Seasonality refers to temporal fluctuations in the volume of tourism
. Normally recurring and often regular, they involve tourist
numbers and phenomena related to such fluctuations in receipts, visitation numbers, occupancy rates and bed nights. Seasonality is one of the most distinctive features of tourism in many parts of the world, and is generally viewed as a major problem facing the industry
. In many areas, considerable efforts have been made to reduce the seasonal changes in tourism, which have been blamed for low returns on investment
, problems in retaining staff, problems in accessing capital and problems in overuse and under use of the capacity of physical plant.
Seasonality can be categorised into two primary types: natural and institutional. The first is caused by temporal changes on an annual basis in the natural world, such as the four seasons, and corresponding changes in temperature, precipitation, sunshine and hours of daylight. These natural changes, which are primarily climatic in nature
, increase in severity as one moves further from the equator. Much of the traditional temporal patterns of tourism reflect seasons in the Northern Hemisphere, because most of the world's tourism originates in the developed countries and are located there.
The second form of seasonality in tourism, institutional, is caused by human decisions and relates to what were often traditional temporal variations in the patterns of human activity
and inactivity. This form varies much more widely across the world than the natural form, reflecting cultural diversity and beliefs. It is the accumulated result of religious, ethnic, cultural and social factors, and varies from patterns reflecting natural phenomena to historical inclinations. The most common form of institutionalised seasonality is the formal holiday
, derived in most cases from holy days of rest, common in form if not in date to most of the world's religions. Such breaks from work are normally of short duration and occur at similar but not exact times each year. Of more significance for tourism are the long holidays which reflect more recent institutional decisions and subsequent legislation
. The two major ones are school holidays, now enshrined in the concept of holidays with pay in most industrialised countries. Such holidays are normally in the summer season but increasingly are available at unspecified times during the year, thus reducing one element of seasonality which was extremely strong at the time
of the introduction of industrial holidays in the late nineteenth century.
There are other
less significant forms of seasonality in tourism. One is seasonality of a social nature whereby specific tourist activity is dominated by social factors and constraints such as fashion. In earlier years, specific and sharply defined seasons existed for participating in certain activities and for visiting facilities, such as taking the waters at spas, or hunting. Such seasons normally involved small numbers of elite tourists and are of less significance in contemporary tourism. Seasons relating to sporting activities are now more common and reflect to a degree climatic and related conditions which may be a requirement of the specific activity, such as skiing
. A great deal of the seasonal pattern of tourism can be explained by inertia and tradition
. People take holidays at specific times because that is when vacations have been taken historically.
Seasonality is viewed as a concern in many areas and in the industry because it results in uneven loading on facilities. Most elements of the tourism infrastructure have to be large enough to accommodate peal numbers and are therefore unused and unproductive for large periods of the year. While it may be that in a few areas it is possible to use labour for tourism which is employed in other activities in the non-tourist season, in most cases this is not feasible as the season often corresponds to times of peak demand
for labour for agriculture and other resource-related activities.
In two respects, seasonality can be viewed as a beneficial feature. In the case of the environment
, the non-tourist season allows for vegetation and wildlife to recover from the demands of tourism use. In the case of residents of destinations, the periods without tourists allow them a 'normal' life for part of the year. In such situations, some services may be discontinued or reduced because of lack of demand due to reduction in tourist numbers.
Efforts to reduce seasonality have been introduced in many areas, and include lengthening the main season of visitation, establishing alternative seasons based on other attractions, diversifying and broadening markets, staggering holidays to spread domestic tourism
over a longer period, creating off-season attractions such as festivals
and special events, and economic incentives such as differential taxation and pricing
. Almost all of the steps taken have been related to destination
areas, and few initiatives have been taken in origin regions. Perhaps for this reason, most attempts have not had lasting success. In many cases, while tourist arrivals have increased, numbers have also increased in the peak season, suggesting that seasonality is a complicated and deep-seated characteristic. In areas where there has been a change
in seasonal patterns, at least parts of the change appears to have come about through changes in the areas of origin of tourists, such as additional holidays and changes in tastes.
Seasonality also has spatial components, and is more accentuated in rural and remote regions and is less problematical in urban centres. Such destinations have more non-seasonal attractions and more business travel
and, in many cases, are less vulnerable to climatic changes. As well, many of their infrastructural features operate year-round, particularly those relating to accessibility
. The reasons for current patterns of seasonality have been little explored and may well relate more to the motivations and behavioural attributes of tourists than to innate climate
or historical characteristics in destination areas.
: climate; destination; marketing
Bar On, R.V (1975) Seasonality in Tourism, London: Economist Intelligence Unit. (Reviews season-ality in a number of countries.)
Butler, R.W (1994) 'Seasonality in tourism: issues and problems', in A.V. Seaton (ed.), Tourism State of the Art, Chichester: Wiley, 332-9. (Discusses origins and causes of seasonality in tourism and their policy