Discussing the Spatial Underpinnings of Tourism Policy and Planning in Romania.

AuthorPopescu, Claudia
  1. Introduction (1)

    After the regime change in 1990, Romania embarked on profound structural changes to the national economy whereby tourism gained importance as a driver of economic diversification and regional development. Despite the high increase in tourism infrastructure (161.5% change rate of accommodation firms), domestic and international tourist arrivals grew only marginally (by 8.77% between 1990 and 2019). Consequently, Romania has more than a modest contribution to European tourism (0.4% of Europe international arrivals and 0.5% of receipts--well behind Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and comparable to Lithuania and Slovakia) (WTO International Tourism Highlights 2019 Edition). Recent cross-country analyses focused on European tourism label Romania as a 'non-tourism country' that scores low in every indicator related to sustainability, performance, and competitiveness (Romao et al., 2017; Batista e Silva et al., 2018). Placed outside the mainstream European tourism market, Romania is a revealing case study to illustrate the role of policy and planning to support tourism as a driver of development.

    As part of the accession process to the European Union, a master plan was issued in 2006 to set the legislative framework for long-term sustainable development and management. Designed to guide tourism development for the next two decades (2006-2026), the master plan failed to bridge the gap between the policy goals and outcomes (Popescu et al., 2022). Seven years before the reference period ended, the strategy for tourism development was redesigned in 2019 pointing to institutional instability, poor administrative capacity, and financial shortages as the main factors that prevented the implementation of the master plan. The failure of the formal policy fueled the view that the restructuring of the tourism industry is mainly the result of uncoordinated private investments (Light and Dumbraveanu, 1999) with tourism 'flourishing rather despite of government actions' (Hall and Page, 2009) and almost no state-sponsored promotion (Light, 2017) where many programs and initiatives were abandoned due to changes of interests and focus of the political decision-makers (Pop et al., 2017). The repositioning of tourism products, triggered by the shift from mass social tourism to mainly non-mass experiences, bears distinct geographical dimensions (Light and Dumbraveanu, 1999) with the emergence of new tourism destinations (Light, 2017; Iorio and Corsale, 2014) and the articulation/disarticulation of tourism space (Benedek and Dezsi, 2004; Constantin and Reveiu, 2018; Cehan et al., 2019).

    However, revisiting the master plan based on content analysis (semantic clustering and relatedness of the key terms), Popescu et al. (2022) identify the neglect of 'space' and related terms (balanced territorial development, unevenness, and inequalities) as one of its main liabilities. The aim of this paper is to provide policy-makers with insights into the relevance of space and spatial analysis to restructure the tourism strategy, especially in anticipation of further revisions of tourism strategies in the post-COVID19 era. Hence, the paper examines the emerging tourism concentrations of supply and demand, and the spatial changes that reconfigured the tourism industry to highlight their implications for strategic policy and planning. We first question the locational patterns pursued by tourism accommodation establishments along the time-space axis. These firms provide the core activities of the emerging concentrations; therefore, their spatial pattern helps the understanding of the relationships between territorial capabilities, tourism dynamics, and regional economies. Engaging with a space-time analysis, we assess the spatial inequalities of tourism concentrations with varying location quotients and the trajectories of change that contribute to reshaping the tourism space. Then, with the focus on explaining emerging spatialities of accommodation firms and tourist flows, we employ spatial scaling to zoom into the articulation of tourism change and space along the meso (NUTS3--county) and micro (LAU2--locality) scales of analysis. Finally, mapping the space-tourism realignments, we discuss the binary categories of tourism concentrations (with location quotients above and below the cut-off value of 1 in relation to contextual factors and development indicators to reveal the agglomeration externalities on tourism supply and demand. Our spatial analysis enables us to address policy implications that might guide the future oftourism in Romania.

