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Eureka: The sociology of tourism
by Jay Gutman
2017-07-02 10:04:41
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You are with a group of friends. They spend hours discussing their travels. Some went to Asia, others to Europe, some travelled locally, some went East, some went West. You feel left out. You had nothing to say during that conversation.

turism01_400You’re on social media. Friend “A” posts pictures of his or her trip here, another one posts pictures of a trip he took as a backpacker there. You have no pictures to post. Soon enough, you get itchy feet, you want to get the travel bug. You no longer want to feel left out of conversations dealing with travel.

Human beings don’t instinctively want to travel. Let’s say that we are genetically programmed to live within a confined comfort zone. We are genetically confined to being where we feel most comfortable. Our immune system resists bacteria from familiar surroundings, but is less resistant to the bacteria of unfamiliar surroundings.

If life were only about genetics, one would find no pleasure in travelling. Life is also about narratives, about fitting the narrative surrounding us and about telling our personal story. Better transportation, better travel facilities as well as cheaper cost of travel and more vacation time for workers means it’s easier to travel.

Many want to enjoy their travel, but more importantly want to have a story to tell. Younger people who travel alone want to experience local cultures, meet locals, perhaps engage in a few hedonistic activities, or perhaps visit historical sites, landmarks, buildings, famous sites, try local food, try a few local experiences, and save the travel stories for later.

Parents with children are no different when it comes to travelling. They want to blow off some steam, have the children kill boredom and experience something different, save some stories for themselves and their children to tell. They want a good mix of new food adventures, experiencing new leisure activities, a little bit of shopping and a little bit of sightseeing.

People with older children and retired people perhaps want experiences that fit their immune and physical condition. They want areas where they can rest, walk, do some sightseeing and perhaps experience home food. Thus all the Chinese restaurants everywhere that cater to older Chinese tourists and all the Korean restaurants that cater to older Korean tourists.

Some want to travel in groups to minimize risks while still getting some adventure, while other, more experienced travelers prefer to travel independently. But all want to travel narrative. Soccer enthusiasts will want to visit Brazil at least once, romantics will choose France or Italy, people with small budgets will start with destinations like Spain, Turkey, Morocco or Tunisia.

When designing a tourism policy, you want to look at two things. You want your sights to have a narrative, and you want to think about the narrative that tourists will bring back home. You want to give each sights symbols and narratives and you want sights to be represented by parallel artistic, literary or film work. You also want to give sightseeing, food and resting experience narratives that tourists will take back home with them.

Until recently tourism was an upper middle class or upper class activity when the middle class used to vacation in their hometowns with their families. Only recently has travel become a huge part of the narrative. I’m not sure there are studies done about this, but a lot of conversation time around the world is dedicated to travel. In the end, we all want to good story to tell.  

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Emanuel Paparella2017-07-02 11:42:38
And here, if I may be permitted, is the other side of the coin: the theology of tourism. It is an old story of an ancient couple who began a long journey a long time ago. They were already in a place that had all the good things their heart could possibly desire. It was a veritable garden to which they gave the name of Eden. They were happy in every respect, but somehow the daily routine became a bit boring, so they decided to leave the garden and go look for adventure; in effect they became tourists roaming the world. They have been at it since. That was consciously. Sub-consciously they were hoping for a better place, for nobody consciously leaves a good place for a worse place. The earth too will be abandoned once we have made a cesspool of it.

Many years later the two are still roaming around, looking for adventures and places of distractions. Eventually they shall returned to the garden and realize that it was an unnecessary trip but they will justify it to themselves by insisting that it was a necessary journey to better know the difference between good and evil, and besides, now they have a story to tell.

As a great poet put it: and than they shall arrive at the place they left behind and know the place for the first time. In effect, it might have been preferable to stay put and get to know and appreciate the place they were already in. In any case, somehow one does not get the impression from the current crop of tourists that one comes across around the world (looking for adventure and relief from boredom and a story to tell, and a better place to experience), that they know what they left behind, or have any idea of what their final destination might possibly be.

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