Ethnic touristic islands

Rémy Tremblay Associate Professor of Geography Department of Human Sciences, Arts and Communication - TÉLUQ University of Quebec


In this article, we show how a touristic destination can transform into an ethnic touristic island. Drawing on a case study of the Quebecois in Florida, we propose a model that explores a process developed by the American researcher Dallen Timothy. The model has three stages: adoption of the destination, its transformation into an ethnic touristic island and its subsequent decline.

Keywords: Tourism, transnational community, Floribec, Quebecois in Florida


The relationship between tourism and ethnicity has been the subject of a growing number of studies. For the past thirty years, researchers specialised in this particular aspect of tourism studies have focused mainly on ethnic tourism, however there is now increasing interest in touristic activities that emerge as a result of the political exile of ethnic groups from their country of origin.Ethnic tourism generally refers to a type of tourism that involves the visitor, usually from an industrialised country and in search of exotic experiences, traveling to another country to spend time in an environment inhabited by a so-called ‘ethnic’ ethnocultural group (Hitchcock, 2001; King, 1994; Ostrowski, 1991). Those who practise this type of tourism are sometimes described as ‘voyeuristic’ because of their behaviour, which is regarded as immoral in regard to their hosts. Examples that spring to mind are tourists that visit Aborigines in the Australian Outback or Inuits in the Canadian Arctic. However, it is possible to attach another definition to ethnic tourism. Ethnic communities that have become established in urban environments in Western countries, such as the Chinese neighbourhoods in San Francisco and the Italian neighbourhoods in New York, also represent spaces that are typical of ethnic tourism. These highly visible communities are also often victim to voyeurism. There are a growing number of more recently established ethnic communities that serve as meeting and exchange spaces for both newcomers and visitors from their countries of origin. The Haitian communities in Montreal and Miami and the dozens of Mexican communities in the United States are a perfect illustration of what Peggy Levitt called ‘transnational communities’ (2001, 3):Once we rethink the boundaries of social life, it becomes clear that the incorporation of individuals into nation-states and transnational connections are not contradictory social processes. Simultaneity is a possibility that needs to be theorized and explored. Rather than viewing migration as a one-way process, increasing numbers of scholars now recognize that migrants simultaneously live aspects of their lives in their sending countries at the same time that they are incorporated into the countries that receive them. Migrant incorporation into a new land and transnational connections to a homeland or to dispersed networks of family, compatriots, or persons who share a religious or ethnic identity can occur at the same time and reinforce each other. While the sociocultural mechanisms of transnational communities seem to have been well documented in the literature, those relating to its touristic role remain less known. The aim of this article is to shed light on the touristic dimensions of the transnational community. Drawing on a case study of the Quebecois in Southeast Florida, we will propose a model that allows us to illustrate the dynamic that underpins the transformation of a mass tourist destination into a transnational touristic community.

The Quebecois on the southeast coast of Florida[1]

