you & me & the devil makes three
Today you get some ad copy from the Special Travel Section of the New Yorker, showing how Joe/Jane America has moved into this sort of cultural imperialism so vague and well-intentioned that (s)he doesn't even realize it's happening.
As Americans travel more frequently, many are eschewing overly choreographed iteneraries, and opting instead for a more authentic experience, even if they have to travel great distances to get it.
"Basically, what you've seen in the last ten years is a movement away from collecting places, and a movement toward collecting cultures," says Keith Bellows, who logs more than a hundred thousand miles a year as National Geographic Traveler's editor. Cultural travel is becoming so popular, in fact, that it is no longer viewed as just a "niche market," explains Cathy Keefe, a spokesperson for the Travel Industry of America (TIA). According to a recent TIA study, more than sixty-five million Americans per year visit a historic site or a museum or sttend a multicultural event. The study found that, on average, Americans who take culture-oriented trips tend to take longer vacations and spend more dollars on them than other travellers. "The sheer volume of travellers interested in art and history, along with their spending patterns, travel patterns, and demographics, leaves no doubt that culture is now a significant part of the U.S. travel experience," says TIA president William S. Norman.
Of course, "culture" and "travel" mean different things to different people. Some want a cultural experience. Members of this group are observers and spend their trips museum and gallery hopping in as many cities as possible. Or they attend concerts, plays, or films at an annual festival in a favorite country. Those who seek to experience a culture first hand are participants, and attain their goal by taking vacations that allow them to interact and work closely with indigenous peoples. For example, they may want to paint, perform, or even cook in different ethnic styles.
Whatever a traveller's interest, the value of a journey hinges on its authenticity, which can be elusive in a world that is inundated with American pop culture. Finding a genuine experience requires research, flexibility, and a willingness to move beyond the limitations imposed by being a cultural outsider. "You have to be willing to go farther afield. Pushing that boundary is a way to have a truly authentic experience," Bellows says. The good news is that travel agencies and tourism boards in the United States and around the world are now catering to both kinds of cultural travellers-the observers and the participants."
Not that tourism is inherently evil or anything. But look at the language they're using. Commodity, commodity, commodity.