July 30th, 2007

Tourism

My brother and I had a conversation last week about tourists—folks who visit places throughout the world, camera in hand, hoping to expand their horizons, soak in some sights, and learn about other cultures.

The main problem I see with tourism is that—whether intentionally or not—you have blinders on. You don’t see what’s really going on around you. You’re there to see a pretty building, or a fine work of art, or eat some delicious food. But buildings and food do not a culture make.

Brennan and I saw this in Africa, and see it in others who visit places but don’t interact with the people. They are shuffled from one location to another by a bus or tour guide, eager to see everything they can, but missing the most important part—the people.

I don’t profess to have a lot of experience in this realm, but with what experience I have had, I do feel that tourism is inherently selfish. Granted, it is important and necessary to provide recreation for ourselves and our families. However, I have a hard time justifying spending hundreds if not thousands of dollars on an excursion that provides nothing more than a few good pictures and memories.

My mentality is evidenced by a conversation I had with friends a couple months ago. One friend discovered I would soon be going to Africa, and asked “Oh, are you going there for a vacation?”. The other friend (who knew me better) said “Oh, no, Connor could never go somewhere just for fun…”. She had a tinge of sarcasm in her voice, but in essence she was right.

If I’m going to take the time and money to run off to distant lands, I want a reason for going, other than sheer entertainment and selfish fulfillment. I want to impact somebody’s life, to leave my mark on that town, to make a new friend, or help somebody in need. Tourism is devoid of all such experiences, and that is why to me it feels hollow.

9 Responses to “Tourism”

  1. Dan
    July 30, 2007 at 11:36 am #

    It depends, Connor, on who is going on a vacation, where they go, and for how long they go. I tend to go on few vacations, but when I go, they are for at least a month, with only one exception. Because I too have found simply going from one locale to another to see this or that magnificent architecture gets old after a while. Plus, it also helps when you go on vacation to at least make some attempt to learn even just a few words of the language of the country you visit. I found Parisians to be much kinder to me when I attempted to speak French, for example.

  2. John
    July 30, 2007 at 11:54 am #

    So… fun is bad, and tourists are all shallow? ;)

    I’d have to agree that your experience in Africa is deeper than the average tourist, but I don’t think its fair to say that their experience is hollow. Especially when you’re trying to learn about a culture where the only thing left *is* buildings.

    Kudos to anyone who ponies up the cash to make it abroad and make an effort to broaden their horizons in any way. People pick a spot for a reason, and they tour for a reason. If it was as shallow as you seem to indicate, then why don’t people just find spots to relax stateside? Because they want to see/learn about/hear/experience other cultures.

    I don’t see what’s wrong with entertainment and relaxation abroad, and I think anyone who makes an effort to learn more about the people via their architecture and cuisine isn’t being shallow…. unless you’re talking about the town’s clubs and pubs.

  3. Connor
    July 30, 2007 at 1:06 pm #

    Dan,

    Plus, it also helps when you go on vacation to at least make some attempt to learn even just a few words of the language of the country you visit.

    I agree. This is definitely one way to experience the culture and make a connection. Zambians, too, were elated when you spoke to them in Nyanja, even if it was nothing more than “how’s it going” or something trivial like that…

    John,

    Especially when you’re trying to learn about a culture where the only thing left *is* buildings.

    Indeed.. but I think that in this case, I’d rather learn via the internet and Google Earth instead of paying a few thousand bucks to stand there for an hour taking pictures and be able to tell my friends that I’ve been somewhere historically significant.

    If it was as shallow as you seem to indicate, then why don’t people just find spots to relax stateside?

    I’ve wondered the same thing. Why is it that the people who live nearest to an interesting sight are the least likely to have visited it? What is it about distant attractions that we love so much? How many Utahns have yet to visit Bryce or Zions? How many San Diegans don’t go to the beach? Why don’t we ever go see what’s in our own backyard? I’ve wondered this for some time…

  4. Mark Mathson
    July 30, 2007 at 1:33 pm #

    I have always felt out of place as a tourist. I too want to experience more of the culture or local identity of a place. It isn’t always easy to blend in, but it isn’t always even necessary to experience a local vibe/experience.

    Good post nonetheless.

  5. John
    July 30, 2007 at 2:09 pm #

    Somehow a picture of the Sacred Grove, just doesn’t do it for me. Call me hollow, but I want to stand there. I may not dig in and rub elbows with the natives, but I don’t think that’s a shallow aspiration.

    And its not the *distance* that is fascinating. I don’t think many people like the raw travel part of travelling: its the newness. People visit new places to learn. Part of it might just be “getting away,” but another part is wanting to see and learn about something you’ve never seen or learned about before.

  6. Connor
    July 30, 2007 at 2:11 pm #

    John,

    Somehow a picture of the Sacred Grove, just doesn’t do it for me.

    Indeed. In talking with a friend, I think I came to the conclusion that what is best in vacationing is having some sort of personal connection. If you’re visiting a site that has personal significance to you, whether it be religious, social, political, or otherwise, then that trip will be enriching and meaningful. So, I agree.

  7. Naiah
    July 30, 2007 at 2:56 pm #

    You’ve hit the crux of it for me, here, Connor–“personal connection.” Be it the people, past events of the place, or hopes for a future there…whatever it may be, but it needs to have meaning (for teh one doing it).

    I am reminded of the Reverend Eager in A Room with a View (movie adaptation, paraphrased): “We locals pity you tourists not a little. Bustled around like a parcel of goods from Venice to Florence, Florence to Rome…” Nevermind that he, being a self-proclaimed local, had failed to make the very connections of which you speak.

  8. Brandon
    July 30, 2007 at 11:04 pm #

    The wonderful thing about a free society is that everyone has different reasons for doing the same thing. I am glad that you enjoy having such meaningful trips. However, I think there are a lot of people who want to have a trip for completely different reasons than you. Maybe they just want to get away, or maybe they just want to tour around and have someone else worry about making the plans. What might be hollow to you may be extremely fullfilling to someone else. I think its just a matter of perspective.

  9. Dustin Davis
    August 2, 2007 at 4:48 pm #

    Yeah, well having lived in South Africa, sometimes I’d just like to go back there for a vacation. Call me selfish ;)

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