While there is an abundance of literature on French America, studies on the Quebecois presence in Florida are almost non-existent. Tremblay is one of the few to have written on the subject (see, among others, Tremblay 2006, 2015).  What we refer to here as ‘Floribec’ is the space in Florida that is populated by migrants and tourists from Quebec. The majority of these incomers are working class, and their economic activities and daily lives are mainly oriented towards a tourism that is focused on the French language and Quebecois culture. This quite vague space that we call Floribec extends over almost 5 km and is located in the cities of Hollywood, Dania and Hallandale, which are situated in the eastern suburb of the Miami metropolitan area. Our research on the ground (Tremblay, 2001) shows that the majority of businesses offering products and services aimed at the Quebecois immigrants and tourists are located in these three cities.It should be noted that the South does not exist in Quebec! The Quebecois geographer Morissonneau identified this fact in 1983 when he observed that the popular consensus of the Quebecois on the South was that it was a region that lay in the same time zone but beyond their state borders, namely Miami and Florida. Between 1980 and 2010, the francophone population of Florida almost quadrupled (increase of 180%). It rose from 195,000 in 1990 to 337,000 twenty years on. This rapid demographic increase gave way in South Florida to the creation of a new toponym, Floribec[2].The history of this French-Canadian ethnic community created from tourism has not yet been set down. According to Tremblay (2006), the French Canadians are thought to have begun immigrating to Florida in the 1930s. This immigration came in the wake of United States government investment following the 1929 economic crisis. They built a network of canals through the swamps of Southeast Florida and, most notably, opened the great Intracoastal Waterway, a navigable canal hundreds of kilometres long. They also sought to develop Florida’s tourism infrastructure. Thousands of Americans travelled to the Sunshine State to work on this huge building site, including Franco-Americans from New England and some of their French-Canadian cousins. When the construction work had finished, instead of returning to Canada’s cold climate, many French-Canadian workers settled permanently in the Miami area, particularly in Surfside, on the Atlantic shores, and North Miami. After the Second World War, there were 67,000 French-Canadian and Franco-American families in the state of Florida (Tremblay, 2006). These new permanent Surfside, North Miami and Sunny Isles residents generally found work in the tourism industry because Florida, and Miami in particular, were investing in this industry and a growing number of wealthy French Canadians were travelling to the state. The first wave of mass migration from Quebec to South Florida began at the end of the War and continued until 1960, establishing Florida as the destination of choice among this ever-mobile population. The period from 1960 to 1970 saw a second wave of migration from Quebec to the Miami area and a new type of migrant, the investor. At least three factors contributed to this new wave: 1) the liberating effect of the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, 2) the creation of wealth in Quebec and 3) the choice of more varied leisure pursuits for the Quebecois. The coincidence of these three phenomena is thought to have opened the world to the Quebecois.Moreover, the tourism industry was undergoing rapid development as a result of the arrival of the major airlines, the construction of the highway system in the United States and the transfer of the country’s economic and political power from the North to the South, which sparked the phenomenal growth of the Sun Belt cities, including Miami. Miami Beach and its suburbs of Surfside and Sunny Isles became the Quebecois’ favourite seaside resorts. The Floribecois saw the potential in this and began to set up businesses directed primarily at the Quebecois tourists. In particular, the entrepreneurs built motels, restaurants, bars and convenience stores, which responded to the Quebecois tourists’ needs by offering them basic services in French (information, food, accommodation, etc.). By around 1970, the majority of these traders had set up in Surfside and Sunny Isles, particularly along Collins Avenue, whose location less than one kilometre from the beach increased the client base and reduced the culture shock for the client. The tourist destination of choice for the Quebecois had become financially affordable, and, in ethnolinguistic terms, the language was no longer an obstacle.       During the 1980s, the Floribecois community of Surfside and Sunny Isles began to move out because, as had been the case in the Mafia years from 1920 to 1930, Miami had become the centre of an international drug racket as well as the scene of major racial conflicts (figure 1). The city gained the status of being the Latin-American capital, not just because it had become the financial nerve centre of Latin America with around a hundred Latin-American banks but also because it attracted, among others, hundreds of thousands of Cubans, Nicaraguans and Columbians to its downtown area. This permanent influx of migrants led to a major exodus of the American WASP[3] to the neighbouring counties of Broward and Palm Beach, situated to the north of Dade, leaving the whole space to the Hispanics. The tourists, including the Quebecois, as well as the settled Floribecois followed the resident anglophone Whites.

Figure 1. Floribec’s shift northwards

Figure 1. Floribec’s shift northwards

By the beginning of the 1990s, the Floribec spaces of Surfside and Sunny Isles had, to all intents and purposes, disappeared. The small hotels, the motels and the old buildings of no particular architectural merit that were still home to a large number of Quebecois were razed to the ground and replaced by luxury high-rise condominium towers, mainly owned by Russians, Columbians and, of course, Canadians.

Since the turn of the 21st century, Floribec has undergone a dramatic change. The Quebecois tourists certainly still come to visit Southeast Florida, but daily life conducted in the French language and the Quebecois culture no longer dominate the landscape of the recreational business district (RBD) of the Floribec space in Hollywood (figure 2). In truth, the Floribec space is shrinking and the community is dwindling. There are three possible factors contributing to this disintegration: 1) the pressures created by Miami’s ongoing urban sprawl, 2) the negative image local political authorities have of the Floribecois, 3) competition from commercial tourism.

