Destination life cycle and implications for tourism studies in emerging destinations

Destination life cycle and tourist typology

In traditional marketing, the product life cycle (PLC) is a particularly brilliant idea invented by Theodore Levitt (1965). The product life cycle model breaks down the stages of product development, from start to shutdown, which is 1) market introduction, 2) growth, 3) mature, 4) saturation and decline. There is an opinion that each phase has characteristics, needs (i.e., consumer behavior), and challenges. Since the entire tourism destination can be considered as a product, this model is also used in destination marketing as a useful framework for studying travel behavior and destination management.

According to Piuchan (2018), two well-known ideas the most cited about product life cycles in tourism research are the Tourism Area Life Cycles (TALC) by Richard Butler (1980, 2006) and “Tourist’s Psychological typology and life cycle of destinations ” by Plog (1974, 2001). These models have been widely accepted and applied by scholars around the world and have retained their relevance for more than three decades as pioneering concepts of tourism. Plog’s model derives from travelers’ psychological approach, which stipulates that tourists with a specific personality will prefer a corresponding development stage of the destination (Plog, 1974). On the other hand, the Tourism Area Life Cycles introduces the development stage of the resort and shows that the tourism increase is related to its impacts on the destination (Diedrich, Garcia-Buades, 2009).

Butler’s Model

Butler (1980) developed the life cycle theory of products to tourist destinations called Tourism Area Life Cycle (TALC). This predictive model of tourism uses the number of tourists as a variable that drives the life cycle over time and characterizes a stage of tourism development. The first stage of the destination, exploration, was carried out by a small number of tourists due to the lack of equipment and inconvenience. This period is for tourists who seek pure nature and appreciate cultural differences. The next stage, involvement, begins to provide key facilities and informal involvement between locals and tourists. The destination attracts many tourists from specific groups. In the stages of development, the destinations become more touristic and are advertised. Natural and cultural resources are well developed and positioned in the market. Local participation seems to be declining and more regional and national involvement in the planning and development of regions to attract more tourists from different markets. The consolidation stage results in a decrease in the rate of growth in the number of tourists, although the total number continues to increase.

The next stage passed to a period of stagnation. The peak number of tourists has reached and even exceeded the capacity level. The destination depends on repeat tourists and regular tourists. Following this step, Butler identified the range of five possible scenarios between complete innovation and complete decline. At a period of decline, the region could not compete with other recent attractions. The trend of access begins to decline, and it is no longer attractive to tourists, but there are still some visits on the weekends, while the rejuvenation stage can start over in the tourist area and recreate the image of the destination.

Butler (2006)’s Tourism Area Life Cycle (TALC).

Plog’s model

Stanley Plog (1974) presented a model of tourist characteristics on a psychological scale to distinguish types of tourists, such as travel patterns, personalities, and preferred destinations. The targeted sample comprised U.S. residents who were labeled as flyers and non-flyers because the study was conducted for air travel business. These tourists are classified into five segments from Psychocentric, Near-Psychocentric, Mid-Centric, Near-Allocentric, and Allocentric, and show a normal distribution curve (a bell curve). Then, in 2001, the model was updated, renamed Psychocentric as “Dependable” and Allocentric as “Adventurer,” and further explain the relationship between the personality of tourists and their selection of the destination. At one extreme, Psychocentrics or Dependables represented those are not psychologically adventurous and prefer familiar destinations; Another extreme is Allocentrics, or Venturers representing adventure seekers who travel mainly to explore the world; and Mid-Centrics is located between two extremist groups to which the majority of tourists belong (Plog, 2001). Adventurers as seekers are the first group to discover new destinations and pass on their travel experiences to their friends who wish to follow similar destinations, so-called near-adventurers. The next stages of the destination begin and are being kept on hold in greater numbers and are improving the image of the destination to target more tourists. Figure 4 demonstrates the clusters more clearly.

Plog (2001)’s destination typology

Source: Piuchan (2018)

Despite the Plog and Butler models have been widely taught in tourism school, and frequently cited in tourism research, many researchers have doubted their validity and applicability. Researchers then tried to confirm and test these two models (e.g., George et al., 2013; Ho, McKercher, 2015; Muangasame, 2014; Litvin, 2006; McKercher, 2005a, 2005b; Park, Jang, 2014; Smith, 1990).

