Random sampling tourism

15 Mar 2019 | all notes

One fundamental problem of (mass) tourism and its eternal quest for authenticity in the places and experiences one encounters while travelling as a tourist is the inbuilt one-upmanship that is in fact a defining characteristic of the very concept of authenticity, a point beautifully laid out by Jonathan Culler in his Semiotics of Tourism. Attempts to break this futile (and often predictable) cycle, such as the Situationist concept of the Dérive, can have a virtue-based and intellectually elitist air about them, which makes them unsuitable for the masses.

The obvious solution to the conundrum of authentic and individualistic tourism for the masses in our technoutopian world can evidently only be an algorithmic one. I propose an approach to visiting new places based on a strategy of random sampling, which leads to a uniquely individualistic instance of random sight-seeing (or rather random site seeing?) for every individual tourist.

This idea is obviously stupid. It is being seen (and the inter-individual knowledge of being seen) that makes a site a sight, so the approach will have to rely on a convincing make-belief that the sites are indeed seen as sightworthy by someone else, ideally someone relatable for the individual sightseer, whether this be a local or other tourists and travellers (from similar or different backgrounds). Repurposing (or possibly fabricating) existing review and recommendation content is probably the best way forward, and should work particularly well for broad areas of interest. In a similar vein a number of other apps, a web-based experience itinerary creator (Where do you want to go today?) is probably the most viable starting point for the realisation of this approach, although the itineraries and maps should ideally be brought along in physical format in order to increase the grounding of the experiences in the here and now.

The success of the random sight- or site-seeing approach has a number of short-term and long-term benefits for both the individual traveller as well as the tourist masses as a whole: one oft-cited negative effect of traditional sight-based tourism is that it inevitably leads to the development of a local tourist industry geared towards producing (“authentic”) experiences for the tourists at sites of financially sustainable interest. Random sampling leads to a more uniform distribution of tourist throughput, making it impossible for a local industry to adapt to localised clusters of travellers. Ideologically, it is also fully compatible with more spontaneous, human-driven flaneuring activities which it can give rise to, helping as many people as possible to experience actual experiences.

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