Soon it will be summer and so for a lot of people it’s time to think about how and where to spend their holidays. Will it be on the beach or in the mountains? Shall I stay at home or shall I travel to a country far away? Shall I stay at the same place all the time or shall I make a tour? So I took my holiday guides and started to browse on the Internet as well. But I thought that it would also be a good idea to put the things a bit into perspective, so I bought the treatise on the philosophy of tourism by Ruud Welten. Soon I forgot that actually I wanted to plan a trip, for it’s a very interesting book and I got totally absorbed in it. But then I realized that I had to write my blog and I thought that it would be nice to write about it here.
When I tell other people that I seldom go to the big objects sought by most tourists, but that I prefer to avoid the trails well-trodden by millions of travellers before me and that I follow the roads in the “boring” countryside that are almost exceptionally used by locals, then I get often reactions saying (in polite words, of course) that I am actually a kind of a fool. How stupid I am that I don’t want to enjoy the beauty of Florence; that I don’t make a stop in Paris when I pass it on the highway (yes, I can see the Eiffel Tower from there); and that I roam around the countryside of Lorraine in France or the inland of Latvia instead. But thanks to Welten’s book I know now what I do wrong: I break the Golden Rule of tourism: Don’t miss it! And the “it” is what is valuable according to tourist guides and to all who believe in their truth. For tourist guides describe what must be seen by everybody.
Tourism is a special way of looking at the world. It’s a kind of collective gaze. The gaze is not collective in the sense that the tourists belong to the same group, for they don’t. Tourists are individuals. That’s why we as tourists don’t like it when there are too many other tourists at the same place, for they hinder the individual gaze. The others don’t belong to our group. Even more: we have often the feeling that we are not like “them”. We are “different” and we have our own individual reasons to be there. Or so we think, for the goal of our visit is collective: It is what has worth in an objective sense (that’s what the tourist guides say, at least): The pyramids in Egypt, the Tapestry in Bayeux or the Taj Mahal in India. You must have been there at least once in your life according to the Golden Rule of Tourism and the idea of the collective goal. And in this why the tourist looks with a collective gaze at the world.
This means that tourism is a matter of framing. In the social sciences, a frame is a set of concepts and theoretical perspectives on how we perceive reality and behave accordingly. Framing is the social and perspectival construction of a social phenomenon. In the case of tourism, framing tells us what are valuable destinations and useful ways of spending our holidays. It is done by the tourist guides and by the collective culture that determines what has worth.
Tourism is also framing in another sense: The tourist is never a part of what s/he sees. It is as if s/he looks through a window and sees what is happening in the world on the other side of the glass. Welten uses the picture of someone who looks out the window down to the street that runs along her hotel. She sees people passing by and she can observe them as long as she likes. Nobody will disturb her, for she does not belong to thoese there down in the street. In other words: the tourist is an outsider. She remains so as long she is a tourist, at least mainly and most of the time. That’s why for many tourists it’s quite annoying or it even upsets their temporary life, if they suddenly become involved in a strike or a demonstration and so become an insider in the life around them.
This brings me back to my way of tourism. My way of travelling on holiday is also the tourist way, or at least usually it is. But there is a difference, for although the “main stream” tourists as characterized above hope or even expect to see the Eiffel Tower or the Brandenburg Gate from their hotel window, I am happy when I see from there something like the view on the picture here above.
Source: Ruud Welten, Het ware leven is elders. Filosofie van het toerisme. Zoetermeer, Klement, 2013.