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How Guide Books Help Construct The Tourist Gaze Tourism Essay

How guide books help to construct the “tourist gaze” and constrain the way tourists see the city. ‘If you really want your life to pass like a movie in front of you, just travel, you can forget your life.’ – Andy Warhol (1975). Tourism is an important aspect in 21st century living as it represents a type of escapism an individual can experience to add spontaneity in one’s mundane routine. With mass globalization posing as an ever-growing epidemic, most tourist spots are highly advertised in the media creating what has been known as the “tourist gaze”.

The “tourist gaze” is summarized very neatly by John Urry (1990), as the process when “places are chosen to be gazed upon because there is an anticipation, especially through daydreaming and fantasy, of intense pleasures, either on a different scale or involving different senses from those customarily encountered. Such anticipation is constructed and sustained through a variety of non-tourist practices, such as film, TV, literature, magazines, records and videos, which construct and reinforce that gaze” This paper will attempt to explore the different factors of how guidebooks in particular help to construct the “tourist gaze” and also how it may limit the experience one would have of the city. Urry (1990) introduces a wide variety of themes of which will be closely examined in the process of this essay. To be specific to the question the analysis will be closely related to how guide books and therefore, “literature” as well as “magazines”, evoke the “different senses” that help in instilling the tourist gaze particularly in contemporary London.

“The tourist experience is very closely mediated by sight, and by the practices of representation that are part and parcel of travel” (Crang, 1997). The city of London represents a region full of history, culture, authentic architecture and modern marvels all of which can easily be beautifully captured as a still image and has been greatly advertised in travel guides.


Figure 1: Introductory depiction of multiple aspects in London.

The “Informative Traveler’s Guide To London” introduced the city of London by means of an image, Figure 1. “Spots to visit are chosen because of their value as photographic landmarks. A walk through a city or rather tourism in general becomes in effect a search for the photogenic.” (Kubalek, 2008) Photography is a powerful means of evoking one’s senses. Figure 1 depicts history, culture, and architecture as well as conveys a sense of patriotism all in one effectively edited shot. The tourist gaze is created as the viewer, most likely foreign to the British culture, is thrust into such an exotic world mentally without even having cross the boarder.

“Tourism is often about the body-as-seen, displaying, performing and seducing visitors with skill, charm, strength, sexuality and so on.” (Urry, 2001) Clearly evident in Figure 1 is a depiction of a British guard in the iconic uniform, which forces the on-looker to envision the ceremony of the changing of the guards. The “Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace” is a comprehensive guide book that entails history of the ceremony as well as dissects the facts from the different ranks of the soldiers to the intricacies of his uniform. This example involve what MacCannell(1992, 1999) calls a ‘reconstructed ethnicity’ as well as a ‘staged authenticity’ clearly because this ceremony is a major tourist attraction for visitors alike. Not only will they experience an act of British nationalism but also catch a glimpse of a national landmark, Buckingham Palace. “National histories tell a story, of a people passing through history, a story often beginning in the mists of time” (Bhabha, 1990)

Included in the aforementioned guide book is a list of places of attraction within a close vicinity to Buckingham Palace, “Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, St James’ Palace, 10 Downing Street, The Thames, Trafalgar Square and even Hard Rock Cafe, to name just a few of the great London sights that are a stones throw from Buckingham Palace!” (Changing of the Guard, 1990) This is an example in how the tourist gaze can pose as a constraint to the visitor’s experience of the city. ‘Part of the motive for travelling is to experience the photographs on site, in the real’ (Dyer, 1995). The book subconsciously guides the tourist and therefore his/her liberty to explore the land is controlled.

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Figure 2: The 2012 Olympic Games logo

“International events, premised upon mass tourism and cosmopolitanism, means that national identity is increasingly conceived of in terms of a location within, and on, a global stage.” (Urry, 2001). “Visit Britain 2012” is synonymous with images such as that depicted in figure 2 and highly advertised with articles relating to the highly anticipated 2012 Olympic games. The visit London 2012 homepage opens with a description of the Olympic Park, “The London 2012 Games are the catalyst for transforming 2.5sq km of land in east London. What was once industrial, contaminated land has been rapidly transformed over the past three years.”. Rochee (2000) describes these areas as having the “power to transform themselves from being mundane places… into being there special ‘host city’ sites” that come to occupy a distinct niche within global tourism. The reconstruction of what was once an industrial area into what is portrayed as a place of interest is another way tourist organizations create the tourist gaze, by stressing this in tourist manuals they represent the tool that conveys the message.

