|This paper adopts a geographical perspective to understand the conceptual and theoretical issues of resort morphology. Resort morphology refers to “the forms and associated functions of a destination area and their development”. Resort towns are differentiated from other urban areas in terms of morphology because of their functional emphasis on tourism. The literature reflects the significant interest of European geographers in the morphological study of coastal resort towns. However, limited attention has been given to resort morphology in developing countries. It is argued that the complex of contextual factors that influence the morphological character of resorts needs to be considered and, furthermore, there is a great need to develop a systematic approach for investigating resort morphology.
Based on a review of literature, this paper first introduces the contributions and implications of related research to the understanding of resort morphology: study of resort evolution, the Recreational Business District, urban morphology, and Geographic Information System (GIS) applications. Then, the situation of China is addressed because there is a striking contrast between the rate of change and increasing complexity of Chinese resorts and the very limited amount of studies from either western or Chinese scholars. A quantitative-qualitative mixed research approach is introduced to understand transitional resort morphology in China. It involves classifying land uses, building a descriptive and explanatory framework, creating form-function maps, and the analysis of morphological characteristics.
Two study areas are selected for detailed examination: a coastal resort town, Sanya and a lake-based resort town, Wuxi. Morphological changes associated with key contextual factors influencing tourism and recreational development are analyzed in these places. A comparative discussion of Sanya and Wuxi indicates similarities between their development patterns of resort morphology and their present morphological features but significant differences in terms of history, evolutionary process, tourism resources, location and level of economic development. It is less helpful simply to define models applicable to distinct Chinese water-based resort towns than to identify similarities among them. Rules for resort study in the Chinese context are recommended and the characteristics of morphological transformation in a typical water-based resort town are summarized in view of resort development patterns.
It is indicated that the morphology of a typical water-based resort cluster can be in large part a function of its recreational hinterlands (urban areas), and whether it is well-planned or more naturally developed. Finally, the relationships between contextual factors, tourism development, and resort evolution and resort morphology are interpreted in the context of Chinese water-based resort towns.
The significance of morphological research on current as well as past resort structure for future planning and conservation activities is indicated. A systematic approach, which combines the morphological method, the functional method and the evolutionary method, is suggested to study resort morphology. By using resort evolution theory, it is indicated that resort morphology can be clearly identified and explored within a conceptual framework. This study also shows that GIS techniques are highly applicable in the study of resort morphology. This study indicates that water-based resort morphology in China is presently characterized by intensive land use and dense development, fast settlement expansion associated with growing vacation property development, and a generally clustered pattern of accommodation. Tourism planning in China has developed procedures and strategies with little consideration for the historical process. Therefore, this study has implications for making reasonable development strategies and efficiently implemented policies and plans. Academically, resort morphology is clarified in both Chinese and Western contexts. Also, common characteristics of Chinese water-based resort towns are summarized and phenomena generated from western studies are tested in the Chinese cases.