The Tourist City

I continue to be intrigued by the phenomenon of tourism, people crowding together to see the same objects which they dutifully capture on their phone camera before stomping off to the next spot to elbow each other out of the way. This collection of academic thought on the topic was a mixed bag. Best were the intro essay by Fainstein and Judd, and then Fainstein’s chapter on urban tourism. Tourists are taught how to gaze at the place or object, coached on how to become a tourist. “People have to learn how, when and where to ‘gaze.’ Clear markers have to be provided, and in some cases the object of the gaze is merely the marker that indicates some event or experience which previously happened at that spot.”

Cities like Rome, Venice, Athens have what is called “place luck,” not having to be squeaky clean to attract tourists. Other cities construct a safe fantasy land for tourists to visit and step outside their daily lives.

“The globalization of mass tourism leads to an odd paradox: whereas the appeal of tourism is the opportunity to see something different, cities that are remade to attract tourists seem more and more alike.” Applebees on every corner.

“Tourism depends on the commodification of leisure. The viewing of a harbor or a walk through downtown is insufficient as a tourist experience. Rather, satisfaction for the visitor and profit for the investor require that place become transformed into an object. The tourist’s gaze composes the urban landscape into a collage of frozen images. Photography is a perfect expression of this process.”

Problems arise when demand swamps supply, unique places overwhelmed by the large scale of visitors, like to Venice or Florence where the native populations are dwindling. A 1990 article noted 2.8M visitors to Florence or more than 7 tourists to every inhabitant., plus millions more that merely stopped in for a few hours en route from Rome or Venice.

The problem of Venice is that “the tourist Venice is Venice,” in the words of Mary McCarthy. It’s a “folding picture-post-card of itself.”