement that growth and sustainability were conflicting priorities, but ‘sustainable’ was used to give a hint of ecological sustainability, while actually meaning ‘sustained’ in phrases such as ‘sustainable growth’ and ‘sustainable development’. Thus ‘sustainable’ is appropriated to suggest continued growth, rather than reflecting the finite limits of ecological and societal sustainability. Economic goals were portrayed as instrumental to communities’ wellbeing, without evaluation, while environmental sustainability was depicted as instrumental to maintaining tourist demand. A variety of linguistic devices were used to normalise and promote economic growth including up/down metaphors and associating growth with good health and thriving and a lack of growth with poor health and looking for recovery. Countries’ competitive aspirations militate against cooperative action to reduce the environmental damage caused by international tourism. The findings illustrate how language supports neoliberal hegemony, while paying lip-service to sustainability.

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