There have been changes in tourism here along the Northern Gulf Coast. They are subtle, but you may have noticed them all the same. Those changes are going to continue, too.
First of all, remember Snow Birds? They come from the northern states of the USA and Canada, where it gets cold in winter. Traditionally they come to our part of the world for at least part of the winter. It used to be that they would arrive just before, or just after, Christmas and the New Year—and stay between a month to three months. The birds are great for the area because they bring us tourist dollars during what has always been a slow season. They keep many of the restaurants open, and by extension, keep jobs going throughout the year. Many of the snowbirds consider this as much ‘home’ as they do their summer bases up in the north. I once spoke to a couple of winter visitors who said they felt the birds actually lived here, but just spent summer ‘up there’ to get away from the heat!
Here’s the Conexión Florida ‘Tourism in the Gulf’ article for May.
Why do you go on vacation? Certainly, it is to rest and recharge your batteries. According to a multi-lingual friend of mine a phrase like “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is used in many different cultures, so getting away from your usual routine is certainly a good reason to go on vacation. Here on the Northern Gulf Coast it’s usually assumed that our visitors come for the beach. After all our beaches are beautiful! Ask the tourists and that’s what they’ll probably tell you, but if you delve a little more deeply, the answers become more enlightening.
How many of our guests actually spend all their time on the beach? Relatively few, if truth were told. They come for the food, the shopping, and yes, the experiences. They come for the beach lifestyle certainly, but there’s much more to that than lying on the sand.
Tourists to the Gulf Coast are pretty much three main types: families, millennials (born between 1978 and 2000) and boomers (born between 1946 and 1964). The last two types are the largest traveling groups and they tend to arrive not only during the school vacations, but throughout the year. Both groups are looking for experiences. They want to do things that they can’t do in their day-to-day life, and they want to share that experience on their social media with friends……..
I was flicking though a newspaper the other day, the UK’s Daily Telegraph, and article caught my eye – ‘Why it’s cool to be a tourist, not a pretentious traveler’ (Read it HERE). It got me thinking….
Firstly I have to confess I wasn’t physically flipping through a newspaper made out of crushed up trees, I was reading the on-line version. I suppose therefore I was simply bothering a bunch of electrons, but that added to pondering as to how our perceptions have changed.
For example, does reading an on-line newspaper make me less of a reader? When we were actually reading a ‘paper’ paper, our eyes would fall on stories that wouldn’t immediately be our target interest. That expanded our reading list and maybe we found opinions that we didn’t agree with, or subjects that weren’t initially in our wheelhouse. It did give us a wider knowledge and leave us open to new thoughts and opinions. It broadened our view. These days we tend to select our interests and have the electrons present us with just what we expect and with which we are comfortable. Maybe we sit in a little bubble of our own making? Only exposed to our own interests and views.
How does this relate to the traveler versus tourist issue? The article pointed out that some folks consider themselves to be more sophisticated than the average and therefore their wanderings were in some way superior to your run of the mill tourist. The ‘travelers’ (actually it was a British article, so they were ‘travellers’ with two Ls!) considered that their experience was somewhat superior to a tourist. Along with the author, I initially thought this attitude was pretentious in the extreme.
As an aside, a number of areas around Florida have names like The Forgotten Coast, The Space Coast, The Emerald Coast etc. There’s one area I’ve always called The Pretentious Coast. Any ideas where that may be?
While it’s true that someone who travels, is a traveler, and a tourist is by definition “A person who is visiting a place for pleasure and interest, especially when they are on vacation”, there do appear to be a whole bunch of different types of tourists.
There are those who visit an area to gain extra knowledge, cultural tourists, eco-tourists, adventure tourists, even health tourists traveling to seek medical attention they can’t get at home. One assumes these all gain something from their experience and hope that they also contribute to the local economy or culture. Certainly the hope is that they do not purposefully detract from the place they are visiting.
There is a type of tourist that actually does little or nothing for either the area that they visit or for themselves it would appear. I’d suggest that these are folks that travel to a destination but then behave just as they would at home or possibly even behave in a way that wouldn’t be accepted at home. These would be the ones that bring everything with them. They experience nothing of the local culture, and contribute little to the local economy. They may be the ones that just come to party uncontrollably, ending up in jail, hospital or worse.
Now, each to his own and I wouldn’t dare to suggest that what one person finds fun is the only way, but it does strike me that there are various levels of tourism. Some are more desirable to a destination than others. I’m sure The Machu Pichu Tourist Board wouldn’t target bachelor or bachelorette parties, but on the other hand would Panama City Beach expect to receive too many groups studying the works of da Vinci?
Without a doubt some travelers get more out of their experience than others but would we term them Travelers as opposed to Tourists? What’s wrong with being a tourist?
A recent article in a newspaper, The Economist, highlighted the changes that are happening in New Orleans. The Crescent City is local to Northwest Florida in that its only a four hour drive away and the culture (Mardi Gras for example) and cuisine of the City, and Louisiana in general heavily influence the Northern Gulf Coast. It can be said that Northwest Florida is closer in temperament an culture to NOLA, than it is to the rest of Florida. Orlando, which many international travelers see as ‘Florida’ is after all a six hour drive away and shares little in culture with the Panhandle.
The gist of The Economist article, which you can read HERE, is that the Mayor
and administration is attempting clean up the city’s act. New Orleans is famous for (admittedly among many other things) the free wheeling nature of the French Quarter in general and Bourbon Street in particular. Over recent years the French quarter has become a center for Bachelor and Bachelorette parties. Most of these at some stage gravitate towards the bars and music joints along Bourbon Street where they seek out the ‘genuine’ flavor of the old city.
Now the Mayor, understandably, wants to make sure that visitors are both safe and legal. There is a backlash against the cleanup with the slogan ‘Bourbon Street not Sesame Street’. As the article points out, some of the workers in the area question just how illegal the activities actually are and offer the suggestion that by changing the place, people may be put out of work or worse, moved into activities that really are beyond the pale.
Many years ago Bugis Street in Singapore had an equally salacious reputation. During the ‘50s and through to the ‘80s the street was famous for its nightly gatherings of the local transvestite population. It became one of Singapore’s main tourist attractions. Not somewhere one would recommend to your maiden aunt for a visit certainly, but it did contribute much to Singapore’s tourist attraction. Bugis Street is still there but was cleaned up during the ‘80s and ‘90s and is now one of the places famous for low cost clothes and a tourist attraction in in its own, new right.
From a tourism and moral point of view there can be no justification for illegal activities. However is there perhaps a very fine line to be trod between sanitizing and destroying? What would Las Vegas be without gambling for example.
A few years ago New York City decided to make Times Square more family friendly and threw out the dubious bars and entertainments. It doesn’t seem to have affected it’s ability to draw tourists although I would question if the area, particularly in the late evening is a place for visitors of a shall we say, a nervous disposition.
We visit New Orleans frequently and stay in the French Quarter. We walk around the area at night and although we cross Bourbon Street we tend not linger and never visit the bars and music joints. We know they’re there of course and don’t begrudge their patron the thrill of an authentic experience, providing they know what they’re doing and keep their wits about them.
Would a Disneyfied version of the Vieux Carré still be attractive to its patrons? Would a fake Eiffel Tower still draw visitors? I suppose the fake tower in Las Vegas does, but then Vegas has the gambling too……
This article was first published in the Northwest Florida Daily News on Sunday, July 16, 2017.
I don’t think any of us realize how much we switch our brains off when we’re playing tourist.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I recently took an overseas trip and did some people watching to see how both I and my fellow travelers behaved when we were being tourists. You should try it, it’s enlightening. I’d suggest that you also notice how you behave yourself, as I don’t think any of us realize how much we switch our brains off when we’re playing tourist.
A number of airports have recently released details of the things that people try to take on flights. Would you believe live lobsters? Yes, apparently that’s quite common. You know how things are when you see that 20-pound LIVE lobster and you MUST take it home? Yep, stick it in your hand luggage.
According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), one of the things that’s most common to be found in luggage on the Eurostar (the train that goes under the English Channel between France and England) is unexplored World War I ordnance. Apparently people dig them up when visiting the battlefields of Northern Europe and think it’s a.) a great souvenir to put on a shelf at home and b.) perfectly acceptable to carry in baggage on a public train in a tunnel underwater.
There’s also well-documented tales of people trying to check in palm trees, a 10-pound frozen turkey, and bricks. Pairs of pink fluffy handcuffs are also a common find. The mind boggles!
However, it’s the completely innocent items that we tend to forget about. Snow globes? Yes, seems OK as a souvenir, but breaks the rules about the amount of liquid you can take on a flight. How about that fondue set that seemed such a great present for your parents? The little forks that come with it are looked on by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as potential weapons.
Closer to home are the frankly strange things that people do to the condos and beach homes they stay in. Most regular are the visitors who completely rearrange the furniture. I’ve been guilty of a bit of this myself, but always put it back the way I found it. I also heard of one group of guests who moved all the sofas and chairs out onto the beach! You can imagine how that went down with the owners. I’ve also heard of renters turning up with full tool sets so they can carry out their own maintenance and modifications.
Getting back to the airports, have you ever noticed tourists going through security who have been told to empty their pockets, put their electronics in the bin and put all their liquids in a plastic bag, yet then try to carry their phones and a can of Coke through the body scanner? Happens every time I’m waiting in line behind them.
Then there’s the passenger who falls asleep on the aircraft having unplugged his headphones. The cord then drops down between the seat cushion and completely jams the seat mechanism. I’m not saying who that is …
Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.