The Business of Tourism

The Business of Tourism transports readers from the foundations of mass leisure travel in 1860s Egypt to contemporary religious sight-seeing in Branson, Missouri; from the Stalinist Soviet Union to post-Soviet Cuba. This collection of ten essays explores the enterprises, institutions, and technologies of tourist activity.

The Business of Tourism
Place, Faith, and History

Edited by Philip Scranton and Janet F. Davidson

2006 | 304 pages | Cloth $59.95 | Paper $24.95
History / Business
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Table of Contents

—Philip Scranton

Chapter 1: The East as an Exhibit: Thomas Cook & Son and the Origins of the International Tourism Industry In Egypt
—Waleed Hazbun
Chapter 2: The Compagnie Générale Transatlantique and the Development of Saharan Tourism in North Africa
—Kenneth J. Perkins
Chapter 3: "Food palaces built of sausages [and] great ships of lamb chops": The Gastronomical Fair of Dijon as Consuming Spectacle
—Philip Whalen

Chapter 4: Consuming Simple Gifts: Shakers, Visitors, Goods
—Brian Bixby
Chapter 5: "I Would Much Rather See a Sermon than Hear One": Experiencing Faith at Silver Dollar City
—Aaron K. Ketchell
Chapter 6: "Troubles Tourism": Debating History and Voyeurism in Belfast, Northern Ireland
—Molly Hurley Dépret

Chapter 7: "There's No Place Like Home": Soviet Tourism in Late Stalinism
—Anne Gorsuch
Chapter 8: Dangerous Liaisons: Soviet-Block Tourists and the Temptations of the Yugoslav Good Life in the 1960s and 1970s
—Patrick Hyder Patterson
Chapter 9: A Means of Last Resort: The European Transformation of the Cuban Hotel Industry and the American Response, 1987-2004
—Evan R. Ward

—Janet F. Davidson


Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]

Philip Scranton

Today, tourism is big business. Cities, regions, and nations (along with businesses at all scales) view tourism as providing massive infusions of consumer spending, and in preparing for that, sizable investments in infrastructures and magnets for tourism—hotels, guide services, festivals, specialized transport networks, websites, et al. Yet how can we understand tourism historically and in context(s)? That question animated Hagley's Fall 2004 conference, Consuming Experiences, and stimulated scores of scholars to send paper proposals earlier that year to Hagley's Center for the History of Business, Technology and Society. Those of us on the program committee (the series editorial team: Roger Horowitz, Susan Strasser, and me) learned a good deal about the state of tourism studies from colleagues who sought to join the conference discussions—not least that the historical dimension of thinking about tourism had frequently been more gestured toward than closely researched and that the business dimensions of tourism, with some exceptions, had been broadly eclipsed by cultural and representational studies of tourism, which recently have commanded the center stage for research.

Asking how tourism was created, was planned, was sold, was delivered, by whom, and in what political/technological/commercial contexts (more than what it meant and to whom), being concerned more with practice than with the projection of images and ideologies, Hagley's team assembled a conference, morphed here into an essay collection, that probed the mechanisms and the implications of tourism as business enterprise. To be sure, coeditor Janet Davidson documents in the Afterword that ours was far from the first effort to examine tourism as history and as commercial activity. Nevertheless, The Business of Tourism: Historical Perspectives on Place, Faith and Ideology, surfaces as an intervention, as a view of work-in-progress, in a field that continues the work of defining its core questions, methods and terrains.

We asked for papers on business and practice, and thank goodness, the tourism history research community includes enough imaginative scholars that our 2004 conference proved to be rich with ideas, analyses, and conjectures—provoking exactly the sort of dialogues that Hagley conferences seek. In its aftermath and for the essay collection, we identified three intriguing thematic elements within the larger landscape, presented here as Commodifying Place, Engaging Religion, and Marketing Communism. Others may be interested in the history of ClubMed or in revisiting the Grand Tour, but we sought to identify spaces for discourse and debate somewhat distinct from the current mainstream.

