Borders, a blessing in disguise? A structural analysis of tourism and regional development processes in European borderlands
Solutions for regional development questions are increasingly sought in cross-border cooperative arrangements. The tourism sector is often assigned with a high potential in this regard due to the sector’s alleged contributions to the economic viability and quality of life in rural destinations, and the assumed ease with which cross-border tourism projects can be initiated. However, the underlying mechanisms behind tourism-related regional development processes in cross-border settings remain poorly understood. Combining tourism geographies, border studies and regional science, we I aim to fully understand the structural delivery mechanisms for tourism-induced regional development in European borderland contexts. First, we I conceptually and empirically explored the interactions between (holistic) landscapes, tourism landscapes, and regional development in rural destinations. Our findings indicate that tourism-related regional development depends not so much on optimizing individual activities and actions. Rather, regional development processes depend on interconnecting all emplaced tourism-related stakeholders, resources and activities within the wider regional system through multi-level governance. Destination-wide provision of institutional support for, and coordination with, local networking agencies such as community and entrepreneurial organizations provide a practical strategy to increase the socially and spatially integrative position of tourism in region-building processes. Second, we I applied and refined these insights to European borderland contexts. Building on empirical research in transnational and within-country borderlands in Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic, we I found that even though cross-border tourism project development shows to be relatively straightforward in most regions, there is no automatic one-to-one relation between tourism development and regional development. In absence of integrative institutional structures and inability of institutional brokers, uncoordinated cross-border tourism project development may even lead to asymmetrical development between borderlands. Establishing cross-border tourism governance and coordination mechanisms to avoid these outcomes is complicated by both sector-specific and more general border-related complexities. Potential facilitators for cross-border tourism cooperation, such as the presence of cross-border identity and historical connections, may indeed ease this process but cannot work miracles when administrative borders are institutionally hard. To summarize, borderlands tourism can indeed function as a tool for transnational and within-country cross-border regional development, but its complexity can be easily underestimated.