Saturday, 29 August 2015

The tourist encounter

Our last official day of the summer school started off with a beautiful sunrise in the desert. Never before have I felt such silence, such calmness and such radiance.

Sunrise at Wadi Rum

Thereafter we went to Aqaba and spent a few hours shopping and eating a very wholesome lunch. Our summer school was officially coming to an end, but a few questions remained unanswered, one of them being:

"What was the nature of MY tourist encounter? "

Even though we had gone to Jordan as students of tourism studies, I also felt that I was a tourist there. Hence, I could say something about my experiences as a tourist.

Wall and Mathieson (1) have described the tourist encounter to be transitory, constrained in time and space, staged, commercial in character and unequal in terms of wealth. Reflecting on my experience, I would have to say that I agree with this description. My encounter was definitely transitory and constrained to a period of merely 6 days. Experiences at Petra and Wadi Rum were 'staged', as mentioned in my previous blogs. I had also bought some souvenirs, consumed food and other products and hence my encounter could also be described as commercial. While in Petra I also felt like we the tourists had more wealth than the local people, thus the inequality.

However, even though my encounter might have been fleeting, impersonal and superficial I am still happy, because as a tourist I fully enjoyed all my visits to these places. I learnt a great deal about this country. As mentioned in my previous blogs, we as a group of tourists definitely had some effect on the local people ( such as our tour guide, our driver, shopkeepers and cooks).

As a tourist of mixed origins, I felt as though local people in less touristic areas welcomed me and treated me as one of their own. This gave me great delight, especially when people talked to me in Arabic. In more touristic areas such as Petra, I was passed over for my "more Western looking friends". The reason for this is not known to me, but I believe that Europeans ( or European looking people) pay more and are more eager to engage with local people. However this is just my fleeting opinion and to explore this further I would have to observe tourist-local relations for over a period of time, with less biases.

What did I learn as a student of tourism studies?

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1) Mathieson, A. and Wall, G.  Tourism: Economic, Physical and Social Impacts, Harlow: