A tremendous amount of space on the internet has been wasted on the Tourists versus Travelers debate. We’ve been known to touch on it here at Gadling from time-to-time. But, at the end of the day, it’s all wasted breath and pissing contests. To the people who stand on soapboxes of “authenticity,” have you ever stopped to think that tourists are a good thing? That tourism is beneficial to local people and culture? That there’s room in the travel landscape for differing approaches, ideologies and perspectives? At the end of the day, tourists are a good thing.
Shocked to read that statement? You shouldn’t be. Putting the pithy debate aside, there are simple positive facts about tourists that are undeniable. You don’t have to like them. You don’t have to travel like they do. Heck, you can keep blogging with an elitist tone against them for all we care. But their existence makes life better for everyone.Those fanny packs carry wallets
Tourists spend money. They pay sales tax and hotel taxes. They pay for admission to museums, purchase meals at restaurants and tip cab drivers. That money goes back to local governments where it is spent on programs that benefit locals. It funds the upkeep of those museums, allows the owners and staff at those restaurants to put food on their own tables and helps the cabbies make a decent living to support their families.
Appreciating the unappreciated
Quick, name the last museum or major attraction that you visited in your hometown. Do you even remember when you went there? We tend to overlook the places that make our hometowns special. Ask a New Yorker when he last went to the Statue of Liberty or the American Museum of Natural History and you are likely to hear tales of elementary school field trips. The places that people list when asked why their city is worthy of respect are the same places that locals tend to neglect. You know who doesn’t neglect them? Tourists. While locals are busy either living their day-to-day lives or feeling too smug to go to the “touristy parts of town,” visitors are enjoying fantastic views, brilliants works of art and creating memories that will last a lifetime.
Everyone deserves a break
Sure, you enjoy exploring lost civilizations, eating unusual foods and collecting stamps in your passport. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Heck, we love that stuff, too. But, some people just want to escape their lives for a week, unplug and relax. Don’t those people deserve to take a week off of work, go on a cruise or hang out on South Beach without being judged? No one is making you travel in any way other than how you enjoy it. Let others do the same. If someone’s definition of a good time is skipping out of work for a week to take their kids to Disney World, more power to them!
You know how New Yorkers act as if we live in the center of the universe? You know where that attitude comes from? When we travel to other places, people are always eager to ask us about New York. Or they tell us about the time they visited New York. Or they speak enthusiastically about how badly they want to go to New York. It’s an ego boost. Having people adore your hometown is wonderful. This phenomenon is by no means unique to to New York. The people of Chicago wanted to host the 2016 Summer Olympics so badly because they wanted to show off their city for the whole world to see. South Africa is bursting at the seams with pride as they ready to welcome the world for the 2010 World Cup. Every town, city and country holds its proverbial head up hight when they see visitors enjoying themselves. It’s why tourism boards exist. It’s why towns host festivals. We’re all proud of where we live and we want other people to know why. Tourists are those other people.
It’s all travel
My childhood trips were to all-inclusive Caribbean resorts, Disney World, visits to my grandparents and other good old-fashioned family vacations. And you know something – I loved those trips. I remember them fondly. I wish I could go on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride again. It was way more fun than some of the things I’ve experienced as a “traveler” in far away lands. Those touristy trips helped shape who I am and, perhaps more importantly, gave me quality time with my family. I may travel differently now than I did as a child, but I enjoy and appreciate those differences and what I’ve experienced because of them.
You have to start somewhere
If you still think that travelers are better than tourists, consider this: were you savvy, worldly and cultured when you took your first trip? Or did you carry a large map in your backpack, get frustrated by cultural differences and scope out the top five things listed in your guidebook? Not everyone is born ready for an immersion experience when they travel. For some, simply getting on a plane or spending time away from home is a huge step that is not taken lightly. Being a tourist comes more naturally to people. Being a “citizen of the world” takes experience, confidence and trust. Not everyone gets there. Not everyone wants to.
It’s so crowded, no one goes there anymore
Yogi Berra summed it up as only he can. No one likes crowds when they’re traveling. The “travelers” of the world often eschew the hot spots listed in guidebooks and tourist areas because of the crowds. They avoid tours, ignore landmarks and stick to the fringe while judging those who wait in lines with the masses. But what if those masses suddenly all became “travelers?” The fringe would get awfully crowded. The fact that people have varying interests keeps everyone dispersed. If we all did the same thing – be it the touristy activities or the “authentic” adventures – we’d all be stuck in the very crowds that we loathe.
There’s a gray area
Why can people only be a traveler or a tourist? Can’t you go off on wild adventures, eat bizarre foods and then also climb the Eiffel Tower or gawk at Times Square? Who among us hasn’t purchased a kitschy souvenir that we’ve gone on to cherish? Or taken a picture with our waiter at some campy restaurant? The traveler-tourist debate isn’t about some linear spectrum of authenticity. If anything, it’s a Venn diagram. There’s overlap. Because, at the end of the day, both groups are going places and experiencing new things. There is a common ground and it’s a pretty fertile ground if you asked me.
Tourism is a good thing. It feeds city coffers, puts money in locals’ pockets and allows people to escape their troubles and simply relax.
Rather than judging others and assigning gravitas to various types of travel, it’s time that we embraced everyone under one tent. Tourists aren’t bad. They’re people living their lives and having a lot of fun doing it. Besides, we’re all tourists at some point. Usually it’s when we’re walking slowly and taking a picture of a street sign. That’s when we’re annoying. But the pictures are fun.