How To Trap A Tourist
Late last month, Maharashtra’s Chief Minister called a meeting “to review the dismal performance of the [State’s] tourism department”. The deputy chief minister and the ministers of tourism and industry were present. No one seems to have defended the department. Reference was made to the state’s 2006 tourism promotion policy but the discussion soon digressed when the minister of state for tourism launched a tirade against Mumbai’s hockey-stick wielding, pub-wrecking, party-pooping guardian angel, Assistant Commissioner of Police (Morality), Vasant Dhoble. (No such designation exists, of course, but it might as well have). The Minister of state, an otherwise uncontroversial figure, was joined by his senior colleagues, all of whom said that the police high-handedness had destroyed the city’s nightlife, and hence tourism. A few days later, the deputy chief minister was somewhat more elliptical when he said that the tourism policy had failed for “administrative reasons”.
The 2006 tourism policy is a typical government document, long on rhetoric and hope, short on understanding. It lists the state’s many ‘wonders’ — from historical monuments to waterfalls — and claims to have as much to offer tourists as three other states favoured by tourists. It sees tourism as a growth engine and proposes a raft of measures to boost tourism in the state: infrastructure, transport, recreational and hotel facilities and more — all only at identified tourist spots. Some of the “direct benefits” of tourism, we are told, are increased employment, improved living standards and quality of life, education, environmental protection and education.
What is interesting about this document is not what it says but what it does not, and it shows a fundamental failure of understanding what tourism means. Is tourism only gawking at statues and monuments, wandering through museums, frolicking on beaches or taking jolly rides through old-growth forests? Or is it something more?
Here’s a simple premise: tourism is based on illusions. Tourists are dreamers and their travels are the products of their imagination. Every tourist carries an image of his destination in his head, and that image is desirable, exciting, enticing or tempting. We do not imagine just the tourist spots designated by governments. As tourists we are wanderers, and we go to places that aren’t always marked out for us. We call it exploring, but it is an attempt to immerse ourselves in the life of the places we visit. Nothing shows this better than urban tourism, our travels to big cities.
More than roads and buildings, cities are constructs of our imagination, our dreams. We carry in our heads impressions of our destinations even if these notions are quite unrelated to the grimmer realities of actually living there. Pick any city: London; Paris; San Francisco; New York; Hong Kong; Istanbul; Singapore; Sydney; Buenos Aires; Venice; Rome; Zurich. Each name is evocative., with it own specific image. We are happy to be in these cities for days and weeks, even though there is only so much we can do at the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower, for we believe that these cities are worth living in. That illusion is based on what we choose to see: better roads, outdoor events, a nightlife, the many small conveniences that work, apparently happier people. For the time we are there, we choose to believe that we belong.
Why does the Lavasa model seek to recreate Portofino on the shores of Mulshi Lake near Pune? The two areas are climatically and topographically very different. There’s no great architecture being drawn from Portofino, at least not in the sense of any monumental or mythic built form. That town, like many on the Mediterranean, Aegean and other coasts, has grown to take the form it now has, and we believe that form to represent something desirable: a better way of life.
If we want to draw tourists, we should start by reinventing our towns and cities and feeding their mythologies. We do that by improving our own lot, making better cities for ourselves so that others may actually want to share in our lives. Take Agra, a very fine example of everything that should not be. It is must-see stop on every foreign tourist’s itinerary. That is not because of the city, but despite it, only for its many fabulous monuments. Does the city itself need to be so pestilential? How much better might “the Agra experience” be if, after a few hours at the Taj Mahal or among the ghosts of Fatehpur Sikri, one could actually enjoy the city?
Being a tourist is like being invited to a banquet. We go with certain expectations, and the venue often raises our hopes. The Indian tourist banquet is almost always only a disappointment. There are a few sumptuous dishes, but the carpets are ragged, the table linen stained and frayed and worn, the china spidered and chipped, the cutlery bent and unpolished. Much of the food is bad, and you don’t want to look again at that unswept, uncleaned floor. Why would you want to stay? Or return? Even the hosts don’t much like it here.
Before we look at tourist hotspots and world heritage sites, we should look at the assets we have and how we can rescue them. For instance, many cities are defined by water: New York, London, San Francisco, Istanbul, Hong Kong. So are ours. But while they actually use water to add to the city’s allure, we go in the other direction. The seafront is Mumbai’s single largest natural asset, and we have squandered and destroyed it. Imagine this city with a clean harbour, a marina, efficient water transport, usable beaches. And the same is true of Delhi, Agra, Pune, Bangalore, Ahmedabad. The Yamuna in New Delhi and Agra, and the Mula-Mutha in Pune are less rivers than sewers; and why should anyone have to dodge mountains of garbage to get to banks of the Brahmaputra in Guwahati? And how is it that Istanbul, a city of 18 million, can use the Bosphorus for transport and yet keep it clean enough for fishing and swimming?
Better our towns and cities and the tourists will come. Not to hurriedly ‘take in the sights’ and leave, but to stay a while longer, believing for that brief period, as we do when we visit them, that our lives are in fact worth sharing.
By WILLIAM GRIMES | New York Times | 13 September 2012
An architectural cruise sails off on the Hudson for its 32-mile, round-the-island journey. | Philip Greenberg for The New York Times
Manhattan has one of the most recognizable faces in the world. Yet it can be strangely elusive, even Garboesque. The buildings are too tall and too close together to see in their entirety from the ground, so New Yorkers who want to get a good look at the skyline have to go to the movies, visit a prime viewing spot like the Brooklyn Heights Promenade or look out an airplane window.
The New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects came up with a high-minded solution to the problem a couple of years ago: a round-the-island architectural cruise with running commentary provided by experts. … read more
by JOSHUA HAMMER | New York Times | 14 September 2012
Colorful facades on a street in La Candelaria, a historic neighborhood in Colombia’s capital. | Stephen Ferry for The New York Times
IT was a windswept Saturday in the Candelaria neighborhood of Bogotá, and the Plaza de Bolívar was packed. Troubadours, jugglers, balloon vendors, pineapple sellers and Amazonian fruit-juice pressers vied for the attention of tourists. Grizzled Andean Indians led children around on llamas. Pilgrims gathered at the Bogotá Cathedral, a soaring Gothic structure that contains the remains of the city’s 16th-century founder, the conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada. Beside a statue of the South American liberator Simon Bolívar, a tattooed comedian held an audience of hundreds rapt.
The scene was dramatically different from the last time I was here, five years ago, when the hemisphere’s longest-running insurgency was raging. Back then, the plaza, almost devoid of tourists, was dominated by a tent pitched by the father of a soldier held captive for seven years by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC. The father had spent the previous two months marching through the country, wrapped symbolically in chains, to rally support for a negotiated end to the war. … read more