Figure 2. The Foribec RBD

Figure 2. The Foribec RBD

The acquisition and demolition of Floribecois motels by wealthy local and Latin-American real estate developers has not just been limited to the towns of Surfside and Sunny Isles. Owing to a lack of available land, the trend has now reached as far as Hollywood. For example, a huge luxury hotel complex has been built just a few kilometres from the Broadwalk, which is itself undergoing renovation, and the beachfront motels have been demolished to make way for luxury condominiums.

Fort Lauderdale, just to the north of Hollywood, is another city undergoing a full redevelopment. Over the past two years, some of the most luxurious condominiums in Florida have sprung up on its beaches. Hollywood is therefore facing a phenomenon of high-rise urbanisation that it is powerless to stop.

Because businesses are declining due to the closure and demolition of Floribecois stores and motels, the Floribecois are dispersing into the motels and trailer parks of Broward county. Desjardins Bank in Florida and the National Bank of Canada still have a presence there, but it would be fanciful to think that these financial institutions remain in the region purely to provide a service for their francophone clientele!

The socioprofessional class that the Floribecois belong to represents a nuisance for Hollywood’s city hall. From a strictly economic point of view (daily expenditure, property taxes, etc.), it has no interest in encouraging them to stay in the area. Furthermore, the caricatured image of the Floribecois that is portrayed in the Quebecois cinema and local media does nothing to reassure the city councillors. While the City of Hollywood appreciated the economic benefits brought by the francophones in the 1980s, it now thinks that the Floribecois could tarnish its image and that it should follow the example of neighbouring cities and redirect its attention towards elite tourism. Indeed, the City has already taken its first step in this direction by demolishing one the main Floribec institutions, Frenchie’s Café, which was situated on the corner of Broadwalk and Johnson Street, as well as the small businesses in its vicinity. Since the demolition took place, the Floribecois ambiance that was so cherished by tourists has, to all intents and purposes, gone. There are, admittedly, still a large number of Quebecois tourists on the beach, but they have access to very few services in French there, which was not the case even just five years ago.

The only time the Floribecois now come to this subtropical corner of the country in their masses is in January, during Canada Fest, an annual festival event that brings together Floribecois businesses and singers from Quebec onto the Broadwalk. This cultural event attracts on average around 100,000 visitors a year. The economic leaders of the Floribec community have no doubt understood the city hall’s message and, even though some may claim all is well in Floribec, the majority acknowledge that its days are numbered.

The third factor that has contributed to the decline of Floribec has been the rise in the number of affordable tourist destinations. Given that the Florida superfans clearly like ambient temperatures of 25°C or more, it comes as no surprise that the West Indies, the Caribbean and Mexico are now harming the Floribec economy. It is with good reason that Le Soleil de la Floride, a monthly newspaper founded in 1983, continuously publicises the merits of the Sunshine State, highlighting how familiar and safe a destination it is. It is clear though that sunseekers, especially those (both singles and couples) who have no intention of travelling by car, are being lured away by the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Mexico. There has been a rapid rise in the number of direct flights from Montreal and Quebec to Cancun, Punta Cana, Varadero and other destinations in response to demand, particularly since a holiday in these exotic, tropical regions is often cheaper than an extended stay in Florida.

Modelling ethnic tourism

The American geographer Dallen Timothy (2002) proposed a model entitled ‘Urban Ethnic Islands Created by Tourism’ (figure 3). This model, which was inspired by Timothy’s studies in Little Finland, the community established in Lake Worth-Lantana in Florida, shows that tourism-created urban ethnic islands are either the product of immigration, as observed by Peggy Levitt in her own study, or the result of mass tourism, as is the case with the examples described above. While the model is applied to the urban (suburban) space, there is no reason to suppose that it cannot be applied to, for example, the rural environment. Figure 3 below illustrates Timothy’s thinking.

