19 December 2007

Tourism reflexivity, tourist reflexivity?

Thanks to the NY Times, we find another article documenting the unthinking excesses of, no doubt, their own readers. We know that so called "eco-tourism" is popular; what's newer, however, is the rise of tourism to places like Antarctica, the North Pole, the Amazon Rainforests and the Galápagos Islands - places so severely threatened by environmental disaster that people want - and are being encouraged - to see them before they're gone. How tragic is that?

Well, not as tragic as the coupling of this type of "Tourism of Doom" with the ever rising "Luxury Tourism". I've begun to see this appearing in Travel & Leisure magazine. Here's Ambercrombie & Kent's offering for Antarctica from it's "Adventure Cruising" line.

"On board [our] ships, style is always allied to substance. Each in its own original way, these beautiful vessels offer an on-board experience that's second to none - and in addition they'll take you to places few other cruise passengers ever see. It's possible because A&K's cruise groups are so small and personal, and our knowledge of these destinations so complete. We're welcome aboard the world's most intrepid, intimate, exciting ships, and we know where to send them to ensure that our guests sail beyond the big, brash, "must-see" sights into more rewarding, authentic harbors that can be enjoyed on a leisurely human scale.
No wonder A&K's luxury travel magazine's called Sundowner - with all its elite, colonial connotations. It reminds me of my favourite line from the 1987 film White Mischief (see IMDB) which tells a story of the British expats living lives of decadence in Kenya during the conflagration of Europe under the Second World War. At one point, if I remember this correctly, the jaded Alice de Janzé (a character played by Sarah Mills) slouches onto her verandah, looks out at the sun rising over the African plains and wearily says something like: "Not another fucking beautiful day in paradise."

John Urry, a sociologist famous for his research on tourism, uses the term "tourism reflexivity" to describe the omnivorous urge for people and places to turn themselves into tourist destinations - here's how he puts it: "the set of disciplines, procedures and criteria that enable each (and every?) place to monitor, evaluate and develop its ‘tourism potential’ within the emerging patterns of global tourism." (See his PDF essay Globalising the Tourist Gaze for more.) As sad as this may be, it's even sadder that consuming tourists are not inclined to be reflexive themselves. What goes through someone's mind, I wonder, when planning a vacation like this? Global warming is destroying the polar ice caps, let me fly in a jet plane to pick up a another fuel-burning vessel and see this for myself. Oh, and let me do it in style!

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