Museums and tourism have had a longstanding relationship since museums first opened their doors
to the public. But tourism has changed over the last half century. How have museums and tourism evolved together, and what
does the contemporary tourist suggest about where museums are headed?
November 29, 2014
Dawn of the Perpetual Tourist
By M.W. Burns
Global tourism exploded between the 1950’s and the
1980’s, spurred by technological advancements in air transportation and the
expansion of the US and world economies recovering from the Second World War. The
ease with which the average person could travel by mid-century fostered the idea that the planet was a wondrous menagerie
of cultural and natural sights, a collection of marvels just waiting for our arrival. For the majority of travelers these
exotic places might only be seen once in a lifetime, but their popularity was enough to spark the development of standardized
systems for mass-producing packaged holidays through the 70’s and 80’s.
In the 90’s a dip in tourism encouraged the development of new systems for
customized travel, splitting travel options into different niches of (primarily) cultural tourism. In the past decade tourism
has continued to develop rapidly into even more personalized forms, facilitated by the growth of information and communication
technologies. Today tourism is the largest industry in the world catering to a wide variety
of specialized interests; ecotourism, extreme tourism, spiritual tourism, agritourism, culinary tourism, geotourism, dark
tourism, heritage tourism, LGBT tourism, war tourism, space tourism, virtual tourism, wildlife tourism, doom tourism, the
list goes on. The transition from a modern-industrial, to a postmodern-postindustrial
world has given us a more relativist perspective on cultural values. The difference between high culture and pop culture began
to blur in the mid 1980’s as the hierarchy of intellectual and aesthetic value was challenged. It was argued that things
should be judged on their own merits, rather than on preordained authoritarian values. All of this increased our participation
in places that might have once seemed too fringe.
In many ways, the transition from prescribed packaged holidays to personalized adventures follows
the developmental arc of visitor engagement in museums, both in terms of planning the visit, and the options available once
visitors arrive. The trend in museums over the last two decades has been to move away from offering a passive, chronologically
structured experience in favor of those that are more active, personalized and curiosity driven.
In the early days of tourism, travel itself was novel,
but over time it has become something we take for granted. The very fact that travel is now routine eliminates it as a pretense
to “adventure”. Now anyplace can be a viable tourist destination. Evidence
of this can be found in the increasing popularity of the “staycation”. As it turns out the “staycation”
was not simply driven by the economic decline in world markets . An analysis done by White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning
Group found that the “staycation” was not caused by the recession of 2007 - 2008 but is part of a much longer
trend beginning a decade before and continues to rise. Greg Richards adds
further support to the idea that while tourism has become more frequent, it increasingly becomes immersed in the local and
the everyday. In his article Tourism Trends: Tourism, Culture and Cultural Routes, he writes “As life becomes more complex and chaotic, as we are forced to be more mobile and travel with increasing frequency,
we look for holidays as a counterbalance offering a touch of normality and stability - either staying at home or traveling to the
same place year in, year out.” Richards also points out
the growth of what he calls “Hybrid Tourism”, the tendency for leisure tourism to be sought within the context
of our daily routines. “Leisure, tourism and work are increasingly being mixed.
Pilgrimage becomes a form of tourism, tourists become pilgrims, popular culture becomes high culture, and vice versa. Holidays
are becoming increasingly bound up with other activities. The number of hybrid arrangements offered will grow, e.g., hotels
that merge with clinics, academies ,or museums, vacation clubs that also operate handicraft workshops, tower blocks with wellness
resorts, cruise liners with temporary jobs.”
In 2014 Whole Foods
launched Whole Journeys, an experiential
travel company, established to bring people closer to the places that are sources for the products they sell in stores. Their
website states, “Whole Journeys provides specialized, multi-day international and domestic trips for small groups. These
active adventures will focus on truly engaging guests with local cultures in ‘through-the-back-door’ experiences”.
There is an obvious connection between Whole Foods’ brand and strengthening the public’s notion of the company
as the “go-to” place for multicultural consumables. But there is another connection they want you to make. Whole
Foods is itself a destination for multicultural experiences. It is your weekly excursion to far away places, right in your
The relationship between our tendency to seek more stimulating experiences, and
the highly personal and often localized way we spend our leisure time may have many influences. The news media has made our
world seem more dangerous than it actually is, steering parents to keep their kids at home when they are not in school, or
involved in some other organized activity. Plenty of things have come into our lives that give us reasons to not venture outside
our “safe spaces”; a profusion of television and movie options, gaming systems, the personal computer and everything
the Internet has to offer, not to mention what virtual reality technologies will do to separate us even further from the real.
This is why the role of museums is so important, not just as places that can be highly engaging in a sea of stimulation, but
because they are all about keeping us connected to the real world from which we seem slowly distracted.
Given the changes in how people are defining
leisure, finding relevance, and seeking stimulating experiences with more frequency, museums should be re-thinking the long-standing
relationship they have had with tourism. Museums have an opportunity, in fact a responsibility, to be more present in our
lives, on our turf, among the places we go and the things we do every day. Museums have a wide-open, real world, playing field
to occupy and share with the perpetual tourist, hungry for novel experience, but who may not otherwise recognize the constellation
of “attractions” that surround them.
To facilitate a museum presence, integrated
into the real world, we need to develop a ubiquitous museology, one designed to operate between our personal curiosity and the everyday, a museology
that can account for, not only the more pronounced (historically, scientifically, culturally relevant) features of our particular
location, but one that can respond to a curiosity in even the most incidental things. The most common creatures, the most
mundane fixtures, the most placeless places can all be transformed into “rabbit holes” to the most amazing excursions.
Greg Richards,(2011) “Tourism Trends: Tourism, Culture and Cultural Roots”
Lieven de Cauter, (2009) “Archeology of the Kick: Modern Experience Hunger”,
Vantilt: Nijmegen (2nd edition).
Mimi Sheller and John Urry, (2004) "Tourism Modalities: Places To Play, Places In Play"
The Omnimuseum Project is
a non-profit collaborative devoted to embracing the universal collection of things, places and phenomena as sites for informal learning. Our work involves the exploration and development of strategies and techniques for
integrating enrichment opportunities into everyday experience. In so doing, we are finding ways for museums and other cultural
and educational institutions to gain presence in real world places that directly correspond to their missions.
On Sound, Listening and Public Engagement
- Eric Leonardson
- Chris Speed
and Jane Macdonald