Tourism as a Cultural Phenomenon

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Tourism is global phenomenon that has evolved tremendously in the past century. These transformations have depended on and benefited from the emergence of Western Capitalism and capitalist economies (Chambers 2010: 15). Initially restricted to the tourism of the “preserve of elites” (Urry 1991: 4) the “Grand Tour” has over time become an easily accessible universal experience, defining the characteristics of the modern man and consequently is the “largest industry in the world” (Urry 1991: 5). Although the prevalence of tourism in modern society is obvious, the motivation of modern tourists from a cultural and social phenomenon is not. Apart from its accessibility, what motivates the modern mass tourist to leave its area of familiarity? The study of modern mass tourism from this cultural and social perspective has been studied and analyzed on economical, behavioural and social structuralist perspectives, by multiple social and anthropological actors. this essay will examine the multiple reasons and perspectives that certain actors have taken regarding the emergence of tourism as a modern phenomenon. Using the insight of Urry, the overlapping feature of each perspective will ultimately present the “key feature” underlining the mass tourist industry. The modern ‘mass society tourist’ emerged partly from mans increased facility of travel brought by the emergence of the middle class and “increased awareness of the outer world” (Cohen 1972: 165) brought by better means of communication and air travel. This does not imply that before the emergence of mass tourism no one traveled out of his or her area of familiarity. Travel shifted from simply expeditions of trade and exploration to tourism with the “closer association to the ideals of leisure and recreation” (Chambers 2010: 10) in the eighteenth century phenomena of the European Grand Tour which continued to develop until it became a popular for mass groups This historical shift from ‘individual traveler’ to the contemporary institutionalized tourist is theorized by multiple writers, one being Daniel Boorstin. In Boorstins opinion the basis of the shift is that the traveler is “active” and “working at something” where as the modern tourist is “passive…he goes sight-seeing” (MacCanell 1999: 104). For Boorstin, the nature of the tourist experience is the pursuit of a “pseudo event” or attractions that are made suitable for mass tourism by being supplied with facilities and in the process are “isolated from the ordinary flow of life and natural texture of the host society” (Cohen 1972: 170). From his reasoning the basis of modern tourism lacks sophistication and insight and represents the tourists readiness to accept and even prefer the superficial attractions and contrived experiences to ‘authentic’ ones. Boorstin’s attitude of tourism reflects a perceived “commonplace” tendency for intellectuals to emphasize the banality of tourist experiences as noted by MacCannell (MacCannell 1999: 104). MacCannell rejects Boorstin’s associations of “pseudo events” as being a “hopeful appellation that suggests that they are insubstantial or transitory” (MacCannell 1999: 105) and clearly defines his stance on modern tourism in the title of his book The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. MacCannell’s social-structuralist approach on mass tourism is directly linked to the font-back dichotomy contnuum established by Erving Goffman. In this division of social establishments each stage represents the amount of access the audience has, and for MacCannell sustaining these front back regions requires mystification. With tourism “authenticity itself moves to inhabit mystification” (MacCannell 1999: 93) so the last stage or “back region” represents the truest form of authenticity and inherently acts as the motivation of tourists consciousness. However, in the tourist industry this back stage is not consistent with Goffman’s defined term but rather is “a staged back region”...
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