For years I've been thinking about the power of language to influence the opinions we form and the actions we take in our lives. Including travel. What do you become when you pack your bags, board a plane, and head off to explore a new city, country, or continent? Are you a traveller, or a tourist? And why does the distinction (and the hierarchy it implies) matter?
I loathe this commercial for Anthony Bourdain's newest show, Parts Unknown, on CNN. It's a 30-second spot that, for me, represents an emerging conflict I feel bubbling up in the tourism industry (and heck, even in the travel blogging world).
I think this commercial clearly illustrates the perceived differences between the terms traveller and tourist. According to this line of thought the traveller seeks authentic cultural experiences; the tourist is content with following a tour guide through parts unknown. The traveller interacts with locals; the tourist interacts with resort staff. The traveller explores 3,000 year old ruins; the tourist sits on a beach. The traveller sleeps in local apartments, yurts, or treehouses; the tourist bunks up in hotels and resorts. The traveller takes home polaroids and journal entries and hand woven baskets as souvenirs, while the tourist is content with postcards and t-shirts and fridge magnets.
Further, how authentic can your travel experiences ever really, truly be (especially when the exchange of money is involved)? When you dig deep down, what actually makes a traveller any different from a tourist? And, more importantly, how are they the same?
While I understand CNN's Parts Unknown commercial is targeted to a specific demographic, I urge CNN, Bourdain, and you, fellow travellers, to begin rethinking how you define who gets to be a 'traveller' and what makes travel valuable.
I'm interested: how do you define yourself? Are you a traveller, or a tourist? And, are you comfortable with that distinction?