‘Liberated from the real-world burdens of stores and product manufacturing, brands are free to soar, less as the dissemination of goods and services than as collective hallucinations’ (Klein, 2000: 22) Product advertising is evident in many travel magazines; one brand in particular that is greatly linked to tourism is the Rimmel franchise. “Get the London look!” Rimmel claims to be “authentic, experimental, fun, accessible to all – and ‘uniquely British’, offering value for money, with a dash of ‘London glamour’.” (Rimmel London) By hiring American talent such as actor, Zooey Deschanel as well as musician, Solange Knowles, they represent brand ambassadors who in turn help in the creation of the tourist gaze especially since the advertising has them set in very stereotypical London scenarios, creating again an “idealized and stereotypical representations of the place we are visiting” (Martwick, 2001)

“Young aristocrats took ‘Grand Tours’ in the 17th century primarily for educational reasons, but only since the 1840s did travel start to be of greater interest for a wider part of European society.” (Kubalek, 2008) History plays an important part of tourism in general as Roche (2000) explains with the example of the 1851 Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace, the first-ever national tourist event. Although the British population was only 18m, 6m visits were made to the Exhibition, many using the new railways to visit the national capital for the first time. Timeout London. “The best of London” (2010), has a comprehensive display of the different museums and attractions of which claim to hold great historical and cultural significance to the country. “Particularly important in the genealogy of nationalism have also been the founding of national museums and the development of national artists, architects, musicians, playwrights, novelists, historians and archaeologists” (McCrone, 1998; Kirshenblatt-Giblett, 1998)

Also highly publicized in the guide book mentioned earlier is the ever so popular, London Eye observation wheel. “The ‘static’ forms of the tourist gaze, such as that from ‘the balcony vantage point’, focuses on the two-dimensional shape, colours and details of the view that is laid out before one and can be moved around with one’s eyes” (Pratt, 1992: 222) On the wheel the viewer is able to observe London’s other landmarks, for instance the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral even ‘The Gherkin’. In a sense “it gives the viewer the feeling of having some kind of an overview of the city he/she has traveled to” (Kubalek, 2008). Although this “feeling” may be quite rewarding Osborne (2000) explains that the tourist never quite arrives, never completely connects. The significance of other sights interrupts each sight. Every sight signifies all other sights, most still lacking our visit. Kubalek (2008) gives an example to the previous quote by introducing the Southbank, which is the stage for street performers. Being right next to the wheel does the static image of watching the view from the wheel contrast to the more interactive experience of walking down the iconic Southbank? “Similarly the view through the car windscreen (like the view from one of the rotating glass pods) has also had significant consequences for the nature of the visual ‘glance’, enabling the materiality of the city or the landscape to be clearly appreciated” (Larsen, 2001)

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“The touristic experience reflects, magnifies and distils everyday life, it infuses the mundane, and vice versa, in relation to the developing and maintaining of an individual’s social identities.” (McCabe, S., 2002) Consumer psychology, geography and business management studies are essential in the planning of tourism. It is an intentional play by tourist organizations, to make the person believe that their holiday is made by choice, when holiday packages have been planned with great intricacy to benefit the country’s economy. Urry (1990) has found that leisure travel is motivated by a desire to escape ordinary, normal life. The “meaningful experiences” through travel (MacCannell, 1976) is garnered by a carefully planned plot that guides the tourist in question on a journey that may seem to be of great spontaneity, but is in actual fact carefully planned by greater powers and hence there is clear constraint to the true experience that the tourist encounters.

In conclusion, there are many ways tourist guide books create the tourist gaze, be it in ways that may not be seemingly apparent. It is an intricately planned affair of which tourist companies greatly weigh the economic aspects with the environmental as well as the political as so to produce an experience that will create a symbiotic relationship between the visitor, the locals as well as the environment. In order to achieve this, as I have explained in the process if this paper, there are apparent constraints that is embedded psychologically in the minds of the tourist by the way the guide book is presented. They are cumulatively lead to “places of interest” of which due to careful planning will come to benefit the area economically, socially and sustainably. ‘Tourism is a game, or rather a whole series of games with multiple texts and no single, authentic experience’ (Urry, 1990)

Total words: 1720 words

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