Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The 4 Best Tourism Journals!

Shaul Krakover sent the photo above, saying:

“I attach here a photo taken at our Tourism Destination Development and Branding Conference, held October 14-15, 2009, at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Eilat Campus, Israel.

The photo presents the 4 best tourism journals!  It was taken in a session on "Publishing in the Academic Hospitality and Tourism Literature: Trends and Challenges" with the participation of the following (from Right to Left):

- John Tribe, Editor in Chief of the Annals of Tourism Research
- Rick Perdue, Editor of Journal of Travel Research
- Abraham Pizam, Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Hospitality
Management, and
- Shaul Krakover, Associate editor of Tourism Geographies.”

Monday, October 26, 2009

Learning To See Through Travel

Can We 'Learn To See?': Study Shows Perception Of Invisible Stimuli Improves With Training

ScienceDaily (Oct. 21, 2009) — Although we assume we can see everything in our field of vision, the brain actually picks and chooses the stimuli that come into our consciousness. A new study in the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology's Journal of Vision reveals that our brains can be trained to consciously see stimuli that would normally be invisible. [Click Here to read full story]

Many years ago (many, many, in fact), I attended a meditation retreat in the hills near Clear Lake north of the SFO Bay Area.  There was a young guy on this retreat, in his early 20s, who was able to see aura around people’s bodies.  He did not need to do anything, this ability was just natural. 

Now in those days, when I was younger, I had a pretty good ability to see things at night – much better than almost anyone else I had met. So I kind of envied his aura seeing ability.  But he thought nothing of it – he told me that it really doesn’t mean much, he is just able to see them.

So, a few decades later, I still can’t see auras, and might night vision has declined as my need to wear glasses has increased (since I started using computers).  But now comes this story on ScienceDaily about how German researchers have shown that the eye can detect objects even though the brain does not recognize the object as being seen. This has a couple of fascinating possibilities:

(1) Our eyes may be detecting objects and fields of view just beyond the visible spectrum, in the infra-red and ultraviolet range, or in a dark field with no visible light, that we are totally unaware of, but which may still impress our brain, behavior and experience.

(2) We may be able to learn to see these objects of fields of information if we are trained or practiced in doing so. (This is the direction that the German researchers are moving – to help people with blind spots.)

As cool as that sounds, I no longer have my old meditation patience that I think it would probably take to master such skills.

However, I do see implications of this phenomenon – of learning to see what we otherwise would not – in my interests in the tourism and travel experience. These implications are:

(1)  People travel to see parts of the world, parts of the human existence, parts of the planetary geography that we otherwise would not be able to see.  We drive to travel because our monkey curiosity wants to fill in the blind spots of terra incognita.

(2) We use guidebooks, online video guides, and local human guides to help us to see what we would not see if we were to visit a place without any interpretation.  This is what semiotics refers to a the “sign” or “signifier” – it is the name and meaning that we humans assign to sites and sights that, in turn, gives us deep, existential experiences of those sites and sights.

(3) We also reject the guides and the guidebooks in an effort to gain a pure and direct experience of places – especially of the spontaneous and unplanned surprises that new places have the potential to offer us.  And related to this, are new identities and roles that arise in ourselves, that we may never knew were their, but which the liminal experience of traveling away from home, can sometimes show us.

(4) Some of us learn about broader issues of travel and tourism, especially sustainability issues, to make us more aware of our impacts and to better understand how tourism shapes places and people (both the hosts and the guests).

All of these are exercises in geographic visioning – of stretching our normal vision (and understanding) of the world, its places, its environments and ourselves – and to see and understand them in ways that we may never have considered were possible.  (Although, tourism advertisers also know this and flash images of possibilities that are often tempting, if fundamentally shallow.)

So, here we are.  At one level we are curious monkeys wanting to see what is hidden behind the peek-a-boo of distant places. At another level we are stretching our cognitive skill, stretching our brains, perhaps to lead us to a more aware planet that is hopefully able to manage, if not solve, the global issues that we all share today.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Are you a Tourism Extremist?

Extremists More Willing To Share Their Opinions, Study Finds - ScienceDaily (Oct. 21, 2009) — People with relatively extreme opinions may be more willing to publicly share their views than those with more moderate views, according to a new study. [Click Here for the full story.]

The story linked above is about a study at Stanford University in which students with extreme views on an issue were more vocal in expressing their opinions when they thought that the majority of their peers leaned in their direction.  There were generally silent if they thought that their peers held moderate or opposite views to theirs.

