Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Tourism Sociabilities and Place: Challenges and Opportunities for Design

Academic journal article International Journal of Design

Tourism Sociabilities and Place: Challenges and Opportunities for Design

Article excerpt

Introduction

The shape of tourism has altered significantly since the halcyon days of packaged destinations, having long grown beyond venerated branded images such as Copenhagen's The Little Mermaid or the Sydney Opera House. Whether we journey for work, or as backpackers, or to visit friends and families in our extended global network, agendas are now frequently far removed from mass tourism's archetypical dependence on high-recognition place iconicity and canonical affect. This can be seen in current social media formats such as the Secret #London (insert your favourite #capital here) Facebook pages, the slow tourism movement (see e.g., http://slowmovement.com/slow_travel.php1), or what Lew (2008) broadly terms the "long tail" niches of tourism products and economies. Thus, whilst the classical tourist places are still ripe with meaning and emotional impact, tourist intentions and expectations, tourist itineraries, and the sites where tourism is performed are becoming increasingly complex and diverse.

As technology researchers and designers, our understanding of tourism has barely altered, even if important advances have been made in related research arenas. In tourism research, one important academic strain within which these changes have been reflected is the mobilities paradigm (e.g., Franklin & Crang, 2001; Larsen, 2008; Larsen, Urry, & Axhausen 2007; Urry, 2002, 2007). Broadly speaking, these authors propose that the virtual and physical mobilization of things, people and practices, are central characteristics of modernity. For instance, the extension of networks, by virtue of increased access to means of corporeal and virtual mobility, allows places previously reserved for either tourists or locals to become contested and negotiable. Mechanisms of mobility and globalization, such as the increase in visits to friends and family abroad, bring about new itineraries as previously 'local enclaves' or mundane spaces, such as residential areas or predominantly local places, become accessible and relevant for touristic curiosity (Urry, 2007). In addition, tourism as a fundamentally place-based social practice does not die with those digital services that have brought distant people and places closer together virtually. Jansson (2002) argues that whilst virtual landscapes of the digital age may have provided us with new forms of (mediated or simulated) mobilities, socio-physical co-location plays a fundamental role in tourism, particularly by deepening the meaning of 'authenticity.' Hence, while some, e.g., Urry (1995), suggest a "death of tourism" by way of an ubiquitous mediatisation of places and the fundamental desires of tourism, rendering tourism a part of the mundane (and mediated) everyday, Jansson (2002) suggests that in a thoroughly mediatised landscape, the "realness" of the embodied here and now is attaining increasing importance. The above are examples of the conceptual frame within which we believe designers should approach tourism.

In this paper, we propose this re-envisioning as a starting point for how designers of technologies such as mobile and place-based technologies (e.g., Hornecker, 2006; Messeter, 2009; Paay, Kjeldskov, Howard, & Dave 2009) might think about tourism. We argue that tourism can have 'meeting the other' as an important experiential agenda. In meeting the other, 'places' attain special meaning and are given affective substance, with social interactions being integral to the making of places in tourism. Such interactions may be played out both between tourists and other tourists, and between tourists and locals, the latter providing much of the social and cultural furniture of place. As Larsen et al. (2007) suggest, tourism is increasingly concerned with making "connections with [rather] than escape from, social relations" (p. 245). Understood in this way, tourism is a particular sensory and social practice that is performed in continuous interaction with other people's performances in place. …

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