Figure 3. Urban ethnic islands created by tourism: two scenarios Source: adapted from Timothy (2002)

Figure 3. Urban ethnic islands created by tourism: two scenarios
Source: adapted from Timothy (2002)

There are two possible scenarios in his model, but they both lead to the same outcome (second stage), namely the emergence of what the author calls an urban ethnic island created by tourism. This consists of an ethnic touristic community where there are enough recreational facilities and services provided in French (in our case) at their disposal to be able to continue with their daily lives in their own language and where the language is also visible in the linguistic landscape. The first stages of scenarios A and B differ depending on whether the enclave is ethnic or touristic, but both develop into an urban ethnic island created by tourism. In scenario A, the first stage refers to the known process whereby an ethnic community becomes established. In scenario B, however, the first stage illustrates the evolution that a tourist destination goes through when it is visited by a foreign ethnolinguistic group. This evolution begins with the mass arrival of tourists and ends with the ‘geosymbolic branding’ of the space that they have adopted.

Although this model is relatively static and while it cannot represent all the nuances of the ethnotouristic evolution of Floribec exactly, we believe that scenario B is a very close approximation of it. Nevertheless, the two scenarios do not take into account a fundamental aspect highlighted by the geographer Richard Butler, namely the lifecycle and possible decline of tourist destinations (Butler, 1980). As previously mentioned, the Floribec community is on the point of extinction. We would therefore like to propose a third stage to scenario B in Timothy’s model, a decline stage (figure 4).

Figure 4. Genesis of the ethnolinguistic touristic community of Floribec

Figure 4. Genesis of the ethnolinguistic touristic community of Floribec

It should be noted that we prefer to use the term ‘community’ rather than Timothy’s ‘island’ because this concept seems to better incorporate the social and spatial dimensions that unite groups in touristic environments (Tremblay, 2006).

Since there seems to be a certain pattern of ‘insularisation’ in the communities created by tourism, we would like to propose our own exploratory model, which we have called ‘priming of a touristic destination’ (figure 5). There are three stages in this model. The first refers to the adoption of a touristic destination that is spatially quite well delimited (city, suburb, village, etc.) by an ethnolinguistic group (defined by race, ethnicity or just language) other than that of the host country or region (transnational or otherwise). In the second stage, a transformation occurs. The space is no longer just a mass tourist destination but an ethnolinguistic community whose economy and daily life depend on close and continued relationships with the country of origin (through tourists, migrants and new ICT). The third stage marks a period of decline. The causes can be as varied as the effects. Some communities may not suffer any decline. Nonetheless, expansion cannot continue ad infinitum, and there will inevitably be a period of stagnation, economic decline, change in lifestyle (recreation and services) and/or spatial displacement of the community.

Figure 5. Priming of a touristic destination

Figure 5. Priming of a touristic destination


Needless to say, no model is an exact fit with reality, and all models can be improved. However, we believe that the model proposed here, inspired by Timothy’s model, is a significant tool for understanding, from a touristic perspective, the sociospatial and migratory behaviours of groups similar to our own as well as of political refugees and marginalised and segregated groups. The model may also shed light on social networks and services relating to the touristic migration of Westerners in developing and Third World countries.

[1] We do not aim here to draw up a detailed profile of the Quebecois transnational tourist community in Florida.

[2] It is not possible to distinguish between French speakers and Creole speakers in the United States census. In 2010, as in 1990, two-thirds of the francophones in Florida lived in the three counties of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. Somewhat surprisingly, those who adopt Florida as their home rarely settle on the West Coast because they think it is too cold. Hence, the visitors from Quebec who stay in other regions of Florida rarely visit Floribec since they do not really appreciate the Floribecois ‘social environment’.

[3] White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.


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Ostrowski, S., “Ethnic Tourism : Focus on Poland“, Tourism Management, 12(2), 1991, pages 125-131.

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Tremblay, R., “Floribec : Espace et communauté“, Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa, 2006, 247 pages.

Tremblay, R., Les touristes québécois en Floride : un phénomène socioculturel/Quebec Tourists in Florida : A Cultural Phenomenon, 2015, (en ligne) Via : Revue interdisciplinaire de tourisme, 2.


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