While we all have met people who are willing to express their "extreme" views even if they are clearly in the minority, they are the exception. The problem is that human nature assumes that the most vocal are expressing the dominant opinion of a group, whereas in reality, they actually represent an extreme position.  Thus, we (those of us on the left) assume that the talking heads on Fox News represent the typical Republican Party views in the US, when they really are a marginal extreme.

So what does this have to do with tourism?  Off the top of my head, I see the following implications:

We (tourism professionals) often assume that everyone want to travel and everyone is supportive of tourism because that is what seems to be the majority. In reality, there people's opinions on travel and tourism run a continuum from no interest in travel to travel as a lifestyle, and from no support for tourism to tourism as a foundation of the new service economy (cf. Urry's discussion of the "service class").  Making the pro-tourism and pro-travel perspective dominant has enormous impacts on macro economic priorities (such as transit and destination branding), community development decisions (where and what to spend tax dollars on), and human behavior (defining the range of possible leisure time activities). 

And this has resulted in major sustainability challenges, from the massive greenhouse gas emissions of long haul air and cruise ship travel, to change in traditional cultures from tourists visiting remote destinations.

Do we ever seriously even consider a no-tourism option as a lifestyle, as a form of community development, as what might be best for a destination? What kind of world would that be like ... possibly a more sustainable one?


Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Blogging Two Years Later

In June 2007 I wrote a blog post titled "Why Don't We Blog? University Faculty Blogging about Travel & Tourism". So two years later I took a look back at that blog post, and to my surprise there were 36 comments! That was strange, because I do not remember receiving any notices to moderate that many comments on any of my blog posts. A quick scan showed that there were three legitimate comments, posted soon after I wrote the blog entry, and 33 spam comments. Yikes! – I had not turned on the comments moderation, nor even the word verification, so any robo-computer could post a comment to not only this blog post, but to any other post on my Tourism Place blog.

So now I need to go through all my posts to find and delete the junk comments. Bummer!

I started blogging in 2005 and got quickly hooked on this form of self-publishing and self-expression. I have always fashioned myself as having strong non-hierarchical and egalitarian values, and even though I too play the academic publishing game, I really resent the haves (book writers) and have-nots (book users) that are created in that process. I also do not like the high cost of poorly written textbooks and the sometimes political nature of the academic review process. And I loved the opportunities for self-expression that blogging enabled.

So blogging, which allowed me to write and publish online whatever I wanted, was an incredibly liberating experience. I loved it and started several blogs, and a couple of related podcasts. But I did not see many other academics blogging, especially in the tourism and geography fields that I found of interest. So I sent a query to several tourism email lists and compiled the result in my "Why Don't We Blog?" post.

By 2009, however, my own blogging has fallen off considerably – though I still do blog. I have heard that blogging growth, in general, has flattened out, though micro-blogging on Twitter (@alew) and Facebook has taken off and continues to grow. This has happened to me, as well. I mostly moved from my long blog posts to micro-blogging on Twitter (which is then automatically forwarded to Facebook). 140 character messages are a lot less time-consuming to write than 140 to 1400 word blog posts. I guess have gotten lazy.

I stopped podcasting at the end of last semester, though I hope to start up again soon (once I get over some technical difficulties). I still blog – occasionally – when I feel an urge to write more than 140 characters. Most of these either go on my "Tourism Place" blog (anything related to tourism) or my "Outside Looking In" blog (most anything else that I want to talk/rant about).

And, of course, I still have my academic articles and books, which I also enjoy writing – when I have time, which is not very often. So, perhaps what micro-blogging and blogging do for me is to allow the writing fluids to have an outlet during the school year when I am mostly consumed by teaching, which is what I should be doing now … instead of deleting spam comments on two-year old blog posts!

Friday, July 17, 2009

I Hate Being Liminal - on the transition to home from a trip abroad

[Photo: View of the Li River from my conference hotel in Yangshuo, China]

I think I just experienced one of the longest travel-related liminal experiences ever (at least for me).

Liminal experiences are those that are characterized by transitions from one state of being to another. Tourists experience liminality when they transition from a home-based state of being to a travel-based state. Liminality also occurs during rights of passage, such as graduating from school, becoming married, becoming a parent, or becoming a new employee of a company. The liminal experience is one of becoming something different, and is potentially transformative, with a shedding of the old and a creation of something new, but also a period of vulnerability and weakness in the face of an uncertain future.

The transformative potential of travel is one of the major reasons that many people want to travel. Even when a trip is fully planned and fully chartered and catered, there is still the possibility, if not probability, of meeting new people, seeing the unexpected, and doing something that is totally unconnected to one's home. The period of liminality, the transition between being a resident-in-place and being a tourist-on-the-road, normally occurs when the tourist is in transit between their home and their destination. For most people it is a period of expectation, anticipation and hope – the emotions are generally positive, though there could be some strain related to the exertion of travel.

