Urban Tourism and Evolutionary Economic Geography: Complexity and Co-evolution in Contested Spaces


Urban tourism is an important research topic whether in mass tourism resort areas where tourism is the economic staple or in metropolitan areas where it is one (or more) development path(s) among many. Urban areas are dynamic and fast-paced environments but are also places where social and economic inequalities are most stark. Economic geography is one theoretical perspective through which researchers address urban tourism. The recent "evolutionary turn" in economic geography is finding its way to tourism studies but has only been applied to a few urban tourism cases. This paper sets out the potential of evolutionary economic geography (EEG) as a conceptual framework for urban tourism studies. The analysis draws on recent studies of urban tourism from an evolutionary perspective to highlight the strengths of taking such an approach and a number of avenues yet to be explored are put forward. Urban tourism affects large numbers of residents and businesses as well as influencing labour flows, and so understanding the dynamic nature of its development paths is vital. Tourism development does not occur in a vacuum, and urban tourism is one area where the complexity of the tourism economy and its place within broader regional development strategies is most obvious. Under recent neoliberal policies of urban development, tourism has become closely associated with place-based competition and large capital investments. Urban tourism also enters the fray in matters of contested urban spaces with issues of local governance, such as privatisation of public space, moving increasingly to the fore. The paper concludes with a list of future approaches to evolutionary studies of urban tourism to broaden the scope beyond the dominant financial metrics of tourism success.

Document Type





complexity, co-evolution, evolutionary economic geography, tourism, urban

Publication Date


Journal Title

Urban Forum