Turist Gaze – question: authenticity of travel experience

Professor John Urry of Lancaster University: bit.ly/94hCxn

“The tourist gaze” published in 1990, 2002 and new edition coming in September 2011:


I never actually though why people go on holiday. Holidaying was always present in my life and I never question it, especially because it’s one of the things I love. The author says that main purpose of travel is to break from the routine of everyday life and allow your senses to be stimulated with contrasting experiences. What I could add to it, is my Mum’s favorite saying: “travel broadens your mind”.  And this is in fact why I love traveling so much, everyday different places, landscapes, people, smells, air, food and through this I become different, I understand more and know more about myself and the world. They say we are overstimulated by impulses from TV, Internet, games, doing billion and one things at a time, but we also get tired of it as after a while it all becomes the same. When I started my university I went through three months of constant partying and then had enough. Every club was the same, music the same, people the same, conversations (if any) the same. I suppose three months of it was enough for me.

“Places are chosen to be gazed upon because there is an anticipation, especially through daydreaming and fantasy, of intense pleasures, either on a different scale or involving different senses from those customarily encountered. Such anticipation is constructed and sustained through a variety of non-tourist practices, such as film, TV, literature, magazines, records and videos, which construct and reinforce that gaze” (Urry, 1990:3). Travel magazines are obvious but how many people will go to a castle, forest, island, town, spot where a movie was filmed like Harry Potter, Pirates of Caribbean, Da Vinci Code and so on. I have to admit even though I watch a lot of movies I was never inspired by one of them to go to a particular place. It changed recently as I read a couple of books and saw a movie about Tuscany. I’m going there in October hopefully.

I can’t even remember how many times I took pictures so that the “legend” of places can be sustained. You cut out signs and proofs of present to hold on to the past and spirit which is no longer there but which you long for. So on the pictures pyramids are in the middle of the desert, not across the road from suburbs of Cairo, Vietnamese people wear straw hats and not cheap Chinese t-shirts. No salesman carrying around sun glasses in Angkor Wat and no rubbish lying around on the streets of Western Europe, in fields and forests.

Before XIX Century not many people traveled , it was more of a privilege than a mass market. In the Middle ages as you can imagine the reason for travel was religious, then educational, romantic (experience of beauty and love) and wellbeing (baths, spas). The last one brings to my mind, described by Jane Austen, promenade, balls and treatments in Bath (UK). Now tourism is becoming more and more popular and thanks to cheap flights you can get within your budget almost to every part of the world.

The only sad thing that I noticed is that the world I travel to see is becoming more and more uniform. Call it globalisation, count the advantages, but the enormous airports, hotels, shops, fast-food restaurants spread all over the globe  make you feel you could be just around the corner from your own country. The differences seen by tourist seem to be skin deep and originating from centuries ago while present is more or less the same.

The industry creates experience of reality. How inauthentic and superficial are the tourist attractions chosen for the tours? “The upshot is that in search for ever-new places to visit, what is constructed is  set of hotels and tourist sites that is bland and lacking contradiction, ‘a small monotonous world that everywhere shows us our own image … the pursuit of exotic and diverse ends in uniformity” (Turner and Ash, 1975; 292).

It does not mean that there are no people traveling outside the mass market, it only means that the majority that is, is unifying the world to such an extent, that the diversity and contrast we are looking for are not there or are very difficult to find. Most of the time it’s only kitsch you are experiencing. The purpose of travel seems then to be lost. To step outside the tourist bubble is hard and demanding, but it’s also so much more rewarding and life changing. Keep that in mind going on your next trip.

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