I have also been thinking a lot about tourism – probably because I am writing about it at work. I’m writing about nature tourism, about going whale watching and kayaking and walking around nature trails.
And while I researching this topic, one thing that keeps surfacing is whether watching birds or dolphins or gazing at unusual trees or village homes will have the same appeal as a glitzy urban experience – the neon, the nightlife, the kitchy faux Chinese temples that make you feel like you’ve seen local culture. Because the thrills are not that obvious, sometimes the dolphins don’t appear on demand and sitting on a hill may be peaceful but also disturbingly quiet.
For example, on a dolphin tour people might come expecting the dolphins to spring into the air like Free Willy (which wasn’t a dolphin). When they just swim by – even if that’s what dolphins generally do – people are often secretly thinking ‘is that all?’ Our guide on a kangaroo safari in Australia – where we drive around but stop a respectful distance from wild kangaroos – told us that some Japanese tourists had cancelled because they were told that woudn’t be feeding the roos. Because when it comes to wildlife, people want to feed them, want to watch them doing tricks – in short, tourists want to be entertained.
And the more I think about it, the more I realise how obnoxious this is and how indicative of post-modernity. It’s the era of super-id – it’s not just about me but about entertain-me. The more we travel, the more we want as if the world and it’s wonders exist for our viewing pleasure and so must live up to expectation.
I recall V’s parents on holiday and how for them, it’s enough to just walk on the beach. They never say – this is so boring, there isn’t enough to do. They just appreciate the difference of a new place and what it has to offer.
But even I sometimes find myself thinking – this place doesn’t have enough to offer. Yes, it’s true that we pay good money to travel but isn’t getting away from the drab of our everyday lives enough? Why does every place have to truss itself up like a turkey to appeal to our over-travelled demands?
I also realised that whenever I visit a big city, I always end up having a better time the day I spend in the small town or suburb next to it. For example in Amsterdam, we stayed in a suburb a few stops away from Amsterdam proper called Zandaam and my favourite memories of just walking around the canals and looking at their houses, cheering on the local bike race and having a long brunch which seems to be what the residents do on Sunday because the whole town seemed to be in the restaurant.
Maybe it’s time we change our attitude to why we get away or examine why we need constant stimulation even on holiday. And when these demands are applied to nature tourism it becomes ludicrous and obscene. Remember that going to a new place is about experiencing what it really is and not commoditized version of what a travel brochure imagines it should be.