oturn home > INDELIVERABLE > Sketch of tourism interfaces

Sketch of tourism interfaces

I am not sure as to the boundaries of 'a political economy of tourism', and not sure either how the "tourism interface" - the practices, techniques and media through which the tourist relates to the destination - would fit into it. This sketch may stand on its own without the more encompassing claim. I just like to indicate a provisional larger context which may be added at a later time.

Tourism is usually associated with 'event' or 'adventure', but instead, the tourism process pampers and blinds the tourist. By focussing on attractions, it creates, by the same token, 'repellents' (areas of non-attraction). The attraction, sucking up attention, reduces tourists' exposure to the foreign setting and thereby, prevents the feeling that there is an extreme, overwhelming amount of information which is very stressful when the tourist gets exposed through interaction.

tourism process

Diagram of the tourism process (time line) A more detailed analysis is available in a legend to the Diagram of the tourism process

By design, the tourism process thereby prevents the tourist's frustration of being utterly alien, excluded, uninvited, outside the language pool, and probably unloved (mainly accepted as source of revenue). The old figure of the stranger and the welcoming host (of ancient hospitality) is the exact opposite of a functioning tourism infrastructure.

The tourism process uses a range of interfaces. Before travel, the interface between tourist and destination is the travel agent, the internet, hearsay and accounts by friends; also recollection, the own imagination extrapolating desirable destinations and activities from models built from past experience.

During travel, the interface between tourists and their (more or less foreign) objects is the setting or situation that replaces shared space or background, resonance, familiarity. The interface of tourism points away from the phenomenological experience and channels the anxiety induced by the unknown, into facts, figures, brochures, entrenched trails and bus loops, snippets of information, - and the act of photographing. Even here, redundancy is important: the church or beach visit, the lunch in a restaurant or visit to a pub, have a lot in common, follow the same program.

The tourist produces an extra interface through his or her (mostly his) camera. The camera delays perception to the moment when the tourist is back home and picks up his or her slides or prints at the lab or drugstore. It prevents - or filters - direct perception of the space. It redirects energy to questions of framing, and binds attention to certain remarkable points of interest. While true overall, this is a dangerous argument since it presupposes the possiblity of phenomenological immediacy, of authentic experience.

In post-modern terms, the awareness of the lack of authenticity is the only authenticity left. The knowledge of the impossibility of understanding by peeking through this narrow bracket of perception afforded by the tourist experience becomes a cathartic or humouristic experience. But this cannot and should not be enough, if only because thought must progress further once it has reached this point. Or is the only progress a loss of tension, an acceptance of 'terms and conditions' (literally and metaphorically), an abdication of certain 'pointless' intricacies of reflection, and a certain (perhaps arrogant) spite?

The camera does not trouble the setting as long as it is pointed at the things that obviously exist to be photographed. The Japanese tourists don't have to pay the homeless man (he has no way of communicating with them). Local camera teams do pay him - a tiny fraction of the revenues they generate.

The turn away from the traditional circuit, the common points of interests and standard tourist activities, betrays a certain insensitivity to the monumental strangeness of everything outside the defined tourism process (its tours, visits, rituals). Those venturing into the small villages not contained in the handbook or brochure must close their eyes or turn to their partners or pet schemes to minimise exposure. Full exposure may only be bearable if the tourists remains at one spot, seated in a café or on a park bench.

But actually, some tourists do manage, by a strange inversion of self and object - they imagine being or becoming the object of their loving gaze, floating through the maze of narrow streets in ancient towns, while the objects in view are populated with desires and memories. They merge into a day-dreamscape. (Entrückung).

The prejudiced worker on a package tour bitching about the impolite waiter has more of a real object and a real experience.

Last update: 15 February 2005 | Impressum—Imprint