The Promise of Tourism: Colonial Imagery in Advertising

Article excerpt

The thing you have always suspected about yourself the minute you become a tourist is true: A tourist is an ugly human being.

Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place

The upmarket Indian hoteliers didn't try to make India a home away from home. q-hey set out to show that India was infinitely more glamorous than anything at home. In an explosion of invention, they invited the tour experts for a day in the country, a slice of the real India ... Beyond the women stood elephants, with howdahs swaying on their backs. Behind the elephants were snake charmers, jugglers, puppeteers, and at every turn the five thousand international hoteliers and organizers were met by folk dancers from different parts of India, doing boisterous dances to the music of traveling musicians. If anyone was bored by the splendor of the reception, the hospitable host consoled them with a choice of the finest cuisines and stimulants of three continents. "It's how I always dreamed Indian would be," sighed an enchanted travel expert.

Gita Mehta, Karma Cola: Marketing the Mystic East

Jamaica Kincaid's A Small Place, a jeremiad against tourism in Antigua, is most often found in the "travel section" of the local bookstore. This irony probably pleases Kincaid, whose book is about anger, not the stereotypical open-armed, smiling native. (1) Her anger is often very unsettling for students. After reading Kincaid's comment (quoted above), a young woman in my post-colonial literature and theory course indignantly responded, "I am not going to apologize for going to Antigua and relaxing on the beach. They should be glad that I go there because they would have nothing if it weren't for the tourists." Her assertion captures the conventional understanding of tourism and the first-worlder entitlement that accompanies it: tourism promises an escape from one's responsibilities and accountability; it is a transitory moment, and the vacation must not radically alter one's life, only to the extent that it offers the rest, relaxation, and exotic experience so often desired. (2) At the same time, tourism is a booming business and the primary industry of many countries (particularly former colonies). This economic reality makes it easier for tourists to claim they are not accountable for their behavior.

How does a teacher respond to the logic behind these assertions? The purpose of this essay is to provide teachers with a set of exercises and topics for discussion that encourage a more considered response from students. In what follows, I will provide an overview of the issues raised in my postcolonial literature and theory course, place the discussion of tourism within the context of advertising, and provide sample in-class and out-of-class activities.

I teach at Bryant University, a small private university in northern Rhode Island that has a student population drawn predominantly from New England and New York/New Jersey. Students come from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, with a number coming from middle- to upper-middle-class homes. The population is primarily Caucasian, with growing diverse domestic and international populations. "l-he vast majority is traditionally-aged and roughly 85 percent are residential (95 percent of international students are residential). A sizeable number, about 3/4 of the students, receive some form of financial aid through the school, with over 90 percent receiving other forms of aid including loans and work study. Although these numbers suggest a high level of need-based assistance, competitive discounting has made more aid available to a variety of families as schools frantically compete with each other to enroll students; Bryant is no different. (3) While a large number of Bryant students major in Business Administration, all students must complete a substantial number of courses within the liberal arts. Because of this, advanced courses in literary and cultural studies include students who are finance, accounting, marketing, and management majors. …