The Plog model is found much more useful in understanding tourists, accessing destinations of each type rather than predicting the stages of the life cycle. Models can provide insight into the type of individuals who will want to visit their preferred destinations at the macro level. The Tourism Area Lifecycle (TALC) model guides destination management tasks. However, the two models cannot determine at which stage a destination is.  To solve this problem, Getz (1992) proposed a set of product life cycle indices (PLC) for the destination in order to identify the stages of the destination life cycle (Table 8):

Getz (1992)’s PLC Indicators of tourism destination

Source: Getz, D. (1992)

Besides, the Plog model does not work well for explaining the life cycle of the destination. When using the Plog model to describe the destination stage, the model resembles the life-to-death analogy, because the destinations must include a stage of decline. The dominant percentage of allocentric tourists is assumed to indicate that a particular destination is in the preliminary stage of the life cycle, then climbs to the next stage according to the increasing number of tourist arrivals in the destinations, when it reaches a large number of mid-centrics, the destination receives the signal from the mature phase of the life cycle (Liu et al., 2008).

Litvin’s (2006) study presents a more practical level and claims to the invalidity of Plog’s model. He claims that the majority curve skews toward psychocentric destinations rather than central centers, which argues that if this model uses to explain at the stage of the destination’s life cycle, the graph should be visually a high increase in psychocentric destinations. For Piuchan (2018), the destination lifespan curve is more consistent with Butler’s rather than Plog’s and proposed a hybrid model by merging the two previous models into one.

Hybrid model of destination life cycle and tourist typology

Source: Piuchan (2018)

Emerging destinations and tourists’ motivations

In practice, “emerging (tourism) destination” is usually interpreted as a geopolitical region where tourism has just been regarded as a primary socio-economic development means and where the community has shown willingness to leverage the tourism potentials to improve their socio-economic well-being (Esu, 2010) or simply as a country where tourism contributes an annually significant percentage to its GDP (Nghiem-Phu, 2018).

However, numerous tourism scholars prefer using Butler’s TALC models to define an emerging destination (Baum, 2006; Robin, C. F., Pedroche, M. S. C., & Astorga, P. S, 2017; Hunt, C., Stronza, A., 2014; Alonso-Almeida et al., 2016). Hunta and Stronza (2014) contested that emerging destinations are those that enter the development stage of Butler’s TALC. 

Inferring from the implications of two models of the destination life cycle, these authors proposed some basic assumptions about an emerging destination. Consequently, an emerging tourism destination is featured, on the supply side, by the government’s acceptance and the community’s recognition of tourism as a strategic sector for the economic growth; the introduction of strategies to realize these visions (product design and development), the proactiveness that accompanies the idea of having an identity as a tourism destination. On the demand side (i.e., tourist behavior), emerging destinations are likely to appeal to allocentric tourists with a robust novelty-seeking motivation. In contrast, advanced destinations with a high degree of familiarity and comfort are likely to appeal to psychocentric tourists.

Hunt and Stronza (2014) further argued that due to the nature of an emerging market economy, traveling to it is a new experience in itself. Depending on the size of the market, tourists may find themselves in what looks like virgin land. This perception comes from new or growing investments in tourism infrastructure. Emerging destinations are generally cheaper to travel with basic living expenses, like food or accommodation, which tends to be less expensive. It can be pointed out that emerging destinations were once attractive to tourists due to their economically underdeveloped nature and the search by tourists for “real experiences,” such as ecotourism.

Indeed, several studies on motivations of tourists to emerging destinations have proved the usefulness and validity of the destination life cycle model (Callender & Page, 2003; Bigne, Sanchez & Andreu 2009). A study by Dayour and Adongo (2015) to test the motivation of 650 international tourists visiting northern Ghana found that 81.8% of the respondents went to the north of Ghana to look for novelty. Seyanont (2017) similarly states that the main reasons that older European tourists visit Thailand are the need to see and experience new, exciting, and differentiated things from their culture. A study of international tourists coming to Thailand by Yiamjanya and Wongleedee (2014) find that accumulating experience abroad is the most important driving force for international tourists, followed by learning new knowledge, relaxing culture abroad, enjoying Thai culture, staying away from daily life and adventure. Nghiêm-Phu (2018) Khuong & Ha (2014) revealed the superiority of novelty-seeking over escaping in their participants’ push motivation to Vietnam


The rise of emerging destinations has affected both sides of the international tourism market. On the supply side, it offered a more diversified destination collection, which is full of a novel experience for tourists to discover, leading to fierce competition among countries. On the demand side, it contributes to the complexity of international tourists’ profiles with different cultures, younger ages (millennials) with high novelty seeking motivation.

It is also supposed that at different stages of development of a destination will attract tourists of different motivations and psychological attributes. Emerging destinations (i.e., under the development phase in destination life cycle) therefore are assumed appealing an enormous number of leisure tourists with a high level of novelty-seeking motivation.

These key assumptions of international tourist behavior should not be ignored in studies of tourism issues at emerging destinations.


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