To Experience or Collect? That Is the Tourism Question

Road Trip![tweetmeme source=”pagetx”]Your annual summer vacation.  That Spring Break trip to the beach you took in college.  Disney World with the kids.  Name your poison, but travel is an integral part of Americans’ lives.  Many of us consider it a birthright.  We may cut back on spending in other areas, but by God, we are GOING on vacation this year!

I was intrigued by a blog post I saw in the Dallas Morning News.  In the post, the author Nicole Stockdale, poses a basic but very interesting question.  One in which the tourism industry in general – and DMOs in particular – should probably consider.  Her question?  Is travel (or tourism) an experience, or merely just a checklist?  Wish I’d have thought of it first.

What is it that motivates people to get in their car and drive for 16 hours (like I did with my family over Christmas)?  Is there some unique, experiential aspect of the trip that drives you to do it?  Or is it something more commonplace?  How do we know when we’ve really been somewhere?  As Stockdale suggests, is it when we visit someplace cool like a local restaurant with regional fare?  Or notable and unique to the area like the Statue of Liberty?

Or is, perhaps, just being there enough?  We drove 3 hours through New Mexico last week.  Does that count as “visiting” New Mexico?  Maybe it does – I got my Gowalla New Mexico badge when we stopped for gas …

Stockdale’s opinion falls somewhere in the middle.  She says that you can have your collection or list of places to check off, but that they have to be meaningful in some way.  In other words, the things we “check off” should be “reminiscent [if not unique] to that state (or destination).”

Take this for example.  Many years ago, I had the opportunity to go skiing in France.  At the tail end of our trip, we got to spend the night in Paris before flying home.  Before we all crashed from complete exhaustion, we had about 6 hours to see the sights of Paris.  That’s not nearly enough time, but we were going to see everything we could come hell or high water.  So in 6 hours flat, I had coffee on the Champs-Elysees, visited the free part of the Louvre, took a photo at Notre Dame Cathedral, and stood awe-struck staring at the Eiffel Tower.  Does the fact that I didn’t meet my true love at the top of the Eiffel Tower on Valentine’s Day make standing in its shadow less meaningful?  I’d have to say no.  Even though I didn’t experience those things to the fullest, I can say I’ve seen them with my own eyes.  I’ve been there.

When I first read Stockdale’s post, I thought she was wrong.  I’m in the tourism industry.  We’re in the business of creating and promoting experiences.  But the more I think about it, we all collect things when we travel.  I can tick off a nice little list for you of cool things that I’ve seen.  But if you were to examine that list, all those things are unique, original, or location-centric in some way.   Iconic even.  I’d be willing to bet your list is the same way.

But I’m just guessing here.  Does Stockdale’s article make you stop and think too?  Which side of the fence are you on?  Or are you hopelessly stuck, straddling the fence like me?

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7 Responses

  1. I love this post! Our family packs up each year for an epic roadtrip to Alabama which is about 13(ish) hours from Beaumont. I grew up having these experiences and can remember how that kind of “quality family time” provided life long memories for me, my siblings, and parents. Now I’m carrying on that with my family. To try and answer your question, I think the travel experience is a total package. From the planning, anticipation, and lead up — to the trip, the journey and the experience of being there and doing things. If you think back to your own monumental favorite trips, what sticks in your mind? For me it’s usually those moments of “wow” that were triggered by catching a fish, staying up late talking on the pier with a cousin, or just the shenanigans of stopping at crazy gas stations and all of us piling out, buying trinkets and running around with the kids.

    Vacations and travel are about the experiences that that make for a perfect snowball of memories. The kinds of stories that stay with you… and give you tons to material to razz your kids, siblings and family in years to come.

    • First of all, I’m with you on razzing our kids. 🙂 Stephanie, this is one of the most thoughtful comments I’ve received. As I read your comment, I couldn’t help but picture my own similar experiences in my mind. I think you’ve hit on something too. Rather that sitting on the fence about this issue as I said, I like your description of travel being the total package much better. Thank you!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sarah Page. Sarah Page said: To Experience or Collect? That Is the Tourism Question: http://wp.me/pt7a0-7l […]

  3. Very good point indeed!

    I think you can have a meaningful experience in a place, even if you just stop there for dinner or so.

    This is our goal with Spotted by Locals. Real locals in 33 European cities write about their favorite spots, and share this with travelers like you and me.

  4. Love this post! I hear this debate a lot on one of the travel sites I blog for. Some people say you shouldn’t be able to “claim” a region or a country, unless you traveled through it for months or lived there. The argument often used was visiting Shanghai, Beijing, and Xi’an doesn’t mean you’ve traveled in China. Why not? For the person who has, they’ve seen “things”, experienced China, eaten local food — why is their experience any less important or meaningful versus the English teacher who lived in a small village somewhere else in the country for a year?

    Like Stephanie said, I think travel is the total package. The experiences she talks about reminds me of my childhood and going fishing with my Mom and Grandma — just us three girls. Those are the memories I hope to create if my husband and I have children. I remember the planning, the anticipation, and the seemingly endless road trip just to get there. As an adult, I still get that giddy feeling when going somewhere — even if it’s a place I’ve already been before.

    Since we are expats living abroad, travel is our number one priority. We do a lot of small weekend trips because my husband is here on contract for work. Just because we’ve only had 3 days in a city doesn’t mean our experiences are any less important — some of our best travels have been these short trips where we haul butt around town (much like your Paris time). But, we do what is important to us, and the memories we have are ours. So what if we didn’t visit all the crazy sex club areas of Bangkok…or partied til 3am on Khao San Road. Instead, we had the most amazing dinner on the rooftop of the Lebua Hotel at Sirocco overlooking all of Bangkok. Even two years later, I can remember exactly where we sat, how clear the night sky was, and how incredible our meal was.

    You mention the three hour drive through New Mexico, you may have seen more of the real New Mexico than people who fly in and out of the big cities. When my husband was living in Europe, we did a lot of road trips through various countries and some of the scenery we passed in Belgium and Germany was fascinating. I took pictures in nearly every little town as we drove through. While I have been to big cities in Germany and Belgium, someone would probably say my drive through doesn’t mean I’ve really been there.

    Again, great post and I think my style of travel falls hopelessly in between like you…and I’m ok with that! 🙂

  5. Erin,
    I can’t thank you enough for your thoughtful comment. It sounds like you and your husband are living a fantastic life!

    I guess we will just have to be “hopelessly caught in the middle” together. I think I’m okay with that too.

    By the way, I’m now following your blog, “Our Tasty Travels”. Even though I just finished dinner, my mouth is still watering! Can’t wait to see where your next experience takes you.

    Thanks, again!
    — Sarah

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