To read this content please select one of the options below:

The ordinary – extraordinary dialectics in tourist metropolises

Leopold Lucas (Institute of Geography and Sustainability, Universite de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland)

International Journal of Tourism Cities

ISSN: 2056-5607

Article publication date: 21 November 2018

Issue publication date: 12 March 2019




Starting from the hypothesis of an ordinary/extraordinary tension that drives the link between tourist places and non-tourist places, this paper discusses the issue of tourist spatial delimitations. Rather than take such an issue for granted, the paper argues that the author needs to understand how the different actors within the tourism system create specific delimitations and how tourists deal with these delimitations. To pinpoint these tourist spatial delimitations, this paper considers three types of discourses: the discourse of local promoters, the discourse of guidebooks and the discourse of tourists. The purpose of this paper is to explain not only the tourist delimitations established by these actors but also the concordance between the guidebooks’ prescriptions, the public actors’ strategies and the tourists’ practices. In this empirical investigation, the author uses the case of Los Angeles and focuses more specifically on the two main tourist places within the agglomeration: Hollywood and Santa Monica. The argument supports the idea that political actors tend to develop what the author could consider a tourist secession, as the author tends to precisely delimit the designated area for the sake of efficiency. Guidebooks, which the author must consider because they are true and strong prescribers of tourist practices, draw their own tourist neighbourhoods. Finally, most tourists in Los Angeles conform to these delimitations and do not venture off the beaten track.


This paper examines three types of discourses: the discourse of local tourism promoters, the discourse of tourist guidebooks and the discourse of tourists. The purpose of the study is to explain not only the tourist delimitations established by these actors but also the concordance between the guidebooks’ prescriptions, the public actors’ strategies and the tourists’ practices. To conduct this analysis, this paper relied on an empirical survey (Lucas, 2014b) whose methodology used a range of different techniques. First, interviews with Convention and Visitors Bureau managers were performed to understand the delimitations established by the institutional actors directly in charge of the tourist development of those places. Second, the second kind of discourse considered here is that in guidebooks. Los Angeles is often included in guidebooks about California in general, albeit with a much shorter number of pages. Although all guidebooks were considered, the study mostly focused on those specifically dedicated to Los Angeles (Time Out, Rough Guide and Lonely Planet) to conduct a thick analysis of their discourses and to note the spatial delimitations that they established. The author must regard guidebooks as the prescribers of practices because they represent a source of information for tourists. The aim is to determine how tourists follow – or do not follow – the recommendations of guidebooks. Third, to understand these practices, the paper considers numerous interviews (approximately seventy) conducted with tourists.


Thus, in these two examples, the author has distinguished powerful delimitations of the tourist places created by promoters through their discourse, which provides information on how they promote the place through urban planning. This tourist staging, and all the specific processing of the place, contributes to a clear distinction between these places and the rest of the urban environment, allowing a very precise definition. The distinction is made from one street to another. However, these delimitations are mainly defined by the practices of the tourists: they have a very selective way of dealing with the public space of the two places concerned. They validate, update and thus make relevant the limits established by the institutional operators, sometimes performing even stricter operations of delimitation. This way of dealing with space is observed in the urban planning and in the discourses on the tourist places expressed in the guidebooks. There are no tactics to bypass, divert and subvert the spatial configuration settled by local authorities and guidebooks; tourists do not attempt to discover new places or to go off the beaten track (Maitland and Newman, 2009). Yet, this is not the only explanation for the way in which tourists occupy a place. Although the guidebooks perform the operations of delimitation and rank places (insisting on one place over another and highlighting what should be seen, where to go, etc.), they also exhaustively present the practices that one can perform, and how tourists deal with space either hints at their disregard of these tools or at individuals’ selection based on the information given. In Hollywood, as in Santa Monica, while the guidebooks exhaustively enumerate the numerous sites that might be interesting for tourist practices, the author observes a very important and discriminating concentration of these tourist practices within a precisely delimited perimeter, respectively, the Walk of Fame and the Ocean Front Walk: tourists walk from one street to another and from a full to an empty space. Thus, the author can support the idea that how tourists cope with space are temporary, delimited by highly targeted practices and restricted only to a few tourist places.


What about the ordinary/extraordinary dialectic? Most tourists do not look for something ordinary; yet, the entirety of what could be considered as “extraordinary” in one metropolis is not included in its tourism space. On the contrary, tourist places can also be seen as “ordinary.” Nevertheless, there is clearly a distinction observed through the discourses, but also in the practices, between an “inside” and an “outside” and between something extraordinary and one’s ordinary environment. One can interpret this result as an actual confirmation of the classic combination (tourist/sight/marker) that constitutes a “tourist attraction” (MacCannell, 1976, p. 44), which concerns a very specific way of dealing with space in Los Angeles. Tourists do not practice Los Angeles as the author might assume that they would typically practice other metropolises, e.g. strolling down the streets randomly. The two places examined in this paper are open to that kind of practice. One can consider that these places have a higher degree of urbanity than the average area of Los Angeles precisely because there are tourists. The density in terms of buildings is (relatively) more important and accompanied by a narrative construction of the urban space (the historic dimension of the buildings), and the public space has undergone specific urban planning and given special consideration, at least greater consideration than elsewhere. In these places, the author finds a concentration of population – the metropolitan crowd – that is otherwise very rare in Los Angeles. However, the tourists seem to have a limited interest in these attractions. These classic characteristics of urbanity do not seem to be regarded positively by a certain number of tourists and are not taken into consideration by tourists. This observation contrasts somewhat with the idea that dwelling touristically in a metropolis primarily entails the discovery of its urbanity (Equipe MIT, 2005). Discovering Los Angeles does not consist of experiencing the local society and of exploring the urban space but, rather, of performing specific practices in Los Angeles (seeing the Hollywood sign and the Stars and walking along the famous beaches). Two approaches can help us understand this gap: considering Los Angeles as a specific case or considering that the spatial configuration of Los Angeles enables us to bring out the logic at work in other metropolises but that would be too complex to distinguish here. Perhaps, the author finds both elements, and this reflection must invite the author to continue the discussion on the logic of tourists’ practice of metropolises: are they really looking for a maximal urbanity during their metropolitan experiences?



Lucas, L. (2019), "The ordinary – extraordinary dialectics in tourist metropolises", International Journal of Tourism Cities, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 17-34.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, International Tourism Studies Association

Related articles