Commodification is a core capitalist process, translating that which once was free and outside the cash nexus into something that depends upon and explicitly focuses on a cash exchange. Think about panoramic views or beaches, for access to which one can be charged, or consider the transition of some religious sites as destinations for faithful penitents to being spots which urge/demand donations from visitors. More substantively, as the essays in Part One indicate, commodifying place was a demanding challenge a century or more ago. In this regard, Waleed Hazbun shows in this volume's opening essay, Thomas Cook (& Son) moved from offering British workers train rides to temperance festivals to planning and delivering elaborate, upper- and middle-class tours of the ancient Middle East. What were these travelers buying? How did their Euro-entry to contested, Egyptian domains generate difficulties and longer term tensions? Hazbun's employment of theoretical perspectives from actor network theory in this work is particularly engaging and rich with implications for future research.

Kenneth Perkins picks up similar themes in reviewing organized French tourism ventures to North Africa (commencing in the mid-19th century), the institutions and politics central to their efforts, and the unintended consequences of France's World War Two humiliation and resistance, not least France's postwar dilemmas concerning colonial territories. Going to the desert was not just a complex, and at times risky, tourist agenda; it also interacted, however indirectly, with local voices (for opportunity, for independence, et al.) that France had long ignored. Philip Whalen revisits France and its cultural terrain in his remarkable study of the Dijon gourmand fairs in the interwar decades. Festivals of marketing and (over)consumption, the gastronomical fairs also confirmed regional identity, brought many thousands to the district in often-straitened years, and permitted local folks to preen and strut, given that the food they created and delivered was stunning, rich, and distinctive.

Place matters in tourism's commodification process, but so too, and not without irony, does religion. Once upon a time, as Brian Bixby shows in "Consuming Simple Gifts," the Shakers were a carefully ambitious sect, seeking converts to their faith, which stressed celibacy, hard work, and occasional rhythmic dancing as honoring God. Over six generations after roughly 1800, their clear, if somewhat unusual, belief system failed to sustain the Shakers, despite their efforts to evangelize and bring in converts from the "World." In time, encountering their religious ideals and their mundane practices became a destination experience for travelers to and within America, as many 19th century "visitors" evidently regarded stopping at a Shaker community as an element in the new, western hemisphere Grand Tour. However, in the 20th century, "Shaker" lost its sectarian referent and became a term signaling simple design and rocketing prices for original artifacts. Here, religion was decanted from social practice and tourist experience, over a century's time.

Aaron Ketchell presents a more directly commercial engagement with religion, exploring the religion-and-entertainment site, Silver Dollar City, at the country-culture magnet, Branson, Missouri. There, a bland version of Protestant evangelism reaches out to the millions who arrive to experience a nostalgic past, a posture that fosters creativity of an intriguing sort. Across the Atlantic, religion is also centrally connected to tourism, but in a sharply different fashion. Molly Hurley Dépret reveals to us a religiously-fractured Belfast (Northern Ireland) where touring, in those classic-black Austin cabs, the sites of outrages by Protestants or Catholics proves good business for taxi drivers. How informal is this tourism business, and, who are the clients, and how do they stay safe? Just a few of the host of questions that Hurley Dépret's research can trigger.

Our third section focuses, quite peculiarly, on Marketing Communism—why and with what implications? Well, we found that the boundary between capitalism and communism (re tourism) was quite intriguing, as disjunctures between East and West abounded, regarding almost all elements of a tourism experience. Moreover, the Stalinist/Communist state was, apparently, more actively involved in controlling entry and exit than elsewhere, long before 9/11, which generated practices in this arena resonant with early Bolshevik or early Cold War anxieties. That said, the third portion of this text gives you a chance to see the Stalinist vacation system (?) in operation through Anne Gorsuch's remarkable essay. Following this, we offer a second look at socialism's dilemmas, through Patrick Patterson's study of Soviet-bloc tourists in Yugoslavia after 1960. The Marketing Communism segment closes with Evan Ward's vivid review of the Castro system's interest in global tourism and in creating the necessary facilities (hotels, boat trips, etc.). The funds central to such innovations came to Communist Cuba by way of Spain's leading enterprises, in the 1980s and after, despite American hostility and embargoes.

Place, religion, and communism/socialism are not the standard topic set for research in tourism's history, to be sure. However, our Hagley group would argue that research in spaces rarely visited can (but only can) generate insights into social, economic, and political processes that have been tossed aside when nationalist, progress-centered or other, related master narratives have been unfolded. We hope that the essays here included will help enable readers interested in tourism's past to distinguish hype from content, analysis from promotional text, and nationalism from entrepreneurialism.