✈️ Beyond Fridge Magnets and Postcards to the Tourism of Tomorrow ✈️
Clichés keep the European tourism industry running. The Dutch eat cheese and Ireland is inhabited by sheep. What is sold is an overly nostalgic picture of our countries, loaded with stereotypes. Knowing this, why do we still buy into them?
Oh Italy with its charming little towns and narrow alleys, gondolas in Venice, its rich history, culture and not to forget the food! Everyone loves travelling to Italy. But hang on, of course we're not that ignorant. We are young, cosmopolitan travellers and know these things are all just stereotypes. But Pisa-selfies and pictures of tagliatelle with mushrooms are very instagrammable and yes, we secretly want those clichés, don't we?
Is anyone interested in pictures of us munching a kebab in Sweden? They're not what we expect; what we want is national romanticism and cultural uniqueness, instead of a reminder that finding a place to eat kebab in Sweden is just as easy as it would in the Middle East.
Our nostalgia for national clichés is the engine of the European tourism industry. It’s making a fortune from it and runs massive advertisement campaigns to keep alive the picture of sheep farmers on green Irish meadows and of mustache-wearing Greek gentlemen inviting us for a glass of ouzu. It’s a multi-billion Euro industry based on nostalgia for the alleged past: last year, the earnings generated by international tourists in Europe exceeded 400 billion Euros. The number of trips taken abroad rises annually, while people spend more and more money as tourists. With their economy flourishing, Germans have spent around 70 billion Euros as tourists in 2015, according to Eurostat. This is great news for certain countries whose economies rely heavily on tourism. Take Croatia for instance, where travel receipts account for more than 18% of its national GDP.
Are we afraid that our cultures will eventually dissolve?
Some stereotypes have a true core. The question is to which extent they are representative of contemporary cultures. While pizza definitely plays a huge role in Italy, Swiss families probably don’t sit down for a full cheese fondue that often. We know that the clichés we feel nostalgic about never existed in any pure form because cultural homogeneity was never present in Europe - our cultures have always been shaped by immigration.
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Nowadays this happens so incredibly quickly, however, that we struggle to adapt our cultural stereotypes to the new reality. The general international shopping street is a good example of this struggle and explains why we might become nostalgic about „classical Europe“ as we imagine it: this long row of Zara shops, Starbucks and Primarks in every major European city makes us wonder if European cultures are really losing their distinct character.
At the end of the day, although we went backpacking last year and really appreciated the local insights we got from couchsurfing, we still crave our postcard-cliché experience. When we go abroad, we somehow owe this to our Facebook friends and curious family members.
We see what we want to see - and it sells
We must not forget that our stereotype-born expectations also shape reality: there certainly wouldn't be so many cheese shops in Amsterdam if it wasn't for the millions of tourists coming to buy truffle Gouda. For many of us, the artificial tourist-experience is more powerful than authenticity. We notice the cheese shop in Amsterdam sooner than the döner restaurant next to it because it’s what we came for.
In terms of tourism marketing, stereotypes are the perfect tool to brand a destination and sell it to international customers. Switzerland means gorgeous mountains and cheese, it’s a connotation so deeply planted into our brains that changing the picture would be counter-productive for the brand image. We have grown up with these clichés, we have been bombarded with them in movies and literature and on postcards. Even the most culturally ignorant, selfie-stick armed tourist is aware that what they experience is just a small piece of the reality of a place and that fridge magnets depict is a pretty, nostalgic lie.
But changing our national stereotypes takes time, maybe generations. Will our children ever think of croissants, shisha bars and a vibrant reggae scene when going to France? There is no doubt that cultural hybrids are growing everywhere, creating new music, food, architecture, they can even alter our language and lifestyle. We have to realise that encountering kebab in Sweden and in Amsterdam doesn't necessarily mean both cities are culturally the same. In fact, this melange creates unique, local blends. If we manage to adapt our national clichés to what reality looks like in other countries, then one day tourism advertisements might play on our nostalgia for Swedish-Turkish cuisine.
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by florence schulz