The history of travel is as old as Humankind, unlike the history of travelling for pleasure which may be said to date from the late XIX century. More recent still is mass travel: thousands and millions of people moving around the planet to spend a few days’ holidays in a town, city or region far from their habitual residence place.
Apart from its social, economic and environmental impact, one the consequences of this phenomenon is the need we feel to show we are different, to avoid being (mis)taken for a “mere” tourist. The very term tourist has a pejorative connotation when it is used to describe a tourist as a predictable individual who wanders around typical places oblivious to everything, solely looking for stereotypes, picture postcard photos, unable to tell a bad restaurant from a good one and inevitably ending up trapped in a tourist restaurant.
Taken to extremes this leads to holding tourists responsible of disrupting the very way of life of neighbourhoods, and of degrading the local ecosystems of the city centres they visit so that they become theme parks. This sort of racism against tourism is impervious to a more qualified opinion. The person in question may be male, female, young, old, Japanese, Australian, North American or French. No matter. The attitude is the same. A tourist is a tourist. Thus the person’s occupation, beliefs, values, friends or personal objectives are all irrelevant. A mere tourist.
And last, and perhaps most importantly, they are the tourists, the tourists are always the others: tourists are all those people we see troop past before us on our way to work, those who invade our cities searching for souvenirs, and crowd the restaurants and squares that were in the past solely enjoyed by the local population. But we are not. We are not tourists, quite simply because we travel. And when we do, we try to discern the touristy products from the genuinely local ones, we respect the local culture, we add value wherever we go and contribute to spread knowledge about the social reality we encounter, we encourage the restoration of decaying town centres, we are ourselves enriched, learn new words, meet the locals, fall in love and enjoy ourselves, to name a few of the many admirable and positive aspects of our visits. True, we also take photos and buy presents, just like tourists do; and we travel by plane, coach, rail, and car, as tourists do. And we too go to restaurants, museums and shops, just like tourists do. And we sip a drink by a monument, or lie down in a central park for a rest. Yes, that is true, but we do not see ourselves as tourists. We are not like the tourists who visit our city, because we are not tourists, we are travellers.