However, there is a second liminal experience that is a bit different. This experience occurs at the end of the trip, when the tourist is returning home and transitioning from being a traveling-guest to a resident-host. In this case, the emotions may be either positive or negative. Negative emotions may be related to reverse culture shock, which arises when a tourist "goes native" in an exotic destination and must readjust to "going native" in their home place. Going native during a trip actually refers to developing a sense of attachment to a place. This attachment may be to the physical place, a culture in that place, or an individual(s) that was met during the trip. In each of these instances, the return home is accompanied by a sense of separation and loss. That loss may be addressed by an attempt to develop or maintain a longer-term relationship with the travel destination through repeated visits or other commitments and activities.

For example, I experienced a deeply moving trip to the Shan State of Myanmar in 2005. I blogged about that trip – basically keeping an online trip diary ( After the trip, I continued for a year to post and discuss news items about Myanmar. Eventually, however, my attachment to the people and culture of Myanmar waned and I stopped blogging about the country, though I still hold it in a special place in my memory. Tourists also develop an attachment to each other, mostly when traveling as a group of some kind. The sociologist Ning Wang has referred to this social bonding as "touristic communitas," and it too can result in a sense of loss when the trip comes to an end. Close friendships can form that continue via long distance, and which may remain strong, though they are more likely to fade with time.

In both of the post-trip instances cited above, intentional efforts can be made to continue attachments to place and attachments to people beyond the trip. This effort is part of the remaking of self that is one of the goals of travel and tourism. (I believe this is the major reason why people travel.) The effort varies considerably from one person to the next. For some, the attachment is a mild one where the destination simply occupies a check mark on the list of places that have been visited – a kind of trophy or bragging right. For others it is more meaningful, either in terms of personal relationships or professional relationships. The permanence of these relationships will also vary considerably, though maintaining strong ties over a distance can challenge any relationship. We might think of the liminality of the return trip as never really ending so long as an intentional effort to maintain a place, culture or person relationship continues.

That being said, there is another way that the liminal experience of a return trip can seemingly last forever. That is when the tourist is ready to return home before the trip has ended. And that is what I just experienced. I just got back from a trip to China to attend a tourism conference in Yangshuo (near Guilin). Prior to the conference, I traveled with a colleague in the Business School at Northern Arizona University who had a conference to attend in Chengdu (Sichuan Province). So I spent about five days touring the Chengdu area prior to the tourism conference, which lasted for an additional four nights. I also spent layover nights in Shanghai on my way to Chengdu and again on my way home from Guilin. Altogether, I was gone for 15 days. However, after touring Chengdu and then attending my tourism conference, with a very full day of outdoor activities in Yangshuo (which was very, very hot and humid), I was pretty burned out and was ready to go home.

However, I did want to see the larger city of Guilin (where the airport is located). I had been to Guilin four times (first time in 1988) in the past and wanted to see how it might have changed since my last visit in 2001. Also, my colleague had never been to Guilin and also wanted to see the city. Finally, he also arranged for us to get free accommodations in exchange for guest lectures at Guangxi Normal University. But just like in nearby Yangshuo, Guilin was very, very hot and humid, and the hotel we stayed in was the lowest quality of the entire journey (no internet, cockroaches, and in need of new carpets -- though it was free!). On top of this, I was coming off of an emotional high from the great meeting we had in Yangshuo, and feeling the loss of separation (as described above) that often accompanies the end of these meetings (which I help to organize every two years in China). So, as much as I wanted to see Guilin, I really wanted to just go home. I was done with my trip in Yangshuo and I had entered a liminal state of mind, which made me feel somewhat weak and emotionally vulnerable (not feelings that I get very often).

The Shanghai Airport Hotel (aka the 168 Hotel) was a very pleasant surprise, with weak but workable internet access, at Y398/night (about US$58/night),. This gave me a good rest for my cross-Pacific flight the next day. I dislike LAX (really bad internet options), but was lucky to be able to change a seven hour layover there into a one hour layover, getting me home sooner than expected. So I have almost completed my liminal transition, I almost over my liminal anxieties, I am reconnecting with conference colleagues to build on the new relationships made there, and I am glad I went to Guilin, despite all the challenges. Now, we'll see how long it takes to get over the jet lag, which is always worse for me when upon returning to Arizona from Asia...

[Photo: sign inside my hotel room at the old Chinese hotel I stayed at in Guilin, China.]