    The relevance of the paper is two-fold. From a conceptual point of view, the case of Romanian tourism links to a broader surge of concerns over tourism transformation and adaptation to the changing context in CEE countries (Majewska, 2015; David and Toth, 2012; Croes et al., 2021). In this regard, our approach addresses the debates on the spatial underpinnings of tourism and their role in producing knowledge for policy and planning. From a practical point of view, we attend to the relevance of our findings for policy formulation by examining the spatial arrangements of tourism concentrations of supply and demand. Engaging with a spatial approach, we aim to bridge the gap between theory and practice by providing more in-depth insights to frame contextually sensitive policy interventions. We argue that the tourism policy can benefit from the integrated approach of tourism and space interactions and dependencies.

    The paper proceeds as follows. In the next section, we discuss the theoretical and conceptual framework of spatial tourism changes. Then, we present the operationalization of our approach based on space-time analysis, scale as relation, and territorial context to assess the spatial patterns of tourism supply and demand. Section 4 discusses the results and the last section concludes the paper.

  2. Building on spatial concepts and mechanisms to provide tourism policy-relevant information

    Abundant literature discusses the concepts that relate space to tourism and advocates the need to integrate space among the various dimensions and criteria of tourism policy. To start with, we should understand that the tourism space is not a fixed spatial entity (Miller, 2017). It is constantly produced and consumed through negotiated (re)production (Ateljevic, 2000), whereby places and spaces are invested with social meanings and representations allowing the incorporation into the processes associated with tourism (Britton, 1991). Tourism features strong localized production and consumption with highly concentrated supply and demand (Carreras, 1995) and co-existing unstable and heterogeneous spatial patterns (Yang and Wong, 2013). Given the production and consumption dialectics, there is a widespread understanding that 'geography is the substance of tourism' (Dallen, 2018). Relying on the geographical tenets of space, place, and location, tourism is unraveled as spatially dynamic where change is intrinsic to its evolution. Historical processes, power relations, public policy, and resource management help understand how tourism works with localities and localities with tourism (Saarinen etal., 2017). Central to the geographical analysis is how tourism develops, advances across space, and capitalizes on territorial resources and attributes.

    One of the axioms of spatial thinking 'location matters' is epitomized in the 'first law of geography' invoked by Tobler (1970). Its basic statement 'everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things' opened new avenues of research regarding proximity, accessibility, interaction, and spatial patterns (Joo et al., 2017; Walker, 2022; Foresman and Luscombe, 2017). This stream of research has been more recently reinforced by advancements in geographical information systems (Goodchild, 2004; Miller, 2004; Majewska 2015, 2017). Location is an economic variable that affects the geography of tourism and its focus on tourism activities across space (Xu et al., 2021). The localization economies are typically defined as deriving from knowledge spillovers, labor market pooling, and vertical linkages that incentivize firms sharing similar inputs, technologies, and workforce to co-locate.

    In such a context, proximity holds a central role in the geographical concentration of firms, especially because the tourism industry is strongly labor-intensive with a high potential for personal interactions that trigger knowledge spillovers (Kim et al., 2021). In particular, this is appealing for low-resource firms that locate close to others seeking to benefit from resource spillover whereas high-resource firms prefer co-location with similar firms in the attempt to avoid the spillovers of resources (Kalnins and Chung, 2004). In the same vein, Salo et al. (2014) and Seul (2015) conclude that tourism firms choose to cooperate and compete with similar counterparts rather than with those that are differentiated in terms of performance. Grounded on location and proximity, the agglomeration of firms drives tourism growth through intra-sectoral externalities (Yang and Fik, 2014) due to localized production and consumption and space-time interconnections of goods and services (Majewska, 2017).

    The benefits of agglomeration extend beyond the shared access to infrastructure, reduced consumer search costs, timely information externalities, and improved labor productivity (Urtasun and Gutierrez, 2006; Chan et al., 2012; Marco-Lajara et al., 2016). The research focus translated to addressing the multiplier effects of tourism and the relationships between tourism concentration and local, and regional economies (Majewska, 2015; Yang and Fik, 2014; Bohlin et al., 2020). The scale of backward linkages, the size, and type of tourism revenues, and the characteristics of economic structures shape the role of tourism in influencing regional and local development...

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