December 8, 2010

A tourism imaginary

I never thought that I would end up studying TOURISM in any way. It certainly wasn't part of my overall plan when I went back to school. But, it just kind of happened. And I have to admit, it's a pretty fascinating topic, mostly because tourism is such a pervasive and strange process. There is never a shortage of, well, interesting stuff. Like this:

I just saw this ad today. It's for some game called Wewaii, in which players can build hotels and resorts to make virtual tourists happy--and get to enjoy "the vacation feeling." I'm not quite sure what that means. In fact, I have no idea what this is, why it exists, or whether it has some connection to real world tourism. I just think it's a strange idea--a video game about tourism? What purpose does that serve? Why would these be even remotely interesting--to anyone?

Tourists are somewhere between migrants and colonists. Or maybe they are somewhere between "locals" and foreigners? What ARE tourists? What are they doing, and how can their different experiences be understood within larger social, economic, and political frameworks? On the surface tourism might seem like a lighthearted subject of study--it's all about margaritas on the beach and the French Riviera. Right? But there's a lot more going on. As Dennison Nash once argued, sometimes tourism looks a lot like imperialism. There are certainly "power issues," in tourism--that's an understatement. Just read about the histories of the creation of Cancun to figure that out (I recommend Hiernaux's 1999 article "Cancun Bliss" for starters).

Look at the image above. What it is saying? What does it tell us about how people think about and interact with the idea of tourism? Does it mimic the decision-making processes of distant tourism planner who seek the next cutting edge destination where a new, exotic, desirable destination can be constructed to lure tourists? What about the actual histories of the places where these hotels are built? What about the nearby populations that deal with the rapid expansion of urban development? What about the people who are displaced? What about environmental damage? What happens when the destination is no longer popular? Then what?

Sure. It's just a game. But take the time to read a little more about tourism planning and implementation. Yes, many developers argue that their projects are eco-friendly or "sustainable," but what does that mean? Who measures what is and what is not sustainable? While places like Cabo San Lucas look quite vibrant and successful from some perspectives, the urban colonias that ring the tourism zone tell other stories.

This online game is pretty fascinating because it reflects how tourists think about places. Or maybe it reflects how particular societies view certain places as the potential sites for the production of tourism commodities. Places, just waiting to be developed into that "perfect" resort. And while it's just a silly little game, it bears a strange resemblance to real world tourism development processes that definitely are NOT mere games. And while tourists are able to easily fly in and out of places like Cancun without thinking much about the long-term social and economic consequences of tourism development, others aren't exactly in the same position. For some, a trip to Cancun is only a few clicks away. But for others the social, economic, and political barriers aren't quite so permeable.


Conor said...

I actually browsed through a bunch of the games features after reading. There is no mention of the permanent residual impacts on the environment and people...except for positive ones of course. The resort starts as a trash-filled, dilapidated location which you renovate into a fun, beautiful destination. Oh, and what German decided on Wewaii? Terrible name haha.

Ryan Anderson said...

"There is no mention of the permanent residual impacts on the environment and people...except for positive ones of course."

That's because there ARE NO negatives when it comes to development, Conor! Don't you know it's all about success and social progress?

"The resort starts as a trash-filled, dilapidated location which you renovate into a fun, beautiful destination."

Wow, now that's interesting right there. Turning the trash strewn third world into a luxurious coastal playground (for some; the rest have to collect towels, sell hats on the beach, and wash dishes).

Conor said...

Ahhh yes...progress! That 8-letter word that somehow overlooks all negatives haha.

I also find it a tad ironic that the climate summit met in Cancun this year. Maybe they should be focused more on local repercussions before moving onto to global concerns? Also, is Cancun is trying to attract convention center/conference type events now? It's paid off well for some other cities (including san diego and los angeles). Maybe Wewaii explains it more in depth...

Ryan Anderson said...

Ya, Cancun was a super ironic choice. Not exactly the paragon of sustainability. Next they should meet in Las Vegas (if they haven't already).