One of the best but least understood routes to better understanding tourism and its impact on local communities is to study motivation. Why do people go on ’tours’? Indeed from this very first question it becomes apparent that the very language to discuss tourism its archaic. Yes, people still do Grand Tours of Italy and Greece to see the cultural highlights, they also go around the world visiting the new wonders of the world such as the Pyramids, Ankor Wat and the Potala Palace. But that is now a minority.
The vast majority of people we would call ’tourists’ don’t cover a great distance once they get to their hotel. They stay every night in one place, and their main purpose for visiting a foreign country is simply to relax; to sit around the pool; to get a bit drunk every night; and perhaps to read a forgettable novel. Travelling to a hot country such as Thailand is to rejuvenate and to indulge in a new setting. Nothing is sacrificed, no hardship other than a long plane journey is endured.
Backpackers to such places as Koh Phangan might dismissively call such people ’tourists’ but they often don’t visit the tropical island of Phangan to experience the culture and meet the locals. Rather they come for the cheap bungalows on such beaches as Bottle Beach, Haad Khom, Haad Yao and Chaloklum. Those that head directly for Haad Rin and Baan Tai are more likely than not to be primarily interested in getting out of their faces on buckets, weed and magic mushrooms, and spending all night swaying to trance music on the beach or in the jungle. It is an extreme form of hedonism that makes the comfort and indulgences of the standard ’tourist’ pale in comparison.
Another point is the accessibility now in the world of many of the same services, shops and facilities. Regional variations become limited with globalization. MacDonalds is everywhere. The iPhone works everywhere. Swimming pools are expected at every hotel. Even food is becoming standardized – for example, the continental breakfast and the ’English breakfast’ can be found nearly everywhere despite the locals never eating such things for breakfast. Food from all over the world can be bought all over the world, and so again cultural differences that made travelling interesting for many people are minimized. Perhaps the most honest approach nowadays is just to go for all out hedonism after all!