Principles of Sociology/Three Big Paradigms
Tourism Facts and Figures from the 2002 World Tourism Organization Report
• Tourism is the world's largest industry, annual revenue approaching $500 billion.
• Leisure accounts for 75% of all international travel
• Tourism accounts for roughly 35 per cent of world exports of services and over 8 per cent of exports of goods
• 350 million people are directly or indirectly employed in tourism.
• International tourist arrivals increased from 25 million in 1950 to 698 million in 2000, and are predicted to grow to 1.56 billion by 2020
Why is International Tourism Growing so Quickly?
• People increasingly have more leisure time in most developed nations (not US and not in most developing countries) due to longer paid vacations and lower weekly work hours
• Disposable income levels have been increasing worldwide, albeit faster in developed nations – in the UK citizens now spend 25% of their income on leisure – 5 times more than in 1960
• Air travel costs have fallen 30% in 30 years
• More media exposure to tourism via advertisers' images of exotic foreign locales
Goals of Conventional Tourism
• Maximize comfort, travel value, relaxation, the diversity of sightseeing as to take in the most interesting and/or beautiful things as possible, and attempt to optimally fit the travel time into one's work and family schedule
• This is dominant angle of analysis from the perspective of rational choice theory
Our Individual and Social Perceptions of Tourism
• What images and concepts come to mind when thinking of tourism?
• What are some common connotations associated with “taking a vacation” under different circumstances and in different locales? (status, deservedness, escapism)
• If you have ever traveled internationally, how did you interact with the “locals”?
• How did these encounters shape your perception of a certain nation or region?
• What attracts people to a particular destination in the first place?
• Common sense ideas about tourist travel and how to do it best vary between individuals and national groups, but there are some underlying patterns…
• “Tourism” is just a name for a set of socially structured activities that we are guided through by how specific dimensions of race, class, gender, and politics figure into our specific cultural (and subcultural) models for appropriate behavior
It may seem pessimistic, but one of the best means to think of ways to improve a standard pattern of behavior is to attempt to criticize the manner in which it is currently done, that is, find all that you can think of that doesn't seem quite right with it, or that which is outright wrong by some ethical standard you would like to respect.
Structural Functionalist Perspective (how things are supposed to work)
• What is an idealized set of ways for tourism to function optimally for all parties involved? How well is tourism functioning to tie the world together socially now?
• Tourism should serve educational purposes by making people in one country or region aware of what life is like in another so they aren't ignorant of the realities of everyday life in other places - thus offering a two-way trade of perspectives involving diverse cultural knowledge that might give a new perspective on home
• Tourism should bring people divided by national lines closer together for future international cooperation and to prevent conflict by integrating them into the day to day lives of another people (ex. EU sister cities)
• Tourism should provide people with insights into how to improve life back home
• Tourism should redistribute wealth from an ever growing number of people from wealthier countries visiting poorer ones in order to help them to “develop” and fight off poverty
• Travel is supposed to build character by forcing people to adapt new strategies in unfamiliar foreign territory
Conflict Perspective (how things [intentionally] don't work out so well for the less advantaged)
• Only the world's wealthier people can afford to engage in conventional tourism at all and everyone is somehow restricted as to how extravagant or wide their travels can by race, class, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, amount of free time, or global political situation
• Thus, tourism between richer and poorer nations is a very one-way exchange of services rendered to the privileged tourist by less privileged people
• Tourism tends to exoticize and commodify the “authentic” cultural activities of another group of people, which inevitably degrades and alters the traditional meanings of these rituals
• Money allows wealthier people to escape the reality of their lives to see people who cannot afford to escape the often harsh reality of theirs - looking at poverty has become a popular part of travel, perhaps allowing us to and look and feel grateful for the fate they have escaped and perhaps change class to be “peasant for a day”
• Big multinational corporations eventually edge out native local businesses that sell the more lucrative tourism related products and services especially since tourists on the whole are more likely to trust home brand names
• You can get away with treating people worse in poor countries that you cannot back home ex. sex tourism
Symbolic Interactionist Critique (how interaction patterns betray deeper meanings)
• Tourism can be quite an ugly thing when there are great wealth disparities between tourists and local peoples because of the nasty feelings of inherent superiority and inferiority between the servers and the served. What is worse is that some people go for this kind of “super [feudal] service” especially
• I think most people instinctively feel this kind of relationship is wrong but are almost forced by their almost inescapable involvement in it to somehow justify their participation in such an ugly set of interactions by instinctively devaluing the “others” status as a equal human being via a self-serving bias
• Poverty is often romantically portrayed in tourist marketing and “natives” impoverished lifestyles are chosen rather than the outcome of often violent historical oppression
• Tourism is part of an interpersonal status competition whereby conspicuous consumption in evidenced by pictures, videos, stories, or artifacts from exotic locales one has visited.
