Tourism allows visitors to experience cities, towns, and countries through rose-colored glasses. The information accessible to a tourist is carefully curated both virtually and in reality. Tourism forces sanitization of a true culture to increase the appeal to tourists. A place is distilled to a “product”. In marketing, you highlight the benefits of a product and ignore the flaws, hopeful that your customers’ attention isn’t drawn to them.
Tourism requires a commodification of local life and flavor. Tourist experiences are quite literally referred to as “packages”. A good product attracts more tourists and a “bad” product repels them. Thus, city governments and countries are motivated to put their best foot forward.
When a city’s economy relies on tourism, there’s an impetus to “sell” a good product and most of us who live in tourist destinations are indoctrinated into a cult of selling, where our experiences and livelihoods must go through a sanitization process before we present those experiences and our “culture” to outsiders.
When I first visited Washington, DC in 2010, I experienced life there as a tourist. I stayed in Virginia with wealthy extended family members who worked and attended school in Washington, DC. I rode in a Prius to the train station and spent each day wandering around the National Mall and surrounding museums in the city with my grandfather, who viewed Washington through equally clueless lenses.
My second trip to Washington in 2011 was only slightly different. I attended Model UN conferences when required to and spent the rest of the time wandering the streets nearby the Hilton where my United Nations cohort stayed. Again, I visited the National Mall. I defied my fear of heights and rode the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument where I stared down at the empty reflecting pool with disappointment. Winter had eliminated some key features of the tourist experience and hinted at a truth that I was not yet prepared to see. Off-season meant a little wear and tear on the “package”.