The Tourism Paradox

Tourists vs. travelers. Which do you want visiting your destination?

Tourists are those somewhat doe-eyed, hapless visitors who are incapable of decision-making without a guidebook or map, while a traveler is some independent soul enjoying a physical and spiritual journey independent of coupons, specials or freebies.

Not true. They’re really one and the same. The dictionary doesn’t really offer significant differences between the two monikers.  Tourists visit a place for leisure or culture, according to Webster, and a traveler “is one who travels.”  Hmmm.

So why do tourists get a bad rap? And, for that matter, why do travelers get forgiveness for their easygoing stereotype?

Isn’t the point to experience the place, culture or event and come away changed? Shouldn’t tourists or travelers or even citizens for that matter, enjoy and preserve what they see and experience?

I recently attended the PRSA Travel and Tourism Section conference in my hometown of San Antonio, as part of the host committee team assisting the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau with logistics. (Disclosure: I was paid for this project).

The closing speaker was Keith Bellows, TITLE who talked about the principles of geotourism.  He was the perfect ending speaker. Bellows’ call to action was loud and clear: some of our best-loved and most beautiful destinations are “under siege,” buckling under the weight of visitors, traffic, pollution.

After reflecting on his presentation, I think we should create a new definition for visitors, one that reflects a higher consciousness about preserving the character of places.

Should it be geotourist? Maybe geotraveler? How would it be defined? How would it be different to what the dictionary currently describes? Here’s a suggestion to get the discussion started:

Geotourist:  One who visits a place, embracing its culture and contributing to its future viability.

If you knew your favorite monument, lake or park would most likely not be there for your grandchildren to see, would you contribute to its future?  This summer, let’s look at viability and preservation as our guiding principles for the tourism industry.