• Most of the time, when visiting foreign lands, there is only a very small amount of interaction occurring outside of economic transactions due to language barriers - very few people would think it logical to make significant efforts since our time abroad is minimal and we expect many foreigners to speak our language
• Most tourists' travels take them only on highly trafficked preset tourist routes past old buildings and natural wonders and then back to their hotels, maybe after immersing themselves in the local sociohistorical context only by eating “traditional” food in upscale restaurants created for tourists – this commodification cheapens the experience by making it unauthentic and predictable, especially in touristically “themed” places
• Conventional tourism is a series of very passive exercises, but people try to offset the feeling of being a pure spectator by photographing and videotaping as much of their experience as possible
Environmental Critique - tourism is currently very unsustainable due to a high reliance on fossil fuels for extensive travel back and forth over long distances for short periods of time and for providing very comfortable and spectacular accommodation for tourists in the way of luxury hotels, often constructed in ecologically sensitive areas.
To move beyond critical analysis, we need to think creatively about ways to improve current behavior patterns, but first, we need look at all the currently available options before starting to formulate our own solutions…
So, here are some examples of non traditional means of tourism…
Skill/Language Acquisition Tourism, Ecotourism, Developmental Services Tourism, Student/Professional Exchange Tourism, Religious Missionary Tourism, Athletic Exercise/Deprivation Tourism, etc…
What does all of this say about our society?
We have institutionalized a societal desire for regularly scheduled breaks with normality that has taken the form of tourism. Some may criticize this as an attempted escape from either the rigors or boredom of modern life. Others might say this has taken the place of other institutions from the past such as religious pilgrimages or extended festivals originally based on seasonal solstices or equinoxes (now in the form of mass summer vacations). Possibly the most revealing part of the tourist experience are the so called “cults of authenticity”. Most excursions are planned as great searches for one type of authentic experience or another, e.g. the wilderness experience, the primitive culture experience, the historical experience, the paradise experience. The great irony of these quests is that people don't realize that when this type of nostalgic mentality is propagated and embraced on today's larger social scale, it dashes the hopes of anyone finding that kind of authenticity amongst the hordes of people chasing similar imagery. When modern people reach en mass for one form of authenticity or another, they find their dreams badly distorted by the sheer quantity of others pursuing it.
My recommendations for the future of tourism…
• The average length of tourist travels is too short and this is a problem from a resource overuse perspective and from the perspective of actually trying to integrate yourself in a local society to make a deeper attempt to understand and how it works differently than your own. The problem is that this is a direct result of people working more and not having as much consolidated vacation time, although most Europeans get six weeks
• One of my personal suggestions for the future of tourism is to advise travelers to try to spend as little money as possible, because it seems luxury only puts up more barriers from the average lives of the population
• I suggest using the following ideas to bring yourselves in contact with local people – eat at local restaurants and at local markets, use ride sharing programs to get around the country (ex. Mitzfahrcenrale in German speaking countries), and share accommodation with locals (couchsurfing.com or globalfreeloaders.org) - see my article on hospitality services in Wikipedia.
• Do something traveling that is not “you centered”, that is, do something nice for other people in the country, the only problem is that most aid-giving programs involve too lengthy a commitment for most tourists
• Also, what I think makes more and more tourism destructively fake is the increasing involvement of large foreign corporations over the past 30 years and their homogenization of the tourist experience – shun them!
• Tourism experiences should be put more in the hands of locals to build more fair and respectful exchanges