Creating water demand: Bathing practice performances in a Chinese hot spring tourist town

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The commodification of hot spring bathing reflects a diversification of alternative modalities for healing and leisure. It also presents challenges for the development of sustainable tourism. However, whether and how tourist activities generate environmental challenges at hot spring destinations has received scant attention from scholars. Situated in the increasing contributions that practice theories make to tourism and sustainability studies, this paper argues that a practice theoretical perspective is essential for understanding the escalating demand for hot spring water and resources at tourist destinations. Employing ethnographic approaches in a hot spring town in China, we identify three patterns of hot spring bathing performances: public foot bathing in the town square, commodified bathing in resort hotels, and private bathing in households or B&B rooms. The (re)configurations of cultural conventions, tourist facilities, socially shared knowledge and skills across spaces produce alternative patterns of water consumption. The coexistence of multiple ways of performing hot spring bathing brings to the fore the complexities of sustainability issues in tourism, going beyond infrastructural efficiency or tourist values. The paper concludes in elaborating on how practice theories and studies of tourist bathing benefit each other, and could inform policy interventions for sustainable tourism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)685-703
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Sustainable Tourism
Issue number4
Early online date29 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2022


  • hot spring bathing
  • water demand
  • sustainable tourism
  • social practice theories
  • China